Defining Freedom

Defining freedom is often complicated

Defining freedom was discussed by Milton Friedman, a prominent economist.  Freedom is often associated with advocating for free-market capitalism and individual freedom. His quote, “The academic wants freedom for himself but no one else. The businessman wants freedom for everyone else but not for himself,” encapsulates how these play out regarding personal and economic freedoms, from the perceived priorities of academics and businessmen. The quote suggests a dichotomy in the priorities of academics and businessmen, one responsible for how we think about freedom, by choices, fairness and security; the other for providing us with the means of measuring it through acquiring or experiencing things that make us happy.

Starting with academics, the quote implies that they may champion personal freedoms and intellectual independence for themselves. Academics typically value the freedom to explore ideas, conduct research without interference, and express opinions without fear of reprisal. This desire for individual freedom aligns with the traditional ethos of academia, where the pursuit of knowledge is paramount. But, and especially these days, their desire for freedom seems very selfish. They want to be free to learn and experiment; but they also want to stay elite, leaders in society. They tend to specialize in one area, and few can embrace debate or challenges to their thinking as a learning strategy.

On the surface academics support social justice and equality, attacking systems that seem to exasperate inequalities like free-market capitalism. They believe that they have the only solution for these societal problems and they pedal influence through their degree prerequisite through all levels of government and policy making. This specialized narrow perspective ignores problems that arise in conflict with their held beliefs. For example; in the name of equality, everyone should be given a base allowance or we should increase minimum wage. But the inflationary effects are ignored, as are any lack of money management skills. So that we create a society that keeps looking for it’s next hand out to survive. And at the same time, those who have the skills and work ethic feel robbed of the fruits of their labor to provide for those who don’t put in any effort.

On the other side of the equation, businessmen are portrayed as advocating for economic freedom for everyone else. As such the business man can provide anything and everything to anyone, because everyone has the ability to purchase whatever their hearts desire. However, among the business men, by having less freedoms themselves, they are able to squeeze out lesser competition. Acquiring assets of businesses who couldn’t compete, they grow into huge corporate entities that can even dominate multiple industries. Eventually having a monopoly where they control the supply curve, driving up demand and profits. We saw with the pandemic removal of freedoms, how Amazon and Walmart thrived while smaller privately-owned establishments went bankrupt because they couldn’t open to the public.

However, the quote suggests that businessmen may not prioritize personal freedoms in their own professional or corporate environments. In a corporate setting, decisions are often driven by profit motives, and individual freedoms might be constrained in the interest of organizational goals. Critics argue that businesses, in pursuit of their bottom line, may sometimes curtail personal freedoms within the workplace, leading to concerns about issues such as worker rights, job security, and workplace autonomy.

Because it has to be said, this is a generalization and doesn’t capture the nuances of individual beliefs within these groups. Not all academics prioritize personal freedoms over economic freedoms, and not all businessmen are indifferent to personal freedoms in their professional lives. People’s perspectives are diverse and shaped by a range of factors, including personal values, experiences, and the specific context in which they operate.

Ultimately, Friedman’s quote reflects a simplified characterization of the perceived priorities of academics and businessmen regarding personal and economic freedoms. The reality is that both spheres overlap in their influence over society’s desires. We can only maximize freedoms as they are perceived by our relative happiness when these two forces work together in a balance of economic stability. Unfortunately the present overlap of these forces is administrated via government interference, and void of sustainable economic policy. As the gap between the haves and have-nots widens, people trade personal freedoms for the money (financial freedom) to afford basic needs. But it is a one way exchange, the banker skims off the top, giving back less with each transaction, until we have no personal freedoms left, and must take what we are given and pretend to be happy for it.

Copyright 2023 Hamilton Steele (en français)



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Defining Freedom

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