Portrait of Edmund Burke

Edmund Burke, Man’s Necessities, and Governmental Responsibilities

Found in: Select Works of Edmund Burke, vol. 4

Because Edmund Burke was such a defender of prudence and moderation when considering the rights of individuals and the powers of government, it is sometimes thought that his ideas point toward “prudential” government management of economic affairs. But his Thoughts and Details on Scarcity reveals a committed believer in markets and free trade:


To provide for us in our necessities is not in the power of Government. It would be a vain presumption in statesmen to think they can do it. The people maintain them, and not they the people. It is in the power of Government to prevent much evil; it can do very little positive good in this, or perhaps in any thing else. It is not only so of the state and statesman, but of all the classes and descriptions of the Rich—they are the pensioners of the poor, and are maintained by their superfluity. (FROM: thoughts and details on scarcity)