Symposium on Free Market Fairness, Liberty

Can Economic Liberties Be Basic Liberties?

[Editor’s Note: This essay is part of a symposium on John Tomasi’s Free Market Fairness. For an introduction to the symposium, click here. For a list of all posts in the symposium, click here.]

I.

Classical liberalism is generally associated with welfarism, especially with utilitarianism, in large part because its major advocates were economists. Adam Smith and the Classical Economists, Hayek, Friedman, von Mises, and many others, were basically (indirect) utilitarians.  Their arguments for robust economic freedoms and property rights were largely grounded in the efficiency of markets and their tendency to promote individual welfare.  But before economists had captured classical liberalism, Kant, Humboldt, and other German idealists argued for a nascent classical liberal position that advocated private property rights and economic freedoms.

A great virtue of John Tomasi’s (JT) Free Market Fairness that it seeks to revive a Kantian classical “liberalism of freedom,” as an alternative to the classical “liberalisms of happiness.”  He relies upon John Rawls’s Kantian constructivism. He argues that Rawls’s framework, suitably pruned and adapted, and even Rawls’s principles of justice, support a classical liberal/libertarian form of capitalism, and not the property owning democracy or liberal socialism Rawls advocates.   For left-liberal Rawlsians like myself, JT makes many challenging arguments.  I’ll focus on his argument that “thick economic rights” typical of laissez-faire capitalism should have the exceptional status of basic rights and liberties in Rawls’s sense.

Like Kant and classical liberals generally, JT assigns governments a duty to meet the basic needs of people who cannot care for themselves.   Laissez faire capitalism in England maintained the “poor relief” that originated in the Elizabethan Poor Laws, the basic idea being that a decent society does not allow its destitute and disabled to starve or freeze to death.   Welfare state capitalism goes beyond laissez-faire, and provides an array of public goods and social insurance for all society’s members, including old-age pensions, universal health care, unemployment insurance, income supplements or a minimum wage for lowest paid workers, public health measures, and publicly funded education through young adulthood.

JT’s position purportedly supports both laissez faire and a restricted welfare state capitalism. (pp.116-117)  The latter–“democratic limited government”–he says resembles the views of Hayek and Friedman.  There’s little indication that JT would endorse more extensive social welfare systems characteristic of Northern European capitalist social democracies.

JT says: “the central moral claim of market democracy [is] that thick economic liberties are among the basic rights of liberal citizens.”  (p. 121)   He understands basic rights in terms of Rawls’s first principle of justice, the principle of equal basic liberties.  For Rawls the basic liberties include liberty of conscience and freedom of thought and expression; freedom of association and the rights and liberties that maintain freedom and integrity of the person (including freedom of occupation and a right to hold personal property); equal political liberties and the rights establishing the rule of law.  Rawls explicitly rejects economic rights, including ownership of means of production, as among the basic liberties, saying that the scope of economic rights are to be defined and regulated by his second principle, including the difference principle.

II.   

A distinctive feature of Rawls’s first principle is that the basic liberties can only be restricted for the sake of maintaining the “most extensive scheme” of equal basic liberties (or “fully adequate scheme” Rawls later says).  JT endorses transfers to the least advantaged to prevent them from destitution or similar threats to the basic security and integrity of their persons.  He argues this is compatible with basic economic liberties.  (Rawls also contends that among the basic rights protected by the first principle is that basic needs be met.)  But it is hard to see how JT could justify other transfers needed to effectively exercise the basic liberties, or even justify many measures recognized by laissez faire capitalism to maintain the conditions of economic efficiency.   For it is the nature of a basic liberty that it cannot be restricted for the sake of economic efficiency, the public good, or to provide greater opportunities or social benefits to others.  Thus, once thick property rights are made basic, it seems a violation of them to tax everyone to pay for public services such as public education, health care, unemployment insurance, old-age pensions and other benefits endorsed even by classical liberals such as Hayek and Friedman.  (The fact that these benefits might be needed to enable citizens to effectively exercise their basic liberties is irrelevant, since neither Rawls, and surely not JT, claims that a right to an education, health care, a social minimum, etc., are themselves basic rights protected by the first principle.)  Also, it appears to violate basic economic liberties to legally forbid price collusion, agreements in restraint of trade, and other practices that undermine efficient markets.  Most regulations to control monopolies and otherwise maintain market efficiency would seem violations of basic economic rights.  Moreover, government’s powers of eminent domain, needed to establish transportation and communication infrastructure (highways, RR, airports, electricity and telephone easements, etc.) would not seem to be possible if economic liberties are basic.  Nor can people be taxed to pay for these and most other public goods not essential to protecting the basic liberties.

None of these measures now taken for granted in a modern capitalist society would seem to be possible if, as John envisions, economic rights of property and freedom of contract could be limited only for the sake of protecting other basic rights and liberties. Economic liberties were never given such extraordinary priority, even during the laissez-faire era, that they could not be limited to maintain economic efficiency and other public goods.  It appears then that, by making the economic liberties basic in Rawls’s sense, John, whether wittingly or not, argues for a kind of libertarianism that allows public transfers only if necessary to protect the basic security of persons and their basic liberties (thus to pay for police protection, prisons, national defense, the courts and administration of the legal system, and a few other essential public goods).

III. 

It is a truism to say that in order to achieve the benefits of an efficient market economy (increasing productivity, greater economic output, increasing productive capital, etc.), the basic rules of property, contract, and exchange must be structured to realize efficient market relations.  This is a precondition of the benefits of Smith’s Invisible Hand and Hayek’s Spontaneous Order.  It is the main reason that the great classical liberal utilitarians did not put economic liberties on a par with important personal liberties such as freedom of conscience, expression, and association.  To design basic economic rights and liberties as JT proposes, so that they realize something quite distinct from economic efficiency—namely, our capacities for self-authorship—takes the Invisible Hand in the wrong direction.  It unrealistically assumes that economically efficient market relations and outcomes fortuitously will transpire as a result of the exercise of economic liberties which not only are designed to promote something entirely different (individual self-authorship) but which cannot even be modified to achieve economic efficiency.  Hayek’s spontaneous order, like Smith’s Invisible Hand, never countenanced such an extraordinary coincidence.

IV.

In light of this, it is especially puzzling how JT can argue that his account of free market fairness satisfies the difference principle, and that the least advantaged under his account fare better than they would in Rawls’s property owning democracy  (pp.226-237), or presumably a social democratic capitalist welfare state.   This puzzle is only aggravated by JT’s support for open borders (p.262), allowing workers freedom to migrate wherever they choose. The likely outcome is that wages for unskilled labor, the least advantaged for Rawls, would be bid down to subsistence levels.

My question for JT is:  Given the stringent nature of basic liberties, how can he contend that a society in which laissez-faire capitalist economic rights are not simply constitutionally protected, but are regarded as basic rights and liberties in Rawls’s sense, can justify the institutions of a limited welfare state, or even the laissez-faire capitalism of the classical economists?  If thick economic liberties are truly basic, and hence cannot be restricted for the sake of economic efficiency and the public good (not to mention economic reciprocity and fairness), how does JT avoid a position much like Nozick’s libertarianism (which he explicitly rejects)?

Note: After Theory, Rawls confined the priority of the basic liberties to the “central range of application” of a basic liberty in exercising one or the other moral powers.  Thus, whereas political speech, and scientific, artistic, literary, and cultural expression are basic liberties with priority over other social values (since they are necessary to exercise one or the other moral powers), advertising and commercial speech are not basic and can be restricted for legitimate public reasons. I do not see how this qualification can help John’s argument for laissez-faire economic liberties. For if it is argued that thick economic liberties are within the central range of application, then the initial problem remains; they still cannot be restricted for reasons of economic efficiency or the public good.   On the other hand, if it is argued that, not thick economic liberties, but more qualified rights of private ownership and freedom of economic contract are basic rights with a central range of application to the moral powers, then this strengthens the case for widespread private ownership of productive resources for all citizens—thus supporting property-owning democracy.  Can it seriously be argued that thick economic liberties—including laissez-faire rights of contract and rights of unlimited accumulation of wealth and productive resources–are within the central range of application of economic liberties necessary to the development and exercise of the moral powers?  I address this question next.

One Further Note Before I Do: John’s claim that limits on worker’s hours violate workers’ freedom (p. 77 and elsewhere) assumes that such restrictions prevent wage laborers from working more than an 8 hour day. But workers can always take on a second job, or alternatively agree to work overtime at their only job at overtime rates.  The restriction on hours is not a restriction on workers but on employers from exercising duress over workers, requiring them to work, for example, 14 hours days at the same wage rate to preserve their jobs.

V.

Now I’ll turn to John’s argument that thick economic liberties are justified by the moral powers of free and equal moral persons (defined as the capacities for self-authorship and respect for others’ rights of self-authorship).  Rawls endorses the basic liberties of freedom of occupation and choice of workplace, so that’s not the issue here.  The issue is whether thick rights of ownership and control of means of production and laissez-faire freedom of economic contract are conditions of the effective exercise and full development of the moral powers of citizens generally.

