Social progress and liberty are closely inter-linked. Where there is no liberty to inquire and investigate, there can be no economic or social innovation. Liberty allows a society to be open-minded, to embrace change and to progress. In this spirit, the Progress Foundation promotes the development and spread of classical liberal ideas in line with its credo that the pillars of a free order are competition, private ownership, responsible self-reliance and social responsibility.
A market economy implies competition. It involves the free selection not only of goods and services but also of a profession and workplace. The resulting efficiency lays the foundation for prosperity. In the words of Friedrich August von Hayek, competition is a discovery procedure that gathers the knowledge dispersed throughout a society and rearranges it to provide perpetually new combinations. The beneficial effects of competition are evident not only in the goods markets; competition among cultural and political entities has similarly positive repercussions. Insofar competition is nothing else than a form of shaping the coexistence of free people.
While competition is a relatively abstract concept, most people have an understanding of private ownership. It is the basis for the prudent use of limited resources and motivates owners to increase the “value” of their property. Even more important is the autonomy gained through free access to private property. A free society is almost inconceivable without the institution of private ownership. However, the free use of property is increasingly hampered by government regulations and a growing tax burden. An accommodative monetary policy is also detrimental to private property, whether it spurs inflation or results in financial repression.
Liberty must be paired with responsible self-reliance. Accepting responsibility must be anchored in values that transcend mere supply and demand. Since people react strongly to incentives, economy and society should be organized in a way that inspires and strengthens a sense of responsibility. Here the state plays a decisive role as guarantor of private property and citizens’ political rights, defender of competition and site of collective human endeavors. Nonetheless, in historical, logical and methodological terms, the primary actor is the individual. The state is comprised of individuals, whose first responsibility is to provide for themselves and their dependents. They also know best what is important to them and what needs they have. This is why a paternalistic state should be viewed with great skepticism. The state should only relieve its citizens of responsibility in absolutely exceptional cases.
Humans are social beings who typically cooperate with and care for one another. This is why caring for immediate family members and other associated individuals is a hallmark of a free society. At the same time, sociability and solidarity cannot and should not be decreed from above, but should grow naturally from below. Only voluntary solidarity may be considered as a moral virtue. Moreover, “solidarity” that is enforced by the state results in a repression of spontaneous individual solidarity. State welfare should thus play a subsidiary role and only apply when individual and voluntary social assistance falls short.