CLASSICAL LIBERALISM NEGATIVES
Classical liberalism emerged out of the ideas of several prominent thinkers and writers during the timeframe of the Age of Enlightenment between the 17th and 19th centuries. It first developed in Europe and North America and has had a profound impact on the histories of these continents. In general, classical liberalism is a right-wing ideology and based upon the values of political and economic individualism. This means that it highly values individual freedoms and limited government intervention in the lives of citizens. To fully understand the significance of these individualistic values, it’s first important to understand the systems that existed before. The development of classical liberalism at the time was a revolutionary idea because Europe, had previously been based on the following: feudalism, absolute monarchy, and mercantilism. Click here to read more about the history of classical liberalism.
Classical liberalism has many positive elements as an ideology and helped lead to many changes in society. What that said, there are also several negatives associated with classical liberalism. For instance, since there is little or no government intervention in a classical liberal society, that is based on laissez-faire capitalism, the opportunity exists for the wealthy to exploit certain aspects. While limited government may be beneficial in promoting economic freedom and choice, it also has the ability to cause large income gaps in society. For example, during the Industrial Revolution in Britain, which had a free market economy, the business owners were able to amass large fortunes while the working class people struggled. Because the government did not intervene in the economy, working class people suffered with low wages, a lack of worker rights and horrible working conditions. As such, the issue of workers’ rights during the Industrial Revolution is important in relation to this topic. The lack of a government to protect the working class people meant that wealthy entrepreneurs could take advantage of the poor. The next problem associated with classical liberal societies is that they often lead to higher levels of unemployment. The nature of a free market or laissez-faire economy is such that individuals cannot count on the government to protect or help them in a time of need. As such, most countries based on a free market economy have some level of unemployment. This means, that at some points a certain percentage of the population will be struggling with poverty and be unable to support themselves. Further to this idea, because the government does not intervene in a classical liberal society, monopolies may also form. A monopoly is when one corporation dominates and controls an entire industry. This is bad for consumers, because without the benefit of choice, the corporation would increase prices to whatever they wanted. Finally, free market economies are usually reliant on the forces of supply and demand. While this provides a framework for economic freedom to exist it also creates a system of ‘boom and bust’ in the overall economy. As such, free market economies are often susceptible to changing economic conditions, which could be difficult to endure for many average consumers.
Two prominent examples of exploitation during the height of classical liberalism in the time of the Industrial Revolution was the use of child labor and the degree of pollution. Because the societies of the time adopted the principles of classical liberalism, it allowed business owners to act without much government regulation. As such, child labor was common in classical liberal societies of the time and often the children suffered from horrible abuse and conditions. As well, Industrial Revolution cities and towns suffered from horrible living conditions, in part due to pollution, from the industrial output of the new factories, mines and mills. Therefore, while classical liberalism allows economic freedom, it struggles to handle societal problems related to exploitation.
Because of these negative aspects, classical liberalism societies began to transform throughout much of the 19th and 20th centuries. In general, countries such as England began to shift more left on the economic spectrum to include elements of socialism, which began to emerge in response to the horrible conditions present during the Industrial Revolution. As such, classical liberal societies shifted to the center of the spectrum and became modern liberal societies.