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.
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.
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.