Free Markets & Property Rights


Liberals take the idea of individual freedom and individual rights also into the area of economics. In fact, historically speaking, the concept of property rights was the very basis of individual freedom and individual rights. Firstly, there is the principle that people can own property. At its most basic, this means that each person owns him or herself and therefore cannot be owned by someone else, that is, no one can be a slave. Such a free person can own other property: clothes, books, furniture, land, houses, cars and even ideas, so-called intellectual property.

Secondly, owners of property must also be able to come together peacefully and sell their property and buy other people’s property freely. Liberals believe that the state must interfere in this free market as little as possible. This goes together with the belief that everyone is entitled to free economic activity – the state should not tell me what job to take, what profession to learn or to start or close a business. I must be allowed to do what I think I can do best. Liberals ask how free a person really is, if he or she cannot make these kind of important decisions for themselves. This links up with the earlier points made about individual freedom, because it requires a free exchange of ideas and opinions.

Thirdly, many liberals doubt whether the state should be in business at all: state-owned companies such as airlines, railways, water and electricity suppliers are usually run at a loss and people’s taxes are used to keep them going. Likewise, state-owned companies usually charge their consumers more than private ones, which have to compete for business and customers. Experience world-wide supports the liberal idea that only competition ensures good service and good prices (since privatisation and introducing competition, local phone calls in the United States are free, for example).

Fourthly, liberals accept that there is no equal access to the market.  Believing in increasing equality of opportunity liberals therefore do not want to abolish the market; their aim is to enable people to be part of the market and to benefit from it. They want to do away with bureaucratic and unnecessary restrictions and barriers people face, to give greater access to better education and training and to make the necessary information available to join the market.