We at the Adam Smith Center, believe in the principles of free market humanitarianism. These ideas were first articulated by the Enlightenment philosophers Adam Smith and John Locke, but have since been transmitted till present day by figures such as such as Stamford Raffles, Milton Friedman and Friedrich Hayek.




Free exchange and choice

Free market humanitarians envision a society where there is free trade and consumer choice. Market exchange means that the gateway to being rich is to serve others by creating value. The market is not a dog-eat-dog world where people fight over the spoils. Everyone can win together. Therefore, free market humanitarianism is a philosophy of peace, because this harmony of interests occurs within market institutions.
When businesses and entrepreneurs are free to start ventures, experiment and create, new jobs are created, better products and services emerge to benefit ordinary consumers. Free market humanitarians applaud the Singapore government’s emphasis on free trade, low taxes and a pro-business climate.

Individual self responsibility

Free market humanitarians believe that individuals matter in society. So important are their interests that they should not be sacrificed for the sake of some collective good.


This however, does not mean that individuals should do whatever they wish whenever they please, consequences be dammed. In fact, individualism implies extreme personal self responsibility. This relates to the value of self-reliance, hard work and responsibility that has characterised Singapore society since our independence, which have led to our wealth and prosperity. Free market humanitarians believe that dependence is not dignity, rather working hard, earning a living and attaining social mobility is.

Rule of Law & Limited Government

Free market humanitarians also envision a society of free individuals who live under limited government and the rule of law.


What this means is that government should take a backseat to local initiatives launched by people. This was in fact best expressed by former Minister George Yeo in Singapore, in his “banyan tree” speech:
“This leads me to make a general point about community self-help and the Singapore soul. For our civic institutions to grow, the state must withdraw a little and provide more space for local initiative. If the state is overpowering and intrudes into every sphere of community life, the result will be disastrous. All of us are then reduced to guests in a hotel.”
Simply put, free market humanitarians hope that people will take ownership of social issues in society and pursue private, ground up initiatives, rather than look to government for all the answers, which if happens excessively, breeds a culture of blaming leaders.
The free market is not a jungle society, but a place where individuals interact freely under an institutional framework bound by the rule of law. This means that no one is above the law, and should in turn, be treated equally under the law and be accorded the same rights, regardless of secondary characteristics like race, language, religion, sexuality, gender, whatever. Free market humanitarians strongly affirm and appreciate the transparency & fairness of the local public sector and the highly ranked rule of law in Singapore.

Permissionless Innovation

When entrepreneurs and innovators are rewarded for thinking out of the box, society wins. Conversely, when these value creators are stifled through poorly designed rules and a culture that do not encourage them, society stagnates.


Therefore, free market humanitarians support a pro-innovation and pro-entrepreneurial climate which leads to bottom-up solutions to social problems.




Adam Smith

The Scottish moral philosopher and political economist Adam Smith changed the course of history by arguing that open and free societies naturally generate human prosperity and economic growth. His market-liberal ideas have enriched nations whenever they have been tried, and are the bedrock of the modern world we live in today.

Adam Smith has been unfairly caricatured by some as supporting unvarnished human selfishness, and a blind faith in laissez-faire. A close reading of Smith will reveal his nuanced view of human nature as not only driven by self-interest, but by ethical, moral sentiments. Far from asking for no government, Adam Smith advocated for a market order based on effective governance institutions protecting persons and property under the rule of law.

Stamford Raffles

Stamford Raffles is not only the founder of modern Singapore in 1819, of which he is most well-known. Raffles was also a strong proponent of free trade, setting Singapore on a path to becoming an open and prosperous hub of trade and immigration.

Raffles’ market-liberal ideas were also accompanied by his strong humanitarian desire to improve society, having been a champion of abolitionism and laid social reforms in even Java and Bencoolen.

Raffles not only embodied a sense of humanitarian reform, but exuded a sense of friendship and self-improvement. So impressed was his friend Munshi Abdullah, that he was described as “most courteous in his intercourse with all men”, and who “had a sweet expression on his face, was extremely affable and liberal, and listened with attention when people spoke to him.”

Friedrich Hayek

Friedrich Hayek is a well known political economist and social theorist in the 20th century and who won the Nobel Prize in Economics in 1974. He is known for his warnings against excessive government intrusion into the market economy and how it would lead to tyranny.

Hayek’s also influenced Singapore history though its first Prime Minister and Founding Father Lee Kuan Yew, who regarded him as a “very clear thinker” who “hit upon the eternal truth...that the free market is necessary to get the economy right.”

Hayek’s social thought is distinguished by its strong emphasis in the limits of human reason, and thus the need for competitive experimentation in society. This was itself acknowledged by Lee Kuan Yew, who praised Hayek’s book the Fatal Conceit, Errors of Socialism, for having “expressed with clarity and authority what I have long been unable to express, namely the unwisdom of powerful intellectuals, including Albert Einstein, when they believed that they would devise a better system and bring about more ‘social justice’ than what historical evolution, or economic Darwinism, has been able to work out over the centuries”.


These principles articulated here have been responsible for generating peace and prosperity in the modern world we live in today. But they are increasingly being forgotten in today’s generation and we need your help making them come to life again. If these principles interest you as they do us, we hope you will support our work and reach out to us!

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