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The hard work of constructing a Liberalism 3.0

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WASHINGTON – The Economist magazine is marking its 175th birthday with a special issue that looks back on its history and speculates about the future. It is a sobering exercise, highlighting the present breakdown in the world’s political order, a collapse made worse by U.S. President Donald Trump but not caused by him.

When the magazine was founded in 1843 by James Wilson, a Scottish hatmaker, the British were locked in a bitter debate over the “corn laws” — tariffs on grain (“corn”) imports. On the one side was a “mass movement … [of] well-to-do liberal thinkers and progressive businessmen [and] the poor.” On the other were landowners, defending tariffs that “kept up the price of grain.”

The repeal of the tariffs in 1846 marked a huge victory for the then-concept of “liberalism,” which — far from favoring bigger and more powerful government — championed “free trade, free markets and limited government,” notes the magazine.

Government’s limited role rationalized The Economist’s support for some positions that now would be regarded as reactionary: opposition to public schools and to women’s suffrage, being two. Over the years, the staunch individualism gradually gave way to a mushier liberalism that called upon government to stabilize the economy and, through an expanding welfare........

© The Japan Times