Freedom and the Role Of The Government
Michael C. Jensen
Harvard Business School; Social Science Electronic Publishing (SSEP), Inc.; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER); European Corporate Governance Institute (ECGI)
Debate at the University of Texas, Austin, Texas with John Kenneth Galbraith November 28, 1977
There is probably no concept so widely discussed and so dearly beloved as freedom, and yet so widely misunderstood. Freedom is something most of us want desperately for ourselves and we take great pride in claiming it as a characteristic of our society. Nevertheless, most of us have given little thought to what we mean by freedom. As a result, freedom ends up being used to describe virtually everything anyone anywhere classifies as good or right. Freedom is an hurrah word. Advocates of all ilks peddle whatever it is they are trying to sell under the guise of freedom. In the extreme, we find spokesmen for the most tyrannical states boldly claiming that theirs is the true freedom because they provide freedom from want - a logic, of course, perfectly equivalent to arguing that prisoners are free so long as they are well fed and have a roof over their heads.
Let me say a few things about what freedom is not.
-- Freedom is Not Political Democracy
-- Freedom is Not Power
-- Freedom is Not the Absence of Costs
-- Freedom is hot the Absence of Coercion
-- Freedom is Not the Absence of Constraints
In fact freedom is a matter of social constraints. I define freedom in the following way: Maximum freedom exists in a society if (1) the rights system passes on to individuals the full set of opportunities provided by nature, and (2) the state enforces its monopoly over violence. We can now use these concepts to analyze the tradeoffs between freedom and efficiency in a number of controversial areas.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 19working papers series
Date posted: November 30, 2003
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