1 Distinguish between economic liberalism and social liberalism.
Economic liberalism means both classical liberalism and neo-liberal economic theory.
Its core idea is the notion of the self-regulating market, based on Adam Smith’s ‘invisible hand’ and the belief that the market tends towards long-term equilibrium.
Individuals are seen as rational, self-interested and largely self-sufficient; and market competition ensures choice and consumer responsiveness as well as efficiency and growth.
In line with the principle of laissez-faire, the state should leave the economy alone because state intervention is likely to have more economic disadvantages than advantages.
Economic liberalism is associated with negative freedom.
Social liberalism, by contrast, is modern liberalism, also sometimes known as welfare liberalism, associated with the belief that an unregulated market economy results in an unequal and unfair distribution of wealth.
The state, therefore, has important social responsibilities, especially in safeguarding individuals from the social evils that can cripple their existence: poverty, disease, unemployment etc.
Social liberalism is thus linked to a qualified form of welfarism: the desire to help people to help themselves, thus still reflecting a general liberal preference for self-reliance.
Social liberalism is associated with positive freedom.