1. Freedom as Real Wealth
As we have seen in Competing for Liberty (3/6) ... , Stigler suggests that freedom ought to be measured in terms of real wealth, i.e. the maximisation of the set of desirable opportunities open to an individual. If by real wealth we mean purchasing power in an exchange economy, we face two difficulties.
First, it is conceivable that a person with less purchasing power may be able to maximise the set of opportunities desirable to him to a larger extent than a person with more purchasing power (happy pauper vs. desolate billionaire). Second, Stigler's proposition does not contain criteria that filter out opportunities that we do not wish to be available under a regime of freedom.
If by real wealth we simply mean utility, i.e. maximising freedom is the same as maximising real wealth and the latter is the same as maximising utility (personal satisfaction in the broadest sense), freedom again loses
- specific meaning, especially the ability to exclude meanings that we positively do not associate with freedom - for instance, the ability to torture children -, and in addition
for not only is it often impossible to ascertain whether a person is actually maximising utility, but it is for the person in question often impossible to know whether she is actually maximising utility -- maybe it would have been better for her to become a computer scientist rather than a teacher of English.
No doubt, freedom in the classical liberal sense will tend to increase real wealth in accordance with both denotations of the word - purchasing power and utility maximisation. That is, freedom tends to make us more wealthy, and she tends to expand the choices at hand as well as the scope we have to choose freely from alternatives.
But these benefits of freedom depend on the type of acts of coercion that we treat as admissible and those that we suppress.
2. Coercion as an Inverse Index of Freedom
Liberty has a purpose:
the simultaneity of
- maximal personal autonomy as equally applicable to all members of the community, as well as the best possible support of
- human collaboration, and
- human cooperation.
Obstacles to the attainment of this bundle of simultaneous purposes to which freedom is geared may be regarded as forms of illegitimate coercion, which in turn, may be removed or prevented by the kind of coercion that is legitimate under a regime of freedom.
We cannot achieve freedom by successfully excluding the possibility of damaging storms, insect infestation, and other acts and events that lie outside the purview of human interaction. Freedom is a set of rules concerning the legitimate forms of conduct among human beings. Thus the kind of coercion to be minimised and the kind of coercion admissible under a regime of liberty is confined to certain characteristics of human behaviour capable of being addressed by laws and other rules.
3. Freedom as Efficiency
While freedom is not real wealth, but can momentously foster the generation of real wealth (see first section), she demands efficient execution. Freedom is attended by efficiency, but she is not conterminous with it. We will and ought to strive to achieve freedom as efficiently as possible.
In suppressing certain repudiated forms of coercion by other legitimised forms of coercion we seek to be efficient in achieving the underlying objectives, the bundle of purposes that define freedom.
Most importantly, efficiency is a facilitating practice, whose moral quality is exogenous to it. Whether or not we wish a practice to be pursued efficiently, indeed at all, depends on the use to which the efficient practice is put.
Depending on goal-defining tastes and preferences, maximum efficiency can be at work in human societies that are oriented toward very different moral ambitions. You can be efficient at searching out and killing Jews. You can be efficient at searching out Nazis and keeping them from doing nasty things to people.
Freedom is not unaffected by this.
Any manifestation of a free society is the result of forces competing more or less consciously for the prevalent meaning or practice of freedom.
I would argue that the purpose of freedom is to create a playing field for the competitive design and development of freedom.
To make sure I am not accused of circular reasoning, let me rephrase the last sentence:
The purpose of robust conditions of freedom is to create a playing field for the competitive design and development of alternative arrangements of specific freedoms compatible with robust conditions of freedom.
Owing to differing initial conditions, tastes, and preferences, two countries may come up with different specific arrangements of restrictions and freedoms, having derived them from respecting the same robust conditions of freedom.
Every human being is subject to his own characteristic of loyalties and traditions, group affiliation, inventiveness, acumen, local conditions, life circumstances, values, endowments and cost perceptions/scenarios. In a world where freedom comes at a price, different people can be expected to lay out different scenarios for listing and prioritising traits of freedom that they wish to invest in as private actors, as political principals, or as political agents.
For all those, who believe that shared decision-making (politics) is a deluded aberration from freedom as fully producible by market transactions, they ought to consider that economic scarcity and the attendant need to ration possessions, goods, and services produces political scarcity, the lack of value-unanimity and the attendant need to ration the implementation of ideological desiderata in society.
As she frees people to practice ideological autonomy, freedom is more productive of political scarcity - measured as the number of different views that may be expressed and practically pursued - than any other societal arrangement. Therefore, freedom must also be the project that ensures the peaceful pursuit of pluralism. In a word: freedom is a political enterprise - for more see Freedom as Method, Harm Principle, Benefit Principle, and the Good Politician.