Freemarketeers vs. Freedom

The terminology used by freemarketeers seem squarely focused on individual freedom. But what if the adoption of their principles had a negative effect on freedom for the majority of persons instead of maximising it? This seems like an odd conclusion given their marketing material. After all, "the state" will not harass you in a freemarketeer Utopia, so how will your freedom be restricted?

Let's explore the concept of freedom. If I am free, I am free to move, think, speak and spend my time as I see fit. If I cannot move my arm, I am less free in a very real and very physical sense. If I am limited from moving onto some geographical area I am less free than if I could. If I have less choice about what to occupy my time with, I am less free. I am more free since I have quit smoking, since I am free from the burden of feeding my addiction. A conception of freedom as a maximisation of choice then makes sense. The ultimate freedom would be that of omnipotence, because I would be able to do anything, and omniscience, since I would be able to think anything.

But freedom must have some practical limits where other people are involved. My freedom should not be an imposition on the freedom of others, because if we wanted to maximise freedom, maximising my freedom alone would at some point negatively affect the freedom of others. My freedom to cut off someone else's arm imposes on their freedom to move it. If we maximise the freedom of one person in a group, it will not only impose on the freedom of one other person, but on the freedom of many others. If I was free to dictate what everyone must wear, it will impose on their freedom to express themselves with stupid hats (or skinny jeans). If freedom was the only currency, it would be a net loss to give me that much freedom, but restrict others in the same regard.

In a freemarketeer Utopia, you will not necessarily be more free, as their marketing suggests, unless you consider your newly found freedoms to exist in the absence of the ability to exercise them.  Your freedom to have exclusive access to property, education, free time, and expression will be limited by your material resources to access those freedoms. Examples abound.

Education is important as a giver of freedom, because education is the construction of mental space. If you are well educated, you move freely in a larger mental space. If you are uneducated, your freedom to think is limited by the scope of the knowledge you posses. In the case of nutrition you may be impaired in your physical freedom to think, since malnutrition is a well known cause of permanent cognitive handicaps.  Not maximising someone's mental space impairs their freedom to think.

Freedom of movement is also a concern. Public parks would not exist, and neither would public nature reserves. This would be a limitation of the movement of people, and therefore their freedom. If all property could be owned and controlled by private individuals, it is conceivable that some poor people who own no property or the means to occupy it, could illegally occupy every space they find themselves in. Why then wouldn't we want to create public spaces that enable freedom of movement for others.

The freedom to spend your time as you please is a freedom that is often neglected. In terms of value, time cannot be valued enough, because not even the richest person (as of now at least) can buy a whole lot more of it. Yet it is conceivable that if we abolish labour laws, such as minimum wage, paid leave, and weekends, that more people will spend more time working for the same amount of money. Since they are earning the same amount of money, they suffer no material loss. Their freedom is severely restricted however. You cannot move very far if you have to be back at work in a few hours, and you cannot move at all if you work more than one job or work hours that occupy the entirety of your day, perhaps minus your most basic human needs such as visiting the toilet, eating and sleeping. Labour laws, which freemarketeers reject, often give people a _right_ to free time. This extends back to intellectual freedom, because it gives people time to educate themselves through reading and travel, or express themselves through writing or engagement in public forums.  

If we want maximal freedom, we would accept certain limits on our freedoms (such as our freedom to enter into economic exchange without taxes) for the sake of maximising the freedom of those around us. I am saying that giving small concessions in freedom can give large gains for others, so if we feel the need to maximise freedom we are logically obligated to not fixate on our freedoms at the cost of others'. Freedom is not a zero sum game either. The limits others have on their freedoms impact us also. We may not be free to engage in unfettered exchange, but others are not free to help themselves to our stuff either.

A question remains, and that is how much of our own freedom should be limited for the gain of freedom for those around us. Although interesting, this is hardly relevant. Only once we accept that it is a valid path can we meaningfully approach this question. There is no point in asking how much flour we should buy if we haven't decided to bake a cake.

Freemarketeers vs. Wealth

Any wealth you receive has already been distributed at least once based on the decided structure and nature of wealth distribution in your society. So people who are wealthy are not wealthy because they create some sort of objective value in society, they are wealthy because society decides that they are the ones who morally deserve to be wealthy. The concept of wealth is intersubjective, and so is the decision about who gets to be.

