The Fictitious Liberal Divide

Economic Rights Are Not Basic


  • Åsbjørn Melkevik Harvard University, United States



basic rights, classical liberalism, economic rights, eminent domain, high liberalism, neoclassical liberalism


The main question dividing classical and high liberals is about how economic rights rank compared to other rights and public goals. That is, the question is about what can or cannot outweigh such rights. High liberals argue that economic rights can be outweighed by any legitimate state interest, such that they are prima facie rights. Neoclassical liberals, conversely, have recently sought to elevate economic rights to basic rights, which could then only be outweighed by other basic rights. This paper shows where the real debate should be for classical liberals, challenging Samuel Freeman’s widely held distinction between classical and high liberalism. Economic rights are prima facie for all liberals in that they can be outweighed by, say, considerations of utility or social justice. Although neoclassical liberals are correct to say that such rights are much more important than high liberals normally recognize, it does not follow that economic rights are basic.

Author Biography

Åsbjørn Melkevik, Harvard University, United States

Åsbjørn Melkevik is an Edmond J. Safra Post-Doctoral Fellow-in-Residence at Harvard University. His research focuses on social justice within market capitalist societies, arguing that if a necessary link exists between classical liberalism and the moral and institutional dimensions of the rule of law, then classical liberalism is bound to adopt a substantial egalitarian program. He has published his research in journals such as Business Ethics Quarterly, Constitutional Political Economy, the European Journal of Political Theory, and Critical Review of International Social and Political Philosophy. He is currently writing a book on the ethics of the Chicago School of economics.




How to Cite

Melkevik, Åsbjørn. (2017). The Fictitious Liberal Divide: Economic Rights Are Not Basic. Erasmus Journal for Philosophy and Economics, 10(2), 1–23.