Neoliberal economists and the British welfare state, 1942-1975



Peden G (2017) Neoliberal economists and the British welfare state, 1942-1975. Journal of the History of Economic Thought, 39 (4), pp. 413-427.

Liberal economists’ attitudes towards the welfare state are examined to see how clearly neoliberalism can be distinguished from other forms of liberalism. Three questions are asked. First, how could Friedrich Hayek believe he could accommodate elements of the welfare state agenda set by William Beveridge and John Maynard Keynes into his thinking? Second, why did Hayek become increasingly critical of the welfare state? Third, how far did Lionel Robbins, John Jewkes, and Alan Peacock agree with him? All three might be regarded as neoliberals according to the litmus test set by Philip Mirowski and Dieter Plehwe: that is, membership of the Mont Pèlerin Society or a think tank associated with the Atlas Economic Research Foundation. Yet, Robbins, Jewkes, and Peacock are on a spectrum between Mirowski’s definition of neoliberalism as a belief that freedom is to be found in the unfettered market, and classical and democratic liberals’ belief that people have to be nurtured to become effective citizens and have to be protected from the market’s disruptive effects. It is suggested that a nuanced approach is required in explaining why liberal economists came to believe the welfare state should make more use of markets and pricing systems for registering preferences and apportioning resources.

Journal of the History of Economic Thought: Volume 39, Issue 4

Publication date31/12/2017
Publication date online04/10/2017
Date accepted by journal04/10/2017

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Professor George Peden

Professor George Peden

Emeritus Professor, History