The Philosophy of Freedom
Freedom is still the most radical idea of all – Anonymous
When I started this blog, I wanted this to be a place where I could explain to people how and why free markets work. And I read verociously, collecting evidences to prove the efficiency of free markets. But in the process I have come to realise that this is not an argument that can be won solely on the merit of evidence alone. I for example did not become convinced of the benefits of free markets because I read some obscure economics text book filled with statistics of South Korean economy out-performing India. I did read them, but only later. Before I came to love free markets, I fell in love with something else first – FREEDOM. My college had an electrifying effect upon me in the first few months. I was a pond fish thrown into the ocean. I learnt my first lessons on freedom there. And freedom is a harsh teacher. When you are under the all protecting embrace of some one, you can afford to be irresponsible. You have neither freedom nor accountability. But a day does come in everyone’s life when one has to leave the safety of one’s nest and find his own place under the sun. Then we realize that freedom is not free. With it comes great responsibility. You have to remember that every word you say is a promise and every act you do is set in stone. This huge accountability is what makes freedom too hot to handle for many. But even during the worst of days when I had messed up everything ( There were many ), never once did I want to trade my freedom for security. And that is something I will always be proud of. Freedom is the lifeblood of my soul. It is not for sale.
As I fell in love with freedom, I wanted to make sure that she will never leave me. I searched for the best way to defend my newly found love. I still remember the night when Atlas Shrugged shattered all my existing notions of justice. Ayn Rand is a ruthless fighter. She is the perfect match for that wily old fox, Karl Marx. Ayn Rand was not an economist. She talks little about markets. Infact her heroes often hate ordinary people like us who in fact constitute the markets. But she convinced the world that there is justice in freedom. That all talks of morality are meaningless without freedom. I have moved on after Atlas Shrugged. Ayn Rand cannot explain the world. Her philosophy is too rigid and uni-dimensional. You cannot convince people that selfishness is a good quality. She has created a cult following. And cults are poisonous to freedom. But this is not to speak less of her influence on the philosophy of freedom. It is just that freedom is a very simple and natural idea and has to be supported by a simple and intuitive philosophy.
That philosophy is called Laissez Faire. It literally means “Leave Us Alone”. Western nations were governed by this philosophy in the late nineteenth century and they sowed the seeds of the greatest triumph of mankind in the several thousand years of its existence, when Capitalism lifted millions out of poverty within a span of a couple of decades and human population witnessed a dramatic boom.* America and Britain, the two freest nations on earth also became the most prosperous. People realised that markets had the midas touch. Whenever people were left free to trade, they generated unimaginable quantity of wealth. Then there were no economists telling people how to spend their money and how to live their lives. The subject of macro-economics was not even born. People did not care about GDP. They cared about freedom. The statesmen of that age were wise enough to know that freedom was the absolute necessity for human life. And once people are left free, they can generate all other material comforts.
Today laissez faire and capitalism are dirty words. The condition is not as bad as the 60s and 70s when several youngsters spent the prime of their life trying to be their country’s Che Guevara. ** But still even those who understand the benefits of capitalism are apologetic about it. If only I had a nickel everytime I heard someone say this – “Socialism is noble, but Capitalism works”. What is noble about an ideology that refuses to grant people even the basic right to spend their hard earned money as they please? What is noble about attaining equality in starvation? Why is it so important that everyone should be equal, when the most special moments in one’s life are the ones when he realizes that he has done something sublime, something no one else could have done? What is progressive about public ownership of property, when all of human civilization is due to man’s attempts to attain greater privacy and control over one’s life?
Do not confuse charity and socialism*** Socialists hate charity, because it reduces the need for an all encompassing big state. The root of socialism is envy. Envy poisons human mind. It makes one want to destroy rather than create. That is why socialists never talk about creating wealth. They always want to re-distribute others wealth. In George Orwell’s words socialism is ” A boot stamping on a human face, FOREVER“.
However poisonous it is , Socialism is an idea. And ideas cannot be fought using facts. If that was possible, just a look at the Korean peninsula would have sufficed. The difference between South and North Korea is all the difference there is between Capitalism and Socialism, between the morality of freedom and the (im)morality of equality. But people still love to flaunt Che Guevara on their shirts as if he were a rock star. We have to fight ideas with ideas. To believe in free markets and capitalism, one has to believe in freedom first. Milton Friedman, the most popular economist on the side of freedom said this -“Underlying most arguments against free markets is an argument against freedom itself”.
Today free markets have clearly shown their superiority. But we should not forget that we are always one generation away from tyranny. It takes just one determined mad politician and a crisis to lose this fragile freedom we have. Freedom needs to win it’s battle against equality. If you are convinced of the tremendous importance of this cause, join me in defending freedom. Educate yourself about the working of free markets. Convince others that freedom works. I am planning to share whatever I have understood about the economics of freedom in a series of posts. Spread the word if you find that useful.
There is one scene from the first episode of FRIENDS that inspires me whenever I watch it. Rachel has freed herself from her benevolent family, but still uses her dad’s credit card to shop. Her new friends convince her to shred the cards. Then Monica tells Rachel this – ” Welcome to the real world. It sucks. You are gonna love it“.
To me that sentence captures all that I have learnt about freedom.
Noted in Passing:
* Yes. Do not be frightened by population. Despite all it’s problems it is good that mankind is populating the earth and not rats
** Che was a monster. To consider him an icon of liberty is equivalent to holding Madonna as an icon of chastity
***Anbe Sivam, a Tamil movie does this dirty trick