Saturday, January 12, 2008

Economic freedom

I don't think anyone should be able to earn £500,000 or more a year, not in any job. There's something wrong with a society in which they can do so while there are children living in poverty.
Well, OK. I don't think that Norman Geras should be able to set people's incomes.

Having matched one unsupported assertion with another, I will now try to set a precedent and say why (mentioning poor children is not an argument, but rather an appeal to emotion, and a tawdry one at that if the consequence of your intervention is poorer children, in absolute terms).

When people talk about economic freedom, using whatever terminology their political orientation makes convenient, they generally concentrate on the economics, and forget about the freedom.

But the case for economic freedom is exactly the same as the case for any other kind of freedom. Take freedom of speech and expression as an example.

A society in which people's freedom of [speech | economic activity] is assured is one in which the greatest possible range of [ideas | economic activity] is assured. We have absolutely no way of knowing in advance which [ideas | businesses] will be successful; perfect hindsight is not available in advance.

Moreover, many of what have proved to be the greatest [ideas | technologies] would have been strangled at birth without this freedom. Arguments based on [theology | the precautionary principle] would have prevented the development of [the theory of evolution | the railways], and these were arguments we now know to have been wrong.

And the equation is a simple one. If we have freedom and someone [says | makes] something you dislike, it is open to you to [ignore | refuse to buy] it, or you can [argue against it | compete with it]. But if we do not, human society simply fails to develop at all, as we can see from the centuries of [ignorance | stagnation] in the past.

Arguments that such freedom is oppressive, because some people's [ideas | businesses] will [offend | oppress] others are invariably self-serving and deceitful attempts at special pleading. But all freedoms need to be carefully and jealously preserved, because attempts to monopolise [ideas | industries] will always be made by those who wrap themselves in the flag of [truth | free enterprise].

UPDATE: A phone call led me to post before completion. Economic freedom requires that people's incomes be what we are willing to pay them: the fruits of their success, or the ashes of their failure. This is also true of ideas, as Norman Geras ought to know. I could easily write that I think it is wrong anyone should be able to make a living from writing books, or get the sort of blog traffic Geras does, while other people are shouting from a darkened stage into an empty auditorium. Freedom of any kind will lead some to extremes both of success and failure, and without this, you do not have freedom.

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