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Years ago George Will commented on certain postulates of economic freedom.(I believe the column was based on FDR's "Four Fredoms").For too many people there is a confusiion between economic freedom and entitlement.His reductio ad absurdum was if there are only a few people employed how can one say health care is a right-since there is no way to fund it.Whereas political freedoms(religion,speech,asembly,etc.)are not exhaustible money is.Having said that I don't know how you'd separate political vs. economic freedoms in importance.It reminds me of youthful arguments on whether clinicians or pure researchers are more important


"I associate democracy not with voting-as one of you claimed- but with competition among interest groups and parties for political office. The right to vote may be necessary, but is surely far from sufficient in producing political freedom-competition politically is the crucial test of democracy."

Interesting. So in Becker's view, is a gerrymandered Congress "democratic?" I would guess not. On the flip side, how about a system with many political parties where only millionaires can vote? That would fit Becker's definition, but no one else's.


Having been reared in the world of the impoverished I can tell you that yes they seek economic freedom from their debts and empowerment for their dreams, however on the same hand they understand the need for sacrifice to protect the political freedoms afforded them through democracy.Consider the economic status of the people who serve in the military.


"Some of you argued that economic freedom is more important than political freedom. I have some sympathy with that view, although it depends a lot on circumstances. Very poor individuals do put much greater emphasis on economic freedoms. But that weight tends to change as people get richer. That is one main reason why political freedoms tend to follow economic development."

Time for some econ! I almost commented on this before, but your response has convinced me to comment. This reminds me of the age-old question: If water has more "value" than gold, why does gold cost more? The answer, of course, was answered long ago. Water has more "total utility" but gold has greater "marginal utility." Couldn't this explanation be applied to economic and political freedom? For societies struggling to reach bare subsistence, they may very well (I think they do, at least) value economic freedom over political freedom, just as a society with very little water may value (in a price sense) water more than gold. Economic freedom may have a greater total utility (again, I think it does), but for more affluent societies, where their economic needs are perceived to be thoroughly quenched, the relative value of economic freedom (that is, its marginal utility) decreases, whereas the marginal utility of political freedom increases. Does this make any sense to other econ nerds out there?


The comparisons between political and economic freedom seem senseless. In theory, political freedom is deemed to protect liberty interests. If liberty interests are not infringed, political freedom is unnecessary. They are not separate commodities, but usually interdependent. A just king provides no incentive for political freedom because a theoretically just democratic society would reach the same just results. Becker's initial post stated, "To be absolutely clear, I am not claiming that people value economic freedoms more than political freedoms. Rather, the argument is that economic freedoms tend to lead before long to political freedoms, while the reverse causation is slower and less certain." This is too timid. People value political freedom because they view it as requisite to protecting liberty, especially the fundamental desire of humans for economic liberty and self-subsistence.

Obviously, the problem resulting from governments lacking political freedom is that rulers are usually not just. In contrast, political freedom provides a long-run guarantee to collective compromise, and just results. Yet, when a politically closed government grants economic freedom, momentum starts towards political freedom. Once people are granted a right, become accustom to the right, it becomes difficult for a government to take it back. Our country's own history is an apt example.

When citizens have something to lose, they have incentive to revolt against future deprivations by the government. The ruler can either compromise, or face loss of power. In contrast, the democratically impoverished countries have little incentive to grant or protect economic freedoms. The short-term self-interest of democracy often results in the haves taking from the have nots, discouraging future economic investment (see Africa).


A good way for the USA to promote economic and political freedom would be to spend hundreds of billions of dollars creating an "Institute for Free Advice to Other Countries". Every year the USA could host a lavish ceremony to which all the heads of state of all the countries in the world would be invited. At the ceremony Bush would present each head of state with a thick book bound in elegant red leather embossed with ornate gold lettering that would say, taking France as an example, "Free Advice for France: Practical Common Sense Steps that France Can Take to Solve It's Economic and Political Problems -by the USA". Bush could even sign the inside of each book's cover: "Best of Luck, G. W. Bush (A.K.A. Leader of the Free World)".

That, however, might be a bit arrogant, so maybe the the USA should just do what it's done in the past and subject any country that doesn't do what it says to a brutal military occupation costing hundreds of billions of dollars and untold thousands of lives.

The USA's "democratic" style of government seems to work well when people are voting on things that affect them directly (for example, whether to pay 1% higher taxes and have 10% fewer pot-holes in the roads) but it hasn't done very well when people are voting on something that doesn't affect them directly (white people voting whether black people should be slaves, men voting whether women should get to vote, people in the USA voting on whether people in Iraq should be subjected to a brutal military occupation, etc).

