What is Economic Freedom?
41 Pages Posted: 13 Jul 2012 Last revised: 19 Aug 2012
Date Written: 2012
This essay is an exercise in critique. I take a concept – freedom – as it is conventionally defined and show that its logical extension leads to conclusions that are in tension with standard or existing beliefs about freedom. In particular, I show that the concept freedom, when applied to economic relationships, leads to rather different conclusions than current defenders – and critics – believe.A feature of mainstream philosophical debates is that those broadly classified as ‘right-wing’ present themselves as defenders of economic freedom, understood as the defense of lightly regulated markets, and robust rights of property and contract. Meanwhile, those broadly classified as ‘left-wing’ present themselves as limiting or reducing economic freedom in the name of other values, like justice or solidarity, understood as restricting property and contract for the sake of redistributing resources and opportunities. In this discussion of economic freedom there are at least two conceptual problems: inconsistency in the use of the term freedom, and vagueness with respect to the definition of the economic liberties. These mistakes jointly lead to misrepresentations about the range of possible positions one might take on economic freedom, and give the ‘right-wingers’ an unjustified rhetorical advantage in claiming to defend economic freedom – an advantage ‘left-wingers’ are too quick to concede. Right-wing defenders of economic freedom are not engaged in a consistent defense of freedom. And there is no logical reason why the left-wing position must be presented as the limitation of freedom for the sake of other values.
Keywords: freedom, economic freedom, liberty, property, contract, workplace democracy
JEL Classification: B14, J40, K31, L23, P12, P13, P20, P30, P32
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation