Friday, September 8, 2017

When security trumps freedom

Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety ~ Benjamin Franklin
Many people find the idea of unfettered capitalism scary. Modern 'liberals', who support a high level of freedom in political, social and religious spheres, baulk at the idea of economic freedom on the basis that it fosters inequality. This is something that perplexes libertarians who believe that there is no such thing as freedom without economic freedom, and that if you are not free to choose how you make your living, what you consume and with whom you trade, you cannot be free in other areas of your life.

There are two reasons people do not want freedom in economic matters. The first is that they want others to take care of them. This is a natural tendency of human beings - after all, we spend the first decade or two of our lives being taken care by our parents and many find it a challenge crossing that threshold where they have to take responsibility for their own welfare. The modern welfare state makes it very easy for people to opt out of adulthood. We provide state-subsidised education to people well into their twenties and it is possible to live adequately on welfare benefits for the whole of one's life.

The second reason why people do not want freedom in economic matters is simple envy. People would rather not be free if it means someone will have more wealth than them. This is the malevolent and misanthropic motivation for socialism and the reason left-wingers tend to support higher taxes even when they are not necessary for fiscal reasons. They would rather everyone is worse off than allow a few to be better off than others. It is consistent with the Marxian worldview that sees human existence as a zero-sum game - that if I have more than you, I must have taken some of your share of the fixed pool of wealth.This is demonstrably a nonsense because if it were so, wealth per capita would never increase (as it has done exponentially for the last couple of centuries).

Whichever of these two motivations apply, the results are the same - a willingness to compromise freedom in the name of economic equality even if makes everyone worse off. This is what we are now seeing in Western societies - freedom is being abrogated in all spheres, including traditional touchstones such as freedom of speech and political association. Governments do not, and cannot, distinguish between the economic and social spheres when it comes to applying their authority, which is why socialism inexorably leads to dictatorship, the most recent example being Venezuela today. The left-wing ideal of political, social and religious freedom combined with high levels of economic control, is a case of wanting one's cake and eating it too.

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