John Locke: For or Against Austerity?

Humn 221-09 Group 1

This article  in the New York Times quickly covers the history of austerity in the West. At one point it suggests that John Locke and his political philosophy are still used as a basis for austerity policies. The argument is that Locke’s emphasis on the need for a limited government uninvolved in politics ends with the government not interacting at all in the economy.

The challenge, however, is that Locke never properly addresses any full economic topics. He does suggest in one chapter that taxation approved by the people is acceptable, but he does not explore the issue much farther. At the same time, it is possible to describe Locke’s philosophy as having a moral or ethical aspect to it. Locke sees certain actions as being “right,” or more acceptable or correct than others. These actions include recognizing the rights of individuals and the establishment of a government to protect these rights.

Thus, we quickly recognized the difficulty involved in using Locke and his philosophy as a basis for austerity. Austerity, certainly, can be used as a method for protecting personal property for those who own property, a concept that Locke seems to firmly believe in. However, austerity can also easily prevent those individuals in the lowest classes of society from gaining property and economic advancement, facets of life that Locke strongly supports. Based on our own discussion, which struggled to develop a solution that seemed to satisfy both sides of the argument, it seems almost impossible to satisfy all of Locke’s philosophy when arguing for or against austerity. Perhaps, the most important take away, then, should be that governing is not as simple as we would like to imagine or as Locke’s writing would sometimes make it seem. Many of the situations Locke describes and either vocally supports or opposes are generalities that can be hard to recognize in specific contemporary situations.