When we think about a future beyond the long crisis ahead, we find ourselves confronted with challenging questions. Among them is the meaning and implications of “perfect freedom” — the principle articulated by Patrick Henry, Friedrich Hayek, Milton Friedman and others.
Patrick Henry famously said, “Perfect freedom is as necessary to the health and vigor of commerce as it is to the health and vigor of citizenship.”
Many Americans consider this as an unyielding principle. But context matters. Those following this blog over time have, I expect, given thought to the limits of freedom we experience in our personal lives. We all live in a reality defined by limitations and constraints.
A democratic society that provides the security and social order needed for the freedoms we treasure will always present us with limits. The decisions we make concerning personal relationships, education, employment, and recreation impose the most immediate constraints in our daily lives.
So, what is ‘perfect freedom’?
If we are committed to ‘perfect freedom’ in principle, how can we fault business leaders for maximizing profits by moving jobs overseas or mechanizing assembly lines or in using any other means absent of fraud?
What else can we expect? And, how can any alternative be legislated with fairness or practical effect?
Yet, we are now forced to recognize that even capitalism itself cannot survive in a world where “anything goes.”
Healthy businesses depend on stable economic policies, predictability, and the accuracy of price-seeking markets. Free markets are necessary because prices in the marketplace must reflect reality for both buyers and sellers.
These are basic structural necessities that make economic freedom possible. No commerce and no functional economy is possible without it.
Freedom depends on respect for the rules that make it possible.
Today we find ourselves facing the overwhelming consequences of structural economic destruction. Capital is monopolized by a tiny minority, and it is parked in unproductive places. Money is not circulating, which limits economic activity.
A vibrant consumer economy has been derailed and the middle class hobbled.
The functional integrity of free markets has been abandoned to the self-centered interests of predatory individuals and institutions. And that is not all.
Money and power now flow in the virtual reality of electronic networks, largely independent of the productive economy. The new network economy is global, while jobs and people, community and responsibility all remain locally constrained in the real world.
Americans have entered a major turning point.
Placing blame is of little use when we are confronted with such extremes. Yes, we must understand our predicament. But, it is essential that we then turn our attention to re-imagining and re-configuring the future.
We need to think creatively and think together, calling on partisan adversaries to pull in their horns, get practical and apply themselves locally.
For many, the jobs we had are gone for good. Incomes have stagnated or deteriorated for decades. Most significantly, many of us have lost our means for living with self-respect.
Making an income influences our sense of dignity and well-being. Unemployment and poverty are not simply insufficiencies of income. They have a debilitating impact on individual freedom, initiative, and capacity.
Poverty and overwhelming debt are more than regrettable misfortunes. They inflict a serious drag on a productive economy and are a blight on liberty.
Local communities can choose to overcome this barrier. Individuals with practical experience can share knowledge and skills, assisting others to step out of our old lives and gain new competencies.
Each of us can look around, think creatively, and take initiative – cooperating where necessities become obvious and building businesses that address local and regional needs.
Locally and regionally-based economies need to be reconstructed, transcending the chaos around us and surmounting the stumbling blocks thrown up by government and big business.
We can network with people in nearby communities to share ideas and resources, to find (or offer) learning opportunities, and to expand our horizons.
Americans are smart, industrious, and resourceful. We can rise to the challenge and free one another from the shackles of limited perspective and inadequate skills.
Working together requires many things, among them patience, vision, creative imagination, cooperation and generosity of spirit.
These are choices that are ours to make.
Please watch for the next post on or about September 27.