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January 08, 2010


Paul Sagar

"This, though, is romantic twaddle. There’s nothing noble or beautiful about the religious bigot or the tattooed lard-arse consuming Simon Cowell’s pap, but this is what freedom seems to have given us."

It's also given you the license and ability to write this blog...*

Regarding your closing question: isn't it mostly because freedom is not something "out there" to be discovered, but a social construct put to many different uses, over many different epochs, for many different ends. As a result, some concepts are "moralised" (e.g. libertarians have a "moralised" concept of freedom as economic non-interference, and hence don't recognise the curtailment of freedom caused by property rights [my freedom to camp on your lawn is curtailed by your owning it].)

Basically, freedom is really fricking complicated. More complicated, possibly, than even democracy.

I can feel a blog post coming along...

Rather (and uncharacteristically) hasty to infer from the existence of counter-examples to the non-validity of a thesis.


*(Whether or not stumbling and mumbling is beautiful and noble, I'll not take a stand on here).

Paul Sagar

urgh, bad editing.


"Rather (and uncharacteristically) hasty to infer from the existence of counter-examples to the non-validity of a thesis."

Was supposed to come straight after this:

"It's also given you the license and ability to write this blog...*"


Luis Enrique

Most amusing! Richard Murphy's reasonable point:

"By definition the market requires failure - includ[ing] failure to command sufficient resource to survive."

Incomprehensible point, more like. By definition the market requires [some people] to lack sufficient resources to survive? Is that what he's saying? Where does he get that idea from?

What do you, Mr S&M, have in mind by "full economic freedom"? In a "fully free" economy would people not be able to run soup kitchens? How rich is this fully free economy in which some people would supposedly starve? Are you defining "full economic freedom" to rule out, say, any form of taxation to pay for starvation prevention, and also private charitable starvation prevention? Then yes I guess some people - say very old people with no families to feed them - are bound to starve (because under this definition if anybody feeds them, it'd no longer be "full economic freedom", apparently). But why is such a definition of full economic freedom interesting, since not even the most ardent free marketeer would envisage such a system? If you don't define full economic freedom in such an absurd fashion, then it's not true that full economic freedom entails people starving, is it?

"no-one, not even those with a “democratic” mandate - should have the power to tell us what to do" eh? where does the law fit in?

Luis Enrique

more to the point a "market" does not require "full economic freedom" and is quite compatible with taxes, a welfare state etc. as we observe many countries with market economies and no starvation. Although Mr Murphy thinks this cannot happen by definition.


On the question of the freedom of free markets, I would be interested to hear what you make of this GA Cohen article


It's quite long, but the gist is that Cohen thinks the right-libertarian position that liberty is secured in a capitalist system relies on a misunderstanding of the concept of money.


"the non-egalitarian foundation for regarding liberty as the fundamental value"

Liberty as a fundamental value is totally egalitarian. It means equality for everybody facing any social process, activity,...
It is when you start measuring equality at the end of the process, considering that all participants must get the same outcome, that you have a problem with liberty. It is then when you need to act on the process and coerce the liberty of the competitors.


"A core principle of equality is that people should be equally able to avoid starvation."

No. A core principle of equality is that people should be equally free to ATTEMPT to avoid starvation. Whether they succeed or not is up to a combination of their abilities and their luck.

Where ability or luck is insufficient, those with more of either may choose to lend a helping hand. But CHOOSE is the operative word. The combination of emotion (nobody likes to see another starve), empathy ("there but for the grace...") and self interest (people starve, economy shrinks) are generally sufficient to ensure that the right choice is made. Which is why a system that forcibly collects what would otherwise have been freely given is so spectacularly pointless.

Clay Barham

America’s plight is not irreversible! It will be tough for most people to begin all over again, but it can be done unless Americans, in their hearts, have given up on their own freedom and are ready to accept tyranny. A new book describes how, called SAVE PEBBLE DROPPERS & PROSPERITY, soon to be on Amazon.com, and mentioned in claysamerica.com. It tells how America became what it did and how we need to repeat and begin again if individual freedom is what we want to retain. Clayamerica.com

Tim Worstall

"The other is Richard Murphy’s reasonable point that full economic freedom would see some people starve."

Hmm. I can't help but note that over the years there has also been a certain amount of starvation in places with less than full economic freedom.

We might thus assume that economic freedom or not (whether full or not) is not the defining factor of whether people starve or not.

We might also take other approaches (hey, like a lawyer, I'm allowed to make mutually contradictory points!).

Amartya Sen has famously pointed out that greater freedom (democracy, freedom of the press) has led to the near abolition of famine.

Smith would point to (ToMS) charity engendered by sympathy would reduce famine (as indeed many tried to do with the Irish potato one and as Luis E mentions soup kitchens above).

