From the Comments (Thought Experiment on Freedom)

From “A Thought Experiment on Freedom,” I thought these comments were worth highlighting.


Freedom is more than marginal tax rates and the monetary value of different policies. Is there a way to calculate it though? I don’t know. I think of something like Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, we need a hierarchy of liberty/freedom that focuses on the fundamentals. I’ve never read an argument suggesting this, but why not prioritize in the order of life, liberty, and then property. So it’s not just a list, it’s a list of goals in order of importance.


Would you feel differently if the country with the lower tax rate destroyed not human beings, but something truly commodifiable? Say, $70 million a year in randomly selected houses or automobiles. Otherwise your reluctance to embrace the “greater freedom” in the lower-tax country is nothing more than your recognition that a human life is not truly commodifiable, regardless of how it is statistically valued.

Both comments suggest what John Rawls called a “lexicographical” – or “lexical” for short – ordering of criteria. First, consider the protection of rights to life as most essential to freedom. Once those are fully protected, consider the protection of rights to liberty as making the difference in evaluating societies. Finally, then consider the relative protection of rights to property.

I should note that the point of my example was not to endorse some kind of “consequentialism of rights,” to wit, a principle authorizing maxims such as, “if protecting someone from murder requires theft, do it.” But we do have to compare societies on their relative freedom. Is North Korea freer than Afghanistan? Is New York freer than Alabama? Since societies differ along different dimensions of freedom, to answer those questions will require some common standard of evaluation of different freedoms’ values.

In my next post, I’ll talk about how this discussion relates to the forthcoming 2013 edition of Freedom in the 50 States.

One thought on “From the Comments (Thought Experiment on Freedom)

  1. So in a lexical ordering of freedom, we’d start with something like being secure in one’s life from random murders from the government. All the due process stuff that we thought was taken for granted before the war on terror and kill lists.

    I’ve seen other, more conservative, libertarians argue that property rights should trump any sort of emphasis on social or cultural freedoms that I’d classify as liberty. Who cares about a small minority being unable to marry who they love if everyone has their freedom diminished through higher taxes and regulations? I disagree, but it’s worth noting that it seems to be widespread among the more Republican-leaning activists online.

    So if you next get to liberty, which I’m primarily viewing as freedom of conscience, religion, speech, and the like, you’re talking about things like the right to practice your religion in your community, another thing greatly diminished by the war on terror. See “Ground Zero Mosque” and almost anything in Tennessee …

    Finally, property, which I think is the most difficult to draw a line around and defend because the existence of government by its very definition opens the door for limiting freedom when it comes to property. What is taxation if not theft?

    This would argue that for comparing New York and Alabama, looking at the war on drugs and how the death penalty is administered could potentially be more important than tax rates. And as long as we’re the United States of America and people are free to vote with their feet differences in relative freedom should work themselves out by giving people choices.

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