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Personal Freedoms Are Economic Freedoms

Sometimes when discussing civil liberties, a line gets drawn between personal freedoms and economic ones. In fact, it is even seen as one of the defining characteristics between the political left and right. But while this certainly may be true of the policies that either side supports, I feel as though this misses the interaction between the two.

Let’s start with the First Amendment: Freedom of speech. This has been a hotly contested issue of late, with the Citizens United ruling several years ago. There was (and continues to be) much said about the validity of corporate money in the political arena. That in particular isn’t an issue I wish to focus on, but the interaction between speech and money is.

If an individual chooses to spend their money towards a political campaign, or flyers, or to self publish a book, those are all different forms of speech. To limit the amount of money that an individual is allowed to spend is akin to limiting the amount that they are allowed to say; the limitation on economic freedom becomes a limitation on personal freedom. The political left seems to think that while freedom of speech is beneficial for individuals, it is not the case for groups of those very same individuals; the reasoning behind this I cannot understand. Pragmatically, there is little reason to believe that the amount of money that one spends will guarantee a particular outcome. One must look no further than the current presidential election, where Jeb Bush outspent nearly every other candidate, and yet dropped out of the race dead last.

Another area that the two areas, personal and economic, interact is in trade. If I want to offer my carpentry services, it’s unfortunately not as simple as finding someone in need of my services, rendering them, and collecting payment. If I wish to keep the weight of the State off my back, I must first be licensed, register as a contractor, pay various fees, file my taxes quarterly, etc. There are numerous costs that I must incur before ever accepting that first payment. The economic restrictions become a restriction on my personal freedom by altering how I must spend my time in addition to my money.

Or what if I would like to hire somebody, but they’re not a citizen, or haven’t been through all the needed regulatory hurdles? That’s another restriction on my economic freedom, that is effecting my freedom of association as a consequence.

Liberty shouldn’t be seen as compartmentalized segments; it’s deep and dynamic, and restrictions on it have far reaching consequences.

Quote Of The Day

Today’s quote comes from Mark D. Friedman, of Natural Rights Libertarian, from his book Nozick’s Libertarian Project: An Elaboration and Defense:

Thus, the commingling of the political and economic realms permits the development of a vicious circle in which constituencies use the apparatus of the state to achieve illegitimate financial advantages and the authorities use their ability to provide such rewards as leverage to further erode our freedoms. Just as the human body can tolerate extremely low doses of arsenic and other toxins (do not try this at home!), societies with deeply ingrained traditions supportive of the rule of law can withstand a substantial level of state interference in their economic lives without collapsing into outright tyranny. However, even “minor” abridgements of liberty are pernicious in and of themselves, and if such cancers are allowed to metastasize, the “patient” will eventually succumb.

I should note here that Mark D. Friedman has become one of my favorite political thinkers lately, both through his blog and this book. His writing is clear, cogent, and his arguments are often surprisingly persuasive; I find myself initially disagreeing with his positions sometimes, but am often convinced by the time he rests his case. And, above all, his commitment to the value of the individual is never lost.

Quote Of The Day

I was first alerted to this by Matt Zwolinski of Bleeding Heart Libertarians. It comes from Adam Smith, An Inquiry Into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations:

The property which every man has in his own labour, as it is the original foundation of all other property, so it is the most sacred and inviolable. The patrimony of a poor man lies in the strength and dexterity of his hands; and to hinder him from employing this strength and dexterity in what manner he thinks proper without injury to his neighbour, is a plain violation of this most sacred property. It is a manifest encroachment upon the just liberty both of the workman, and of those who might be disposed to employ him. As it hinders the one from working at what he thinks proper, so it hinders the others from employing whom they think proper. To judge whether he is fit to be employed, may surely be trusted to the discretion of the employers whose interest it so much concerns. The affected anxiety of the law–giver lest they should employ an improper person, is evidently as impertinent as it is oppressive.

 

 

Government Shutdown

Andrew Cohen of Bleeding Heart Libertarians has an interesting piece up, and I largely share his views (though there is an analogy in there I find rather weak…). From the article:

People who were promised paychecks will not get them. Some will get them late. Some will get smaller paychecks (due to furlough time). Some of these people will face tremendous difficulty. I think it fair to say they will be harmed–having planned their lives given the promise of a regular paycheck, they have legitimate expectations that are being set back. Perhaps the government should not have hired those people in the first place (after all, they are “non-essential” personnel!). But the fact is they were hired and treating them this way is wrong and makes a mockery of contract.

This is a good point that many libertarians and conservatives are apt to miss. Many libertarians in particular are going to dispute the legitimacy of those obligations, but if government is a legitimate entity, then the obligations it enters into need to be taken seriously and the obligations honored. Now certainly, in the private sector, jobs are generally not seen as secure as government jobs. Perhaps thats a good thing, as it promotes increased productivity and competition, ultimately helping to serve the consumer. However, there is an implicit expectation of continued work when a full time employee gets hired by someone, whether the government, a corporation, or small business, and possibly could be considered part of their work contract. The government, currently, is not honoring that contract. However, given it’s abysmal record of honoring individuals and their rights, perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised.

Quote Of The Day

This comes from F. A. Hayek in Individualism and Economic Order:

Especially remarkable […] is the explicit and complete exclusion from the theory of perfect competition of all personal relationships existing between the parties. In actual life the fact that our inadequate knowledge of the available commodities or services is made up for by our experience with the persons or firms supplying them– that competition is in large measure competition for reputation or good will– is one of the most important facts which enables us to solve our daily problems. The function of competition here is to teach us who will serve us well: which grocer or travel agency, which department store or hotel, which doctor or solicitor, we can expect to provide the most satisfactory solution for whatever particular personal problem we may have to face. Evidently in all these fields competition may be very intense, just because the services of the different persons or firms will never be exactly alike, and it will be owing to this competition that we are in a position to be served as well as we are.

