Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Freedom isn't a Value - More Follow-up

Elaborating on the idea that freedom isn't a terminal value, freely exchangeable for other things of value -

Consider, for a moment, that you have four choices of peanut butter.  Now imagine you can only have jelly if you give up your freedom - somebody else will make the choice for you.

Seems like it might be a fair trade, right?  This is kind of the way some people think about freedoms - that they're this commodity, which can be bought and sold and traded for things worth more to them.  And in a limited sense, they're right.  If I want jelly pre-mixed with my peanut butter, I can "give up" my choice between the other brands, because as far as I know only one such brand offers such a thing.

But you haven't actually traded anything away.  Your freedoms were in no way reduced by adding the option of getting jelly with your peanut butter - you were offered an additional choice.  The idea that you've lost freedom, because you've been offered a choice you prefer over the others, is an illusion.  Your freedom was increased.

Now suppose that the city government has declared that choice paralysis is a problem, and economy of scale will make things cheaper if there's only one brand, and declared that only one brand of peanut butter may be sold, and they've chosen you, yes you, to decide which brand of peanut butter everybody has to consume.

-You- haven't lost any freedoms, in a sense.  Supposing the advantages of just having the one brand are real, you've traded nothing away; your choice still gets exercised.  You traded away -everyone else's- freedoms, not your own.

Suppose they ask me.  Well, I like my peanut butter to taste like -peanuts-, so I opt for the "Natural" Smucker's peanut butter.  Okay, some of you approve, some of you will never buy peanut butter again.  Again, my choices aren't really constrained, I've really just pre-committed to a choice.  It's everybody else who gets screwed on the bargain.

Democracy doesn't resolve this issue.  It's the conceit of some statist types that if a bunch of people agree to abridge a bunch of other people's freedoms, somehow that's their right; to forbid people from abridging other people's freedoms is just wrong.  They wrap it up in nicer language, but that doesn't change the substance.


Now, all of that doesn't actually establish that freedom isn't a value, it's the forward - my basic point being here that the people who believe freedom can be traded away are wanting to trade away -your- freedom to disagree with them.  Nobody advocates that their own sacred cows be sacrificed on somebody else's altar.  At best they're willing to part with a few of their own herd for something they consider worth more.  Think of it as trickle-down politics; give up some things you want now, and maybe you'll get something of value later.

Which starts to get at my real point here: What is being traded away isn't the best brand of peanut butter.  It's the ability to choose the best brand of peanut butter -for yourself-.

"But isn't the consequence of that trade just trading away the best brand of peanut butter?"

No.  You're also trading away the right to introduce your own competing brand of peanut butter.  You're trading away the market protections which keep each brand of peanut butter high enough quality to maintain market share.  You're trading away competitive pricing.  Not to mention all the subtler things, like government indifference to the companies - do you think the city will stand idly by while its reputation is tarnished when a contaminated batch of peanut butter gets through?  Do you think it will leave the media unharrassed and free to pursue the story?

You're trading away a lot more than your favorite brand of peanut butter (or somebody -else's- favorite brand of peanut butter, as the case may be).  And that's just for a really stupid and trivial example.  You are trading away an undefined quantity - you're signing a blank check whose value will be filled in for you later.  Maybe you won't lose much in the bargain.  Maybe you'll be dead of contamination the city government refused to let the media publish.  Those are the two extremes; the point is that what you give up is completely and totally -unpredictable-.  If the freedom were a value, we could attach a price tag on what giving it up will cost us.  We can't, because it's not a value, it's part of the system by which values are determined - each of us individually making choices determines the market value of peanut butter.  And the results of eliminating this part of the system is unpredictable.

You don't want to know what you trade away when you give up something like free speech.

So no.  Freedoms aren't values, to be traded like common goods - and certainly not by people who are invariably interested in selling -your- freedoms for -their- interests, whatever the altar they wish to sacrifice your cows upon may be.  They're an integral part of the system by which values are assigned.

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