I am not sure what the argument for this could be.  If John’s claim is that, to develop the moral powers and be an independent person, each person must actually exercise to some degree economic liberties and own and control productive capital, then this would be a justification of property-owning democracy, with widespread distribution of productive wealth and economic powers to all citizens.   John clearly rejects property-owning democracy.   In any case, a claim that all persons must exercise thick economic liberties for their self-authorship is false, since most people who effectively author their own lives do quite well without being entrepreneurs or owning and extensively controlling productive capital.

Perhaps John’s claim then is that having the opportunity to exercise thick economic liberties, including extensive ownership rights of productive capital, is a condition of the effective exercise of the moral powers.  Why should the fact that some people, but not others, are laissez-faire capitalist entrepreneurs who own and control extensive productive capital be necessary to the exercise and development of everyone’s moral powers?   The opportunity to exercise such thick economic liberties does not exist in Northern European social democracies, or even in the U.S., and most people (except the poor) can effectively exercise their powers of self-authorship.

Moreover, even if thick economic liberties were necessary for these purposes, I do not see why this should justify making economic liberties basic in Rawls’s sense, instead of, say, constitutionally guaranteed economic rights that can only be overridden for special public reasons (such as economic efficiency and important public goods).  For Rawls, having an adequate share of income and wealth is a condition of maintaining the value of the basic liberties and the full development and effective exercise of the moral powers; but this does not lead him to argue for a basic right to a guaranteed income as part of his first principle.  Instead Rawls leaves the determination of citizens’ entitlements to a social minimum up to the difference principle.  The general point is that certain rights and institutions can be necessary for the effective exercise of the moral powers (e.g. education, health care, and a social minimum) but this does not imply they should be basic rights.  Thus, thick economic rights and liberties can be seen as having great importance (as in Hayek and Friedman) without their being cemented into the exceptional position of basic rights and liberties.

I remain at a loss to understand why John thinks that thick capitalist economic rights (e.g. the right of unlimited accumulation of wealth) are necessary preconditions for everyone’s effectively exercising their moral powers; and (even if this is so) why such rights should be protected as basic rights and liberties that can be restricted only in order to protect others’ basic rights and liberties.

My suspicion is that John’s real reasons for making thick capitalist economic liberties basic in Rawls’s sense has little to do with the institutional conditions necessary for everyone to exercise and develop their moral powers.  He says, “the exercise of thick private economic liberty is for many citizens a condition of responsible self-authorship.” (p. 183)  This suggests that  for many people in a capitalist economic system, essential to their particular occupations and conceptions of the good is that they be capitalist entrepreneurs and/or owners of productive resources with thick economic rights to use as they choose.  Of course this may be true of many people.  John’s example is Amy’s dog wash, “Pup-in-the-Tub”  (which nonetheless would seem to do quite well without laissez-faire liberties in a property owning democracy or social democratic welfare state—but I’ll let that issue be.)  But it is also true that many other people might rationally desire that other economic rights and powers be made basic since they are essential to pursue their very different occupations and life plans.  For many workers in social democratic economies of Northern Europe it is essential to their occupations and life plans that they be guaranteed unemployment benefits, bargaining rights, a right to strike, and co-determination rights and other worker prerogatives within their firms.  But this does not mean that such social democratic rights should be given the exceptional status of basic economic rights that can only be restricted to protect other basic rights and liberties.

My general point is that simply because certain rights and liberties are essential conditions for many people to pursue their particular choice of occupations and life plans is not a reason to make them basic rights and liberties.  For rights and liberties to be basic in Rawls’s sense, they must at least be necessary to the exercise and development of the moral powers of all citizens.

Perhaps John can clarify these perplexing issues.

  • Josh

    Just one note on your second-to-last paragraph.  Perhaps it’s outside of the scope of Rawls, but surely there is a fundamental difference between the moral claims of someone to the right to produce and enjoy the fruits of their production, and a putative right to enjoy the fruits of someone else’s production?  You seem to hold these equivalent when you state ‘others might rationally desire that that other economic rights and powers be made basic…’ etc.

    Surely rights can never be only about what we desire, but about what we are entitled to. I would argue that we cannot be legitimately entitled to the creations of others, and should either trade for them or enjoy them as a result of the goodwill of those who freely support us.

    (I’m aware that some people argue that all profit is made possible by conditions created by the State and as such no one is responsible for their own income – hopefully most people on this blog see through that.)

    That’s not the end of the story, because other basic liberties may conflict with economic rights – but they do not *automatically* trump them.  We live in neither a Randian nor a Marxist moral universe.

  • Kevin Vallier

    Prof. Freeman, thanks so much for joining the discussion. A question about your “general point”: Why don’t your concerns about the rationale for basic economic liberties apply to basic rights and liberties that traditional Rawlsians endorse? 

    For instance, consider religious liberty. Many of the rights and liberties ascribed to religious citizens by liberal constitutions seem like they will only apply to citizens who wish to engage in religious practices. Freedom of worship is one example. Atheists don’t worship anything, so having the liberty to worship does not seem necessary to the exercise and development of the moral powers of all citizens. Similarly, some people are apolitical – they just don’t care that much about politics. For those people, the right to vote is not necessary to the exercise and development of the moral powers of all citizens.

    Now of course you can stretch the meaning of these rights to ensure that they are necessary to the exercise and development of all citizens’ moral powers. For instance, you can construe the freedom not to worship anything as part of freedom of worship. In that case, the freedom to worship or not to worship may well be essential to the exercise and development of the moral powers of all citizens. 

    But if you can construe religious freedom in this way, why can’t John construe economic freedoms similarly? Consider the freedom to accumulate great wealth. Not everyone cares about accumulating great wealth (though surely more care about this than their right to vote). So the freedom to accumulate great wealth is not necessary to the exercise and development of the moral powers of all citizens. But if we construe the right to accumulate great wealth to include the right not to accumulate great wealth, then the right seems sufficiently broad to cover a great many citizens. 

    The challenge, I think, is that both traditional Rawlsians and John need to be clearer about the relevant modality, scope and thresholds needed to establish basic rights and liberties (as your student and my colleague Jeppe von Platz has helpfully pointed out in a recent paper). Are basic rights and liberties those *necessary* for the *adequate* development of the two moral powers for *all* citizens? Sometimes John leans towards holding that basic rights and liberties are those necessary for the maximal development of the two moral powers, though other times he seems closer to the adequacy conception. And some may find the unanimity requirement too strong. On this view, basic rights and liberties are those necessary for the adequate development of the two moral powers for most citizens.

    And of course, depending on how you answer the question, John can always argue that the relevant specification applies to many economic liberties other than freedom of occupation and the right to own personal property.

    •  “For instance, you can construe the freedom not to worship anything as part of freedom of worship.” and then “Consider the freedom to accumulate great wealth.” I’m sorry, I don’t get your analogy. There have been times and places where attendance at public worship services has been compulsory and enforced by the state. There have been times and places where voting has been compulsory and enforced by the state. In both cases having the right to opt out counts as a true expansion of liberty.

      However  to my knowledge there has been no place or time where accumulation of great wealth has been compulsory and enforced by the state. I don’t therefore see how opting not to accumulate great wealth counts as a right in the same sense as opting not to attend public worship or to vote.

    • Jake

      @Kevin: Can you provide a title of or link to Platz’s paper.

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  • 3cantuna

    In Europe, ‘fascist’ is an insult used to describe anything or anyone that someone doesn’t like. Of course, it has more formal meaning in theory and historical context. I get the same sense from anti-market academics, like Freeman, when “efficiency” is deployed as a descriptor of their opponents’ value framework.  ‘Those damn market fundamentalist utilitarians sacrifice everything that is just in the name of efficiency.’ 

    I count “efficient-”  at least 14 times  in Freeman’s response. 

    There is some truth in the label when applied to economists that are methodological utilitarians– e.g. Friedman and many from the Chicago School. I am not sure about Hayek. But here is where Mises is different. His economic reasoning is apriori, non-quantitative, and individualist. Economic liberty, the expression of free market property, is not a matter of efficiency but of even the very possibility of human flourishing beyond primitive barter. Mises’s science informs his utilitarianism– but the science itself is not value laden. further, his utilitarianism should not be construed as being the same as Friedman’s. But that is another topic.  

    That’s ok, Dr. Freeman, Tomasi does not recognize this Misesian point either.

    • Anti-Fascist

      *points* Fascist

      • 3cantuna

        Alex Strekal, I presume.

