Thursday, May 16, 2013

The Indivisibility of Economic and Social Freedom

Over at Cafe Hayek, Don Boudreaux makes the excellent case that "social" and "economic" freedom are one and the same. Read it all. A pithy summation:

If the individual is competent to make political and personal choices, such as those involving reproduction, on what ground is he or she incompetent to make economic choices? I can think of none.

This is true. And it's always mystified me why people make the distinction. To take the Don's example a little further, the "social" freedom to choose birth control is inextricably wrapped up in the "economic" freedom to purchase it; you simply can't separate the two. Furthermore, the freedom to choose and purchase birth control is also inextricably dependent upon people choosing to work in birth control factories---an "economic" freedom that is critically necessary to guaranteeing a "social" freedom. Further still, the "economic" freedom of the workers in the birth control factories is dependent, at least in large part, on the "social" freedom to purchase birth control---if consumers were unable to buy it, there would be no incentive to produce it, and birth control manufacturers would be out of work. And vice versa. And so forth. It's like a Jenga tower made up of everyone's liberty. If you take away any of these freedoms---or rather, if you undermine the philosophical foundation that guarantees these freedoms---then you've got no birth control, along with no anything else. Think Yin and Yang, or Sonny and Cher, or any other mutually dependent duality (no offense to Cher's solo career).

I think, in short, and agree with Boudreaux, that many libertarians, or free market enthusiasts, or liberty folks, often err in attempting to create two separate freedoms of social and economic spheres. Sometimes even the best intentions are terribly muddled. I once went on a date with a gal who claimed her libertarian impulses were founded in being "socially liberal and fiscally conservative." I knew what she meant, but it still struck me as somewhat redundant. Societal liberty is wholeheartedly dependent upon fiscal conservatism---or, more importantly, it's dependent upon the government spending very little and (perhaps most critically) having very little to spend on. Why belabor the point?

The best way to determine someone's commitment to liberty is to determine the extent to which they are willing to leave you alone in all matters---where you work, for how much you work, what you buy, who you love, and so forth. Asking them which government programs they'd cut, say, or how much they would reduce the Federal budget, is just a runaround. Cut out the middleman and figure out how little they will interfere in your own personal life. It makes for interesting conversation.

No comments:

Post a Comment