Free markets are a method to distribute wealth. There can be other methods too. We can for instance have a feudal system, where wealth is distributed according to social strata. The feudal system existed because it was recognized as morally legitimate, and for no other reason. Free markets today exist for the same reason. Therefore, because there are underlying moral considerations, if a free market fails us in an ethical way, it is our moral duty to violate it as a society. This means that in a moral society, excess wealth may be allowed, but not at the expense of others suffering. Indeed this is one of the reasons feudalism fell. We could no longer morally justify the harm of placing wealth into the hands of the few. For all the good things the free market has about it, it promotes the distribution of wealth to those who can exploit its underlying subjective nature. An inferior product could very well make someone rich if they play the market the right way.  There is no natural or transcendent entitlement attached to that. If everyone ceased to recognize the value of someone's wealth, they would be destitute. We, as a society, are the masters of who gets what. We divide the cake together, whether we like it or not. We can even distribute wealth according to who is the tallest, who has the most hair or who can say "Red Lorry, Yellow Lorry" repeatedly the fastest without making a mistake. Sadly, in many cases, we have excluded people from wealth on arbitrary measures, like their skin colour.

It's vital to understand that wealth distribution is completely arbitrary and decided by us, and that no single person or even a group can claim that there is only one way, or even one right way. Among the best ways however, every single one of them must be justified by moral considerations. If we are not a moral society who hold each others' interests at heart, we are setting ourselves up for failure, just like the privileged strata did before their social system imploded.

What's happened with free markets though, is that the the concept has gained overzealous fundamentalist followers, who incorrectly conflate morality with free markets. In other words, if the free market fails and people suffer, that is ethically preferable to violating the tenets of free markets. They rely on a central premise, that a free market, and absolute claims to property, are morally above any other consideration. It's not that they think the free market is moral, it is that they think the free market is morality itself. This presupposition strongly guides every other thing they consider, because no matter how much pain and suffering there is, it may not violate their absolute entitlements, because that would be immoral given the presupposition.

When I point out to freemarketeers that they don't have absolute claims on wealth, there is wailing and gnashing of teeth. They don't seem to grasp that society decided that they are entitled to the wealth they have, and they especially fail to grasp that when it comes to taxes. That deserves another post, but this one laid important groundwork to begin to explain this fundamental error in freemarketeer ideology.

Many people are uncomfortable with this reality I have explained here, and to some extent I am as well. There can be an arbitrary change in the way wealth is distributed that can negatively affect me, although that has been happening throughout history. The privileged classes who lost their wealth were at risk, probably without realising it. They probably thought, as the bunch I have my disagreements with, that claims to wealth are absolute and inherent in nature or transcendent somehow. They aren't. They are in the hands of humans. If you can convince enough people that you should be wealthy, you will be. On the other hand, if you can convince enough people that certain people, or classes of people, don't deserve their wealth, they will lose it. Wealth is simply grounded in human societies, and there is no way around that. Even if you believe firmly that free markets are the only right way to distribute wealth, if nobody else does, your claims to wealth will be invalid. If everyone believes that free markets are the only right way to distribute wealth, the decision to recognise it as such was still taken collectively, and it is still grounded in humanity.

Freemarketeers vs. Prostitution

In my previous post, I described how the agreement that freemarketeers seem to have with liberal or progressively minded people about drug policy is actually superficial and even wrong. The marketing message of the idea that there is agreement tells us that free market types are rational and that they oppose senseless government policy. However, government policy in many places has been left decades behind the times by society already. For heaven's sake, let someone smoke some pot if that's what they really want.

Prostitution is a more charged subject, and there is less general consensus about it. On the one hand we know that the sex trade can be very exploitative and can trap people (especially young women) for life. Bringing the hammer down has never been effective, because the high demand for sex is hard to stop by legal means. Freemarketeers claim that  if we legalised sex work "prostitutes can more easily work in settings where conditions are controlled, clients are screened and health safeguards are obligatory.". But there is a problem. Of course having laws for safe sex work would be regarded as another imposition by the "nanny state", and a libertarian government could never waste money funding a bureaucracy to ensure the safety of sex workers.  In the extreme case of anarcho-capitalism, there would be no government to speak of in the first place.

Essentially, what freemarketeers want, under the guise of reasonable ideas like deciding your profession, is a totally unregulated labour market, which includes an unregulated sex market. That means that many people will not only legally engage in sex work, they will still not have any legal recourse when it comes to their working environment. If there was a truly free market without any regulation, there would be no black market, but there wouldn't need to be one, because nobody would be able to step on the brakes when the wondrous free market chews up and spits out human beings as if they are worthless. 

What progressive thinkers want is not an unregulated sex market, but legalised prostitution that works to protect the rights of sex workers, ensure that they are treated fairly, and giving them a path away from sex work if that isn't truly what they want to do with their lives. Offering free education, child welfare and housing are things that could save someone from turning to the sex trade in desperation, and those promiscuous ones who just like to do sex work can still go about their business unhindered. The question that I can't answer is how many prostitutes will remain if we had a society that didn't force people to choose sex work. I suspect there won't be many, but to the delight of freemarketeers, the remaining ones can make use of the limited supply to push their prices as far up as they want to.

Perhaps this is how freemarketeers see sex work with no regulation: