Are Economic Liberties Basic Rights?

Politics, Philosophy, and Economics 13 (1):23-44 (2014)
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Abstract

In this essay I discuss a powerful challenge to high-liberalism: the challenge presented by neoclassical liberals that the high-liberal assumptions and values imply that the full range of economic liberties are basic rights. If the claim is true, then the high-liberal road from ideals of democracy and democratic citizenship to left-liberal institutions is blocked. Indeed, in that case the high-liberal is committed to an institutional scheme more along the lines of laissez-faire capitalism than property-owning democracy. To present and discuss this challenge, I let John Rawls represent the high-liberal argument that only a narrow range of economic liberties are basic rights and John Tomasi represent the neoclassical liberal argument that the full range of economic liberties are basic rights. I show that Rawls’s argument is inadequate, but also that Tomasi’s argument fails. I thus conclude that high-liberalism is in a precarious situation, but is not yet undone by the neoclassical liberal challenge.

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Jeppe von Platz
University of Richmond

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