 

C.S. Lewis on Government

I recently stumbled across an article at The Beacon on C.S. Lewis’ views towards government. Long, but engaging and worth the read. I will leave you, dear Reader, with a quote of his, quoted in the article:

The first of these tendencies is the growing exaltation of the collective and the growing indifference to persons. . . . if one were inventing a language for “sinless beings who loved their neighbours as themselves” it would be appropriate to have no words for “my,” “I,” and “other personal pronouns and inflexions.” In other words . . . no difference between two opposite solutions of the problem of selfishness: between love (which is a relation between persons) and the abolition of persons. Nothing but a Thou can love and a Thou can exist only for an I. A society in which no one was conscious of himself as a person over against other persons, where none could say “I love you,” would, indeed, be free from selfishness, but not through love. It would be “unselfish” as a bucket of water is unselfish. . . . [In such a case] the individual does not matter. And therefore when we really get going . . . it will not matter what you do to an individual.

Secondly, we have the emergence of “the Party” in the modern sense—the Fascists, Nazis, or Communists. What distinguishes this from the political parties of the nineteenth century is the belief of its members that they are not merely trying to carry out a programme, but are obeying an important force: that Nature, or Evolution, or the Dialectic, or the Race, is carrying them on. This tends to be accompanied by two beliefs . . . the belief that the process which the Party embodies is inevitable, and the belief that the forwarding of this process is the supreme duty and abrogates all ordinary moral laws. In this state of mind men can become devil-worshippers in the sense that they can now honour, as well as obey, their own vices. All men at times obey their vices: but it is when cruelty, envy, and lust of power appear as the commands of a great superpersonal force that they can be exercised with self-approval.

 

Are There Limits to Natural Rights?

I have been thinking about natural rights and their relation to political theory. Now, I have for quite a while now been in favor of a natural rights based approach, but lately have been questioning how viable it truly is. Most natural rights political theory begins with some form of the Non Aggression Principle, which according to Wikipedia is “… a moral stance which asserts that aggression is inherently illegitimate.”. Now that certainly sounds like a good starting point to me, but does it tell the whole story? Wikipedia goes further:

NAP and property rights are closely linked, since what aggression is depends on what a person’s rights are.[1] Aggression, for the purposes of NAP, is defined as the initiation or threatening of violence against a person or legitimately-owned property of another. Specifically, any unsolicited actions of others that physically affect an individual’s property or person, no matter if the result of those actions is damaging, beneficial, or neutral to the owner, are considered violent or aggressive when they are against the owner’s free will and interfere with his right to self-determination and the principle of self-ownership.

There are several problems that I have currently. One, strict adherence to the NAP would necessarily lead to anarchism, since taxation is a function of the state, and is inherently coercive, thereby violating the NAP (Also, notice how a definition of property rights is presupposed in the NAP, at least as presented here. The definition is taken for granted while using it to support the very thing in question!). Now, I see no reason to dismiss anarchism prima facie, but it could be a tough pill to swallow for some, and intuitively I think most people are inclined (whether rightly or not) to dismiss it. However, I myself am not an anarchist; I do believe a minimal state is necessary to secure individual’s rights. In any case, the supporter of a minimal state now finds his or her self at odds with the common natural rights approach.

Is there a way natural rights can be reconciled with a state? I read an argument, presented by Mark Friedman, which goes as follows:

Quite clearly, deterring or preempting foreign attacks and international terrorism promotes rational agency in a way the basic scientific research does not…Therefore, the coercion of rational agents to support national defense is an exception to Nozickian side constraints because it can be justified in terms of the very value, rational agency, which generates those constraints.

At first I found this argument rather compelling, but of late have questioned it. If rights truly are an inherent part of being human, and are universal across a myriad of cultures and times, then why is a state necessary to secure them? It seems as though the state must exist prior to those rights if they are to be secured through the state. In the absence of a state, can individuals truly be said to have intrinsic rights if they are unable to effectively secure them? (It is at this point that anarcho-capitalists will chide me for thinking a state is required to protect rights. For reasons I don’t care to get into at the moment, I do not agree with them, though I’m sympathetic to their commitment to non-coercion.) It is true that individuals would be free to contract with others to provide them with protection services, but this leads to the “free-rider” problem: Would enough people contract with a particular agency in order to effectively provide security for a given area? I think it is likely that they would not, perhaps not seeing any immediate threats to their rights that would prompt them to want to. But the free-rider argument is itself a consequentialist one. What place does that have in a system of natural rights?

To me this is a significant problem. Can we really just pick and choose what types of arguments we want to use in any given moment, even if they are at times contradictory? It may work well in your average internet political battles, but hardly would withstand scrutiny enough to be considered a consistent political theory.

I am naturally disinclined towards consequentialism. At the root of it, I feel as though there is nothing in the way of an ever increasing leviathan of a government, that there is no universal framework with which to point to when government goes too far. However, I am coming to grips with the idea that I may be wrong; after all, people can just as easily reject the whole idea of natural rights, and either way it is a battle for liberty. There may not be, in fact, any universal framework at all, but only individual’s subjective thoughts, feelings, and opinions on certain matters. If another individual doesn’t feel as though I have a right to something, then I can’t expect my right to be respected by them, can I? In aggregate, this can mean that by default I do not have a right after all, even if I feel as though I should. It might be nice to appeal to natural rights in such a case, however if we still must at times appeal to consequentialist arguments, why hold to natural rights at all?

I still would like to see natural rights saved, if you will. I’m open to hearing arguments for and against, but more and more I’m leaning towards consequentialism.