But the most important point would be Murphy's insane argument that markets require failure.

Markets might uncover such but where on earth does the idea that voluntary exchange requires failure come from?


Freedom is not derivative from equality. It's the other way around. Start with a population of one: That man is free, but as there are no others equality is a meaningless concept. Add a second person: he too is free. And because he is free, he is able to assert his equality. Two free men have identical opportunities, and are therefore equal. (The *men* are equal. Their outcomes may not be, but that's life.)

It is only when one of the two uses force or trickery to reduce the freedom of the other that they cease to be equal. Because all equality is, when you get down to it, equality of freedom.


I think the right-libertarians have allowed the left wing authoritarians to define equality for them and have lost the historical perspective of radical liberalism as an egalitarian tradition and a revolt against the inequality of authority.

Social democrats unfortunately don't see freedom as derived from equality, they see equality as something to be forcibly imposed from above - they reject equality in authority and often equality under the law (not so different from Tories really...)

As for Richard Murphy - as other have pointed out people starve in non-free economies. At least in a free economy people would be allowed to try and make a living as they are best able and to band together to support people - in his world that is not allowed because the state must have authority over them (for their own good naturally - his paternalism smacks of radical Toryism except with the political class and the intellectual replacing the landowner and aristocrat as the source of care).


"...this is what freedom seems to have given us."

Freedom never promises to give us virtue: it is totalitarianism that usually does. Unless you take freedom in the *positive sense, as sometimes expressed by Mill.

The point that Brittan&Murphy make, that freedom is distinct from, and sometimes conflicts with, other values (equality, security), was made by Berlin half a century ago and has been dealt with brilliantly by the republicans, notably Quentin Skinner:

"There isn’t this dichotomy between liberty and security – secure freedom is the only freedom there is. So to be asked to give up the security of your freedom is to be asked to give up your freedom. And that’s the Leveller case."

[starts at 09:59] http://www.modernliberty.net/programme/afternoon-sessions-2/liberty-sovereignty-and-republicanism


"But the most important point would be Murphy's insane argument that markets require failure.

Markets might uncover such but where on earth does the idea that voluntary exchange requires failure come from?"

You know what the opposite of profit is don't you?

Luis Enrique

but Alex, losses are the result of uncertainty, error, incompetence, and these things exist under non-market systems, not just under markets. A market will function perfectly well if all the participants are profitable - market do not require failure.


was it the Great Leap Forward where Mao ordered all the peasants to kill songbirds...whioch meant that insects proliferated, which meant that the crops failed...? Starvation ensued on a massive scale...blame that one on the market.

or even better...the Terror Famine in the Ukraine where a state imposed stavation far more efficiently than a market ever could. I imagine that even a logician as skilled as Murphy would struggle to blame that event on full economic freedom

John Terry's Mum

I am free to feed my obese children cheese burgers and destroy their metabolic systems for the rest of their lives.

Bill Ross

Democracy is only a threat to freedom, economic or otherwise when "democratic excesses" are not controlled by honest law.

The problem is that law and the legal "profession" has realized that controlling "democratic excesses" by enforcing the "rule of law" (All persons are to be treated EQUALLY in terms of rights and responsibilities by law) is unprofitable, since it maintains balance of power between individuals which has the effect of keeping the peace, reducing conflict and legal fees. Far better to enforce (All persons are NOT to be treated EQUALLY in terms of rights and responsibilities by law using false pretext X).

The Nazis were a "democratic excess" who legally deemed Jews and others "subhuman". It was a very expensive survival hit to civilization to deal with them, but they were brought down by honest "rule of law", now rationalized away:


Failure and personal accountability, as a consequence of freedom are an absolute survival necessity, so we can learn and adapt.

Justice Defined: We are all free to profit or suffer and learn (adapt to excellence) by facing the consequences of our OWN choices. Injustice is to be forced to suffer the consequences of choices of unaccountable (irresponsible) others..

Darwin warned us: Survival EQUALS ability to adapt to environment EQUALS ability to choose correctly EQUALS freedom:


Since the balance of power between prey (we, the people) and predators (system connected perps) has been upset by absence of honest law, Pandoras box of "war of all, against all" has been re-opened by "rule of corrupt, parochial man", destroyer of civilizations, for all of history. The grim reaper of "Mathematics Of Rule" proves where this folly leads:


THINK about it:


Ugg london

Never frown, when you are sad, because you never know who is falling in love with your smile.

Simon Clarke

I think the Millian justification for freedom can ultimately be defended, despite the appearance of romantic twaddle. See my work here:

Simon Clarke

In short, the Millian answer is that freedom ON AVERAGE promotes self-development. So even though there will be some bigots and lard-arses, people generally are better off

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