The roots of neo-liberalism may be found in Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, and Adam Smith. In the 20th century, neo-liberalism took its current form through the writings of Ludwig von Mises, Friedrich Hayek, and Milton Friedman.
Hobbes, Leviathan, 1651. Hobbes accepted self-interest as a legitimate motive for people.
Locke, Second Treatise of Government, 1690. Locke favored minimal government interference with private enterprise. An inspiration for Thomas Jefferson, Locke envisioned an agricultural economy in which producers would remain unconstrained by government and public taxes would not be used to re-distribute wealth to the poor. Poverty would be addressed by private organizations, such as churches.
Adam Smith, Wealth of Nations, 1776. Smith advocated a laissez-faire policy toward business in which the government would not interfere with the law of supply and demand. Smith, however, did advocate a limit of 5% on interest.
Ludwig von Mises, Bureaucracy, 1944. Mises compared private and public enterprises and favored the view that private enterprises operated more successfully than public. When profit or loss served as a measure of success, the measure could readily be applied. A business unable to make a profit would cease to exist, but a public bureaucracy that ceased to make a profit could be supported for years by public money. Mises joined others in the neo-liberal camp in advocating the privatization of social services: education, health, transportation, roads, prisons, and so forth.
Friedrich Hayek, The Road to Serfdom, 1944. Hayek regarded the New Deal under Franklin Delano Roosevelt as a form of collectivism, and placed the policy in the same league as communism and Nazism. He argued that government should allow businesses and corporations to pursue their self-interest.
Milton Friedman, Capitalism and Freedom, 1962.The following link gives a summary of Milton Friedman’s book, Capitalism and Freedom. Friedman contends that the only societies in which people have been free are societies in which the government has not attempted to control the economy and redistribute wealth.
The following article links neo-liberalism and the contemporary political scene and offers some criticisms of neo-liberalism: