New Thinking in Political Economy series
Chapter 6: Classical Liberalism and Collectivism in the 20th Century
THE EPOCH OF CLASSICAL LIBERALISM Several times during the 20th century, the Western world passed through ‘watershed’ periods of crisis. The first occurred as a result of World War I. It brought the classical liberal epoch to an end in August 1914. How far away that liberal era now seems to us. Governments hardly fleeced their citizens: total tax burdens in Great Britain and the United States were only in the range of 10 or 15 per cent of national income; and the United States had had an income tax for only one year when the war began. The British government ran its world-encompassing empire as a vast free trade zone, open to all comers for trade and investment regardless of their nationality or citizenship. The United States, it is true, fluctuated between higher and lower tariffs, but within its three thousand mile span, the country contained few barriers to production, trade and exchange. And across the European continent, the tariff barriers were miniscule compared to what the rest of the 20th century experienced. Matching the free movement of goods was the free movement of people. Emigration restrictions and immigration barriers were in their infancy. It was still a world with neither passports nor visa requirements. For the price of a railway ticket or passage in steerage across the Atlantic, even the poorest could pick up and move wherever personal inclination or economic opportunity led them to take up residence - and millions of people did so. Nor were there...
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