Saturday, September 13, 2008

Economic Freedom

Libertarians are champions of economic freedom. But exactly what does that mean? Economic freedom is usually defended within a rights-based moral framework: that is, a moral argument based on interlocking rights and duties. Hence, if economic freedom is a right, that right confers a duty upon others not to interfere with the exercise of that right. All rights are enforced by either legality (government), morality (culture), or both. Economic freedom refers to the right of individual and collective buyers and sellers to forge contracts with one another based on mutual self-interest, without governmental interference. If buyers and sellers own their own bodies, then they own the fruits of their labor. As an ideal, economic freedom is usually associated with contracts forged based on perfect information, perfect freedom, and perfect competition. In the real world, perfection is elusive, therefore, some libertarians argue that government must monitor and enforce laws against false advertising, theft, and/or collusion. Others prefer to allow the free market enforce those ideals. If you defend economic freedom as a right, you must accept the corresponding duty to NOT INTERFERE in voluntary transactions between individuals unless those contracts violate the rights of third parties: that is, harm other non-consenting persons or their property. This means that government may not interfere with the forging of contracts involving harmless immoralities. Economic exchanges that involve products and services regarded by third parties as immoral, but harmless, must be regulated by morality (blame) but not legality (fines or prison). Therefore, morally suspect transactions between consenting adults ranging from the sale of pornography to the sale of liquor on Sunday can be regulated by culture, but not by government. In a society based on economic freedom, individuals must remain free to engage in the exchange of goods and service without outside interference, unless convincing arguments are presented that indicate involuntary harm is being inflicted on third parties. Therefore, libertarians prefer to allow public debate over these issues and thereby allow critics to convince individuals to not engage in these harmlessly immoral activities, but critics cannot simply employ the coercive power of government to usurp our economic freedom. One of the more recent assaults on economic freedom is a proposed law in Ohio that will set limits on how much interest "payday lenders" can charge buyers, which will in effect drive these sellers out of Ohio. (a topic for a future blog?)

Freedom's Philosopher

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