    • Deirdre2

      Dears,

      Yes, the focus on efficiency evident since A. C. Pigou’s Economics of Welfare in the 1920s (with earlier roots in the New Liberalism of the late 19th century, and American Progressivism) has made social engineering to achieve it seem to be the point of a free society.  It’s not, historically speaking.  Innovation is the point, and innovation has only a tangential connection with efficiency.  As some have pointed out, such an observation is Austrian.  Right-wing efficiency-mavens have no response to the left’s position that “You want to achieve efficiency, you fee-market types.   All right.   So let us repair every externality, pass anti-trust legislation [immediately captured by the very industry, of course],  set up government offices to nudge everyone.  Thus efficiency.”

      Sincerely,

      Deirdre McCloskey

      • 3cantuna

        Thanks Prof. McCloskey,

        Ha! “Nudge” for the win. What has the world come to? From the voluntaristic empathy of Bill Withers’ “Lean on Me”, to Cass Sunstein’s forced collectivist governmental “Nudge”.   How would this song go? 

        Nudge on you, when you’re not strong… 
        (fast forward)
        It won’t be long
        ’till this nudge
        becomes a shove.
        for Samantha Power to glean on…

        (Okay, only the first take)

  • Austrian economists don’t believe in the efficient economy hypothesis, so for the Austrian economist, the arguments regarding efficient markets is a straw man.

  • Dan

    If thick economic liberties are truly basic, and hence cannot be
    restricted for the sake of economic efficiency and the public good (not
    to mention economic reciprocity and fairness), how does JT avoid a
    position much like Nozick’s libertarianism (which he explicitly
    rejects)?

    This was the greatest problem I had with the book. If economic liberties are basic in Rawls’ sense, then their satisfaction is lexically prior to the satisfaction of the difference principle. So all one needs to do is to run the Wilt Chamberlain argument (liberty upsets patterns, after all) and the difference principle loses all effective bite. Sure, there are responses that one can make to the Wilt Chamberlain argument, but I don’t see how any of them are available to someone like John who takes economic liberties to be basic. (Don’t say that the fact that the principles of justice are pitched at the level of the basic structure somehow helps; even then, the justice of the basic structure depends on its compliance with the principles of justice, including the protection of economic liberties.)

    I can see two ways out of becoming basically a Nozickean. One is to maintain lexical priority of the economic liberties but to weaken their scope so substantially that they do not seriously conflict with the DP (“you have freedom of contract… unless that fails to maximize the position of the worst-off” or something like that.) But then in what sense in the position different to high liberalism, or an improvement on Rawls?

    Alternatively, you might give up lexical priority. But then I think a lot more needs to be said (and a lot more carefully) about where the economic liberties fit into the whole scheme. What do they even consist in? How precisely do they interact (in cases of conflict/trade-offs/etc) with the basic liberties and the desire to maximize the position of the worst-off? Maybe it’s possible to fashion some plausible answers here. But I didn’t see them in the book, nor a recognition that this was even an issue.

    • Aeon Skoble

      Why are we necessarily interested in avoiding “becoming Nozickean”?  Is there some definitive refutation out there I missed?   AS&U isn’t the be-all-end-all, but it’s not that bad either.

    • John Tomasi

      hi dan, thanks for these interesting comments. did my reply to Sam answer your questions?

  • Dan

    (In case that comment came off a bit harshly towards the book, I should say that I haven’t read the whole thing thoroughly, just skimmed it and looked (using the index) for anything relevant to economic liberties and principles concerning their limitation/interaction with other desiderata. If I missed a decent treatment of this question, please do point me towards it.)

  • This puzzle is only aggravated by JT’s support for open borders (p.262), allowing workers freedom to migrate wherever they choose. The likely outcome is that wages for unskilled labor, the least advantaged for Rawls, would be bid down to subsistence levels.

    Sure, wages for relatively wealthy First World unskilled workers might decrease. But this is only because open immigration increases the wages of absolutely poor Third World workers. Don’t they count for anything?

    As a wise man once said, “If you claim to care about the poor and support social justice, but you are not in favor of open immigration, I do not have to and do not take you seriously.”

    • “… open immigration increases the wages of absolutely poor Third World workers. Don’t they count for anything?” Indeed they do. However the question is how best to promote their interests, and in particular whether whether unrestricted immigration is the best way to do so.

      Immigrants derive at least two major advantages from immigration: 1) access to the global economy and the associated opportunity to be compensated for their unique skills in a way not possible in their home economies, and 2) first-hand experience with the cultural norms, rule of law, modern business practices, scientific and technological knowledge, etc., that underpin modern economies, and the associated opportunity for them and their children to absorb and exploit these things for their own benefit.

