Thursday, February 11, 2010

Freedom is not Zero-Sum

Today is the 20th anniversary of Nelson Mandela's release from prison. 
"For to be free is not merely to cast off one's chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others." – Mandela
So true. When others are more free, we are less fearful, less covetous, less envious, less defensive, less deceitful, less grudging. Freedom is not zero-sum! More freedom for you doesn't mean less freedom for me, it means more freedom for everyone. This is at the heart of the same-sex marriage issue, among others.

As much as I disagree with much of the libertarian worldview, I do respect their reverence for individual human freedom and self-determination. (Talking about the sincere, consistent libertarians here like Barry Goldwater, Tyler Cowen, even Ron Paul, not the glibertarians.)

Thanks to Elizabeth Wambui for the pointer.

Image: National Archives and Records Administration via Wikimedia Commons.


G of the Forest said...

Good post. If the libertarians would see freedom as something expressed by more than just private property then I'd like them more.

C - Log said...

Right. I've been thinking about this a bit since I posted it. In some realms, I suppose, freedom is zero-sum. Property rights, for instance, especially as they pertain to finite resources such as land, air, and water. In those cases, more freedom for the polluter or the real estate speculator means less freedom for me the breather of air, the drinker of water, the needer of a place to live.

As far as I know, the libertarians deal with the pollution externality problem by assigning it to some sort of private litigation process to "internalize the externalities." But I've never really gotten exactly how that is supposed to work.

And as for the homeless and underhoused, I think in that case that they basically respond with something along the lines of "Both the rich and the poor are free to sleep beneath the bridges of Paris" before mentioning something about being paid according to the marginal value of one's productivity.

Perhaps the argument is that as bad as the libertarian outcomes are, they are better than the "road to serfdom" that socialistic policies put us on. Though unless you want to argue that the Swedes are serfs, I think that this argument becomes harder and harder to make with each passing year.

Jake Miller said...

It's a long and winding road.

C - Log said...

Miller FTW!

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