No Choice but Freedom


Steve Randy Waldman in New Inquiry:

Milton Friedman famously argued that there is a link between capitalism and freedom. “A society which is socialist,” he wrote in Capitalism and Freedom, “cannot also be democratic, in the sense of guaranteeing individual freedom.” As an empirical matter, that statement remains as roughly true now as Friedman’s related claim that there is “no example in time or place of a society that has been marked by a large measure of political freedom, and that has not also used something comparable to a free market to organize the bulk of economic activity.” A socialist might quibble that the assertion is crafted to elide very stark distinctions between societies, hiding some important dimensions in which politically free Sweden, for example, diverges in economic policy from the laissez-faire Anglosphere. But even in the social-democratic Nordics, much of economic life, the “bulk” perhaps, plays out through money-intermediated arrangements between nonstate actors. That is, in markets.

The interesting question is why. Why does there seem to be a relationship between capitalism and political freedom? Friedman emphasizes the role of competitive and decentralized market actors in checking the concentration of power that political authorities might use to prevent freedom and dissent. If one is fired by a private employer for expounding unpopular views, there is always another private employer who may have different views. If employment is directed by a hierarchical state, the cost of dissidence may be penury or starvation.

Friedman argues that economic freedom, in constituting the individuals’ ability to engage in whatever voluntary activities they wish to pursue, including exchanges of goods or services for money, is not only a means toward, but is freedom itself. But what is freedom, itself?

More here.