      Suppose we have two countries of comparable size, developing country A and developed country B. Residents of A face a variant of the tragedy of the commons problem: Any one resident of A has a clear incentive to move to B in order to obtain the advantages outlined above. However if a substantial fraction of the residents of A did this then the advantages would likely disappear: 1) Besides the problem of depressing wages, in-group/out-group conflicts (pretty much universal in human affairs) would probably lead to de facto discrimination by residents of B against immigrants from A, limiting those immigrants’ opportunities to participate in the economy of B. 2) Through a combination of discrimination, self-clustering, and (where applicable) language differences immigrants from A would likely find themselves living and interacting mainly with other immigrants from A, limiting their opportunities to learn and exploit the norms, laws, practices, knowledge, etc., of B.

      So while any individual resident of A might want country B to have completely open borders, collectively residents of A arguably have an interest in avoiding this state of affairs and instead finding ways that they could participate in the global economy and acquire experience with its associated norms, etc., without having to leave their home country. This could happen in a relative ad hoc and slow way as A opens itself up to the global economy and gradually gets integrated into it (e.g., following the classic agriculture to manufacturing to services trajectory). It could also be helped along by such things as the “charter cities” idea promoted by Paul Romer and others, which would create a place within A to which its residents could internally immigrate in search of the opportunities previously obtainable only by immigrating to B.

      • 3cantuna

        The bonds created by sharing in the social division of labor seem more rational and healthy than the political artifice of nationalism and state that necessarily comes with your anti-immigration stance and cultural protection motive.  There is more animosity created by socialism– from public schools, to healthcare and other state provisions, that is piled on top of possible cultural tension.  Yet here you advocate further division.

        When you throw out immigrants or at least apply stringent non-propertarian (read: state) restrictions– you don’t solve the problem of neighbors parasiting neighbors.  If history serves as any guide, it is way more dangerous to resort to nationalism in order to cover up this inherent Darwinism of the system. 

        On the other hand, market property as an institution tends to regulate population and employment. E.g. wages tend to even out over time as entrepreneurial adjustments are made without artificial borders. After a while– only persons that are invited within contractual bounds are here. And without the state socialism there is less cross exploitations.

        •  We may be talking past each other here, but anyway… I think a tendency toward in-group/out-group divisions is part of human nature, and it’s quite possibly a by-product of evolutionary adaptions supporting increased cooperation. (See for example the Hammond & Axelrod model summarized here.) Assuming this is true, it puts some constraints on how different types of immigration policies would work out in the real world — and I’d add that I don’t think it’s a binary choice here between unrestricted immigration on the one hand and 50-foot-high border walls on the other.

          A related point, touched on in a recent Will Wilkinson column, is that hard economic times apparently make people more distrustful of strangers and less open to immigrants. So again, even though immigration can in fact promote economic growth, from a political / pyschological point of view I think it’s unlikely at this time that voters would support significant liberalization of immigration policy. An arguably better policy would be to support free trade and economic integration between countries, and hope that with increased prosperity more liberal immigration policies could win support.

  • Aeon Skoble

    ” it is especially puzzling how JT can argue that his account of free market fairness satisfies the difference principle, and that the least advantaged under his account fare better than they would in Rawls’s property owning democracy ”
    How is that puzzling?  Greater liberty helps the least advantaged to a greater degree than less liberty.  Occupational licensure and minimum wage laws hurt the poorest.  Robust property rights protect the least well off (and the least well-connected).   He’s saying that if you want inequalities to result from structures which work to the best advantage of the least advantaged, you should endorse institutions familiarly know as economic liberties (although I would argue that it’s a mistake to separate out “economic” from other kinds of liberty).

  • good_in_theory

    “Greater liberty helps the least advantaged to a greater degree than less liberty.”

    Greater liberty for the least advantaged helps them to a greater degree than less liberty for the least advantaged.  Greater liberty for all, uniformly does no such thing necessarily.  It depends upon what liberties you are extending.  In fact, even the first is not necessarily true.  Greater liberty for the mentally least advantaged (e.g. the mentally incompetent) often helps them not at all.

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  • ben

    “Moreover, government’s powers of eminent domain, needed to establish
    transportation and communication infrastructure (highways, RR, airports,
    electricity and telephone easements, etc.) […]”

    Why would you think that governments are needed for that?

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  • Doesn’t the modern welfare state go beyond the classical liberal ideal of “taking care of people who cannot take care of themselves” and now transfers the surplus to people who can take care of themselves but choose not to. Using the idea of “justice” to justify such a situation reeks of hypocrisy.

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