Even if political freedom is defined as political competition, it is not clear how political competition prevents a "democracy" like the USA from, for example, thinking that slavery was a good idea for the first hundred years of its existance. Now that the USA's political process is making decisions for Iraq (by means of a brutal military occupation), an interesting question is how to let Iraqis compete in the USA's political process.

Peter Konefal

I'm not convinced, as Posner clearly isn't that any determinist Marxist interpretation of future history necessary involves a transition to world socialism (since, arguably, the world has generally achieved capitalism). Nonetheless, Becker makes a mistep in saying that Marx proposed an "erroneous prophesy". As history is NOT over yet, we humble mortals are incapable of assessing the veracity of this claim. Make no mistake about it - although I believe there is a compelling logic to Marx's capitalist end game (even a strong one perhaps) I think the deterministic bent to Marx's prophesizing is among the least convincing of his writings.

Already he has been more right in extrapolating a period of capitalism wherein enormous conglomerates ruled the day as opposed to the small, localized factory production companies of Marx's day.

Extrapolating trends and guessing at the future is extremely difficult to do with any accuracy, and Marx was no less subject to these conditions, but let us not step out of our bounds in calling him 'wrong' about something historical like capitalism yet.

Peter Konefal

I am grasping at the last statement "as far as I know Marx did not consider political freedom important".

I'll be honest, I haven't actually read the primary texts of 'Capital' or any other of Marx's works, but I have read very well written secondary accounts of Marx from Heilbroner, and others, and taken several courses on political economics.

So, I'm not a Marxian expert by any stretch of the imagination.

The best I can assume here, is that the working definition of political freedom referred to here by Becker is radically different than one which Marx was using, or that I would consider relevant.

Marx viewed political freedoms as largely contingent on the realization of economic freedoms, although the economic freedom definition Marx was using was one based on:

democratic control of economic resources.

Democratic control of industrial resources resolves the exploitative condition of labour alienation (where workers work producing things that they do not own, and recieve as compensation wages which are theoretically suboordinate to the actual value of their labour power).

Thus, in the Marxist definition of things, political freedom is contingent upon economic freedom, or 'economic democracy'.

The concept of governance involving equal 'ownership' and 'participation' in the economy by all citizens is a distinctly socialist one, and I may be erroneous in assigning that formal definition to Marx's own thought.

In any case, the resultant political freedoms achieved in a socialist society are arguably far more significant than those enjoyed in capitalist societies, since the political freedom implies economic control (at an individual, rationalized level).

Keep in mind, this is a theoretical argument - I make NO assertions that any self-proclaimed "socialist" society throughout history has actually lived up to or in any way resembled these theoretical aspirations.

Nonetheless, Marx, as a proponent of socialism, undoubtedly (I would argue) had this version of political democracy in mind when he made his materialist critiques of history and capitalism.

Peter Konefal

Just to make it clear, I am not myself a "Marxist" - I'm just trying to help keep the debate closer to Marx's actual thinking on these issues.

I assign like most economists, great value to those thinkers who really wrestled with economic ideas back when economics and political science were (rightly) combined into a single discipline.

Adam Smith, Karl Marx and John Locke were fundamentally interested in political economics, and moreover, engaged economic ideas in connection to (seemingly alien to our minds) concepts of public morality, religion, spirituality, 'natural rights' and proper governance.


There is another aspect to legalization that makes it attractive. Legal sellers would not sell to minors for fear of losing their lucrative license. There would be "cheaters", but for the most part drugs would be harder for children to get.

Drug dealers like selling to kids. Kids are not cops. Liquor store owners or licensed drug vendors would have much to lose by selling to children.

People who TRULY care about the availability of drugs to children should favor legalization and control over the current system.


"Already he has been more right in extrapolating a period of capitalism wherein enormous conglomerates ruled the day as opposed to the small, localized factory production companies of Marx's day."

Due to the industrial revolution the "optimal" scale of production was increasing in Marx day. He made the childish (but not uncommon) mistake of extrapolating a trend to infinity, assuming that this would go on and on (until the system collapsed). Even if we forget the nonsense about the collapse of capitalism the average scale of production did NOT keep increasing as Marx predicted.

Today we have seen small scale production beat back large scale conglomerates again. Most likely we will continue to see the average size on companies decrease and increase, especially depending on which sectors are growing in the economy.

You are basically giving Marx credit for yet another of his predictions that proved to be wrong, and based on flawed logic. It is amazing how much people are willing to bend backwards in order to say "Marx was right", where he was wrong in so many things he predicted and confused in so much of his theories.


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