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benjamin melançon

Yesterday I learned that Friedrich A. Hayek—whom i have rightly derided for building an argument for a binary, near-meaningless conception of individual freedom on the contention that a climber stuck in a crevasse is still free—was a great supporter of alternative and local currencies, which have and can greatly enhance people's material freedom:

(Hayek opens "The Constitution of Liberty" desperately trying to cleave from the concept of liberty any notion of the power to actually do anything— because he correctly realizes, though he doesn't spell it out, that a concept of liberty which includes the liberty to do something, limited by the liberty of other people to also act on their liberty, inevitably leads to a requirement of equality. His argument, although of course he never phrases it that way, is that if he and the other owners of property and money want you to spit-shine their shoes or starve to death, you are free from coercion from other people so long as they don't physically force you or take out a gun and coerce you. But maybe he supports your right to steal their ill-gotten goods without getting shot; i clearly haven't read enough Hayek.)

We've had so many brilliant thinkers go to stupid lengths to justify inequality— but that doesn't mean there's not a lot of brilliance. I don't think humanity is served by throwing out market economics with the odious rationalizations for gross inequality it is often paired with. Where are the free market egalitarians out there?


Hayek's stripped-down concept of liberty to mean only freedom from direct coercion, treating the unquestionably human-made societal conditions we live in—conditions that allow some to live like kings and others to have few or no options for survival—the same as that nature-made crevasse—no wonder he avoids the word pit or hole, to keep the mind from considering it a human creation—is essential to his and other more reactionary attempts to justify outrageous inequality. But he's doing it in a genuine attempt to better the world. As he quotes H. B. Phillips at the start of the section: "In an advancing society, any restriction on liberty reduces the number of things tried and so reduces the rate of progress. In such a society freedom of action is granted to the individual, not because it gives him greater satisfaction but because if allowed to go his own way, he will on the average serve the rest of us better than under any orders we know how to give." This is of course even more true for a meaningful definition of individual liberty, where people individually have resources to turn theoretical liberty into practical liberty, and the liberty to act collectively, for not much in a complex society can be done completely alone, and so it's easy to show that this good-for-society justification for liberty <em>also</em> requires a relative equality. The attempt to divorce liberty from any means for physical survival is particularly evil when advocating for a world in which everything must be purchased in markets. Hayek went to such lengths because he was trying to stave off intellectual justifications for socialism, but equality with markets, equality with economic freedom, would address his legitimate concerns, and preserve the positive values and societal benefits he's arguing for.

And this wouldn't be hard, structurally. Two percent or so wealth redistribution a year, and we can have all the good freedoms associated with free association in a market economy with little of the coercion associated with extreme inequality. Markets will still fail regularly, indeed they have little useful to provide even in theory to the exchange of non-rivalrous (infinitely reproducible) goods (a particularly apt use case for democratic socialism), and no society in the history of the world has been able to trust critical infrastructure like transportation completely to markets (hence why so much is called "public works"), but running an entire economy is hard and promoting decentralization and freedom with markets that manage to work with gross inequality, and will work even better with relative equality, just makes sense.