Journal of Bioeconomics

, Volume 17, Issue 1, pp 53–70 | Cite as

Does classical liberalism imply an evolutionary approach to policy-making?

  • Jan Schnellenbach


This paper argues that an evolutionary approach to policy-making, which emphasizes openness to change and political variety, is particularly compatible with the central tenets of classical liberalism. The chief reasons are that classical liberalism acknowledges the ubiquity of uncertainty, as well as heterogeneity in preferences and beliefs, and generally embraces gradual social and economic change that arises from accidental variation rather than deliberate, large-scale planning. In contrast, our arguments cast doubt on a different claim, namely that classical liberalism is particularly compatible with the evolutionary biological heritage of humans.


Classical liberalism Evolution Darwinism Economic policy Cultural evolution Institutional evolution 



I am grateful for comments by two very careful anonymous referees, and by Larry Arnhart, Chad Baum, Alain Marciano, Mark Pennington, Thomas Reydon, Margaret Schabas, Christian Schubert, Richard Sturn, Viktor Vanberg and Gerhard Wegner. Financial support by the Fritz Thyssen Stiftung is gratefully acknowledged. An earlier version of this paper was presented at the Workshop on “New Frontiers in Normative Economics and Policy Advice: Liberalism and the Evolutionary Agenda”.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Chair for Microeconomics, Brandenburg Technical University Cottbus-SenftenbergCottbusGermany
  2. 2.Walter Eucken InstitutFreiburgGermany

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