A theoretically explicit idea that there can be a free-market economy that does not need state intervention is largely a product of early modern European political philosophers—most notably, Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679); Adam Smith (1723-1790), and Sir James Steuart (1713—1780). These men invented the justification for free-market economics; contemporary defenders of free-market capitalism continue to hearken back to their formulations. Hobbes's observations that individuals give up some of their autonomy in exchange for protection begins this particular line of thought. In the work of Smith and Steuart, the "norm of reciprocity," as it is known, became the central justification for an autonomous free-market economy.

The arguments of Smith and Steuart assumed that reciprocity was not just an observable fact of human society, but actually a natural force in and of itself—a regulatory mechanism that would cause the give and take of market interests to eventually balance out, regardless of individual greed or misappropriation. Smith's notion of the "invisible habiosignaturend" that regulates the market without external controls is perhaps the most famous such formulation. Steuart arguably went even further when he described the activity of exchange as the very basis of society itself—the "cement" that bound the producers of different commodities together through mutual interdependence.

The primary purpose of this passage is to

criticize the theoretical justifications for an autonomous free-market economy

contrast the theories of Hobbes, Smith, and Steuart about a free-market economy

trace the evolution of Adam Smith's notion of the “invisible hand”

make a theoretical justification available to modern-day defenders of free-market capitalism

describe the origins of the theoretical justifications for free-market capitalism


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