Published online by Cambridge University Press: 24 April 2020
Chapter 4 discusses the wider theoretical arguments in Thoughts and Details. Burke maintained that a harmony of interest emerged between buyers and sellers in a system of free exchange, which enabled both parties to benefit from voluntary contractual arrangements. The practice of commercial virtues, such as diligence and industry, was encouraged by this incentive structure. Even though he did champion market liberty, however, Burke should not be considered a strict advocate of laissez-faire economics because of his support for chartered corporations, his conditional approval of the Navigation Acts, and a number of other instances in which he endorsed state intervention in the economy, such as the corn bounty. More broadly, I posit that Burke’s economic thought was a precursor to F. A. Hayek’s epistemic conception of political economy. Both thinkers recognized that man’s intellect struggled to fully comprehend the complexities of social life, and that planned economies failed to consider the primacy of circumstance in individual market transactions. Therefore, governments should practice restraint in their supervision of markets. Additionally I contend that Burke’s praise of markets affirmed his commitment to human experience, not abstract theory. Hence Thoughts and Details represents continuities with his other commentary on the limits of reason.