Home
Every society sorts human behavior into right and wrong. The problem with this model is that people don't always agree on what is wrong. To solve the occasional ambiguity over right and wrong, suppose society organized around the idea that all laws and ethical standards should be designed to maximize cumulative human freedom. Would the world end up in a better place by focusing on freedom instead of what is "right"?

Our definition of freedom would have to account for the fact that a healthy person with money has more freedom than someone who is sick and poor. A legitimate pursuit of freedom would include attention to the economy, education, healthcare, and the things we value most.  And we'd still maintain most laws so citizens could enjoy the freedom of living without fear. Given all the things that would be the same, where would a focus on freedom make a difference?

Consider the case of David Petraeus and his admitted affair with his biographer. Under the standard model of right-and-wrong, his actions were clearly wrong and he had no choice but to resign his job as head of the CIA. But what if we apply the freedom metric instead? As a citizen, I don't want to lose the option of having Petraeus as the head of the CIA. Freedom-wise, the citizens of the United States came out behind when Petraeus resigned. We lost an option.

In the Petraeus situation, there are some practical issues to consider. You don't want the head of the CIA to be susceptible to blackmail. But keep in mind that a leader is only susceptible to that sort of blackmail when society limits his freedom to have sex with willing partners. A focus on freedom would get you closer to a French situation in which a leader's alleged affair would be met with shrugs.

The freedom metric would create a libertarian-looking world where no one cares about victimless crimes. That part is obvious. What is less obvious is how we'd treat tax policy under a freedom-focused world. Wouldn't a freedom-focused world always soak the rich on taxes?

An extra dollar to a billionaire will have no impact on his freedom. But an extra dollar to a poor person gives him the option of eating. If freedom is the goal, you want to transfer wealth away from the rich until you reach the point where transferring one more dollar would decrease the world's total supply of freedom. It could look a lot like communism if you do it wrong, and we know that wouldn't work out.

The hard part of maximizing freedom is preserving capitalist incentives. If people get all the freedom they need without working, why would they ever work? The system would fall apart. To increase the world's freedom, we need a system in which the rich transfer wealth to the poor without ruining the motivation of the people on the receiving end. Luckily for you, I have just the idea for that.

Suppose the rich are taxed not on income but on the risk class of their assets? In other words, a billionaire would be taxed extra for keeping money sitting around in treasury bills, or third homes, or cash-like investments. Only the assets that are actively devoted to business enterprises would be tax-free.

With that sort of system, billionaires would invest their boring assets in riskier ways that would stimulate the economy and create jobs. If the risky investments don't work out, the billionaire's lifestyle barely changes, but in the meantime it creates a lot of jobs. The net outcome of such a system is more freedom while preserving capitalist incentives. The billionaire gives up the freedom to keep boring assets sidelined and untaxed, but there's no real impact on the billionaire's day-to-day freedom. The world comes out ahead, freedom-wise.

Abortion would be a tricky issue if you remove right and wrong from the equation and focus on freedom instead. Society would need to compare the freedom that a woman would sacrifice by having an unwanted child, and the impact that would have on others as well, versus the potential freedom of the fetus.  That sidesteps the question of when life begins. The starting point of life only matters if you are talking about the rights of the living. If you're talking about potential for freedom, a fetus of any age has it. Personally, I'm pro-choice, for purely practical reasons. If freedom were my top priority, would my opinion on abortion rights change?

A focus on freedom will skewer the sacred cows on both sides of the aisle. Conservatives might have to live with higher taxes on the rich, and liberals might lose their strongest argument for abortion rights.

How committed are we to this freedom thing?

 
Rank Up Rank Down Votes:  +22
  • Print
  • Share
  • Share:

Comments

Sort By:
+4 Rank Up Rank Down
Nov 13, 2012
@whtllnew

I forgot to include people incapable of recognizing humor and grammer nazis. I hate grammer nazis.
 
 
Nov 13, 2012
I do want to put my two cents in on the abortion question. The question is not about whether a woman should have the freedom to abort a pregnancy, it is whether a fetus should have the freedom to live.

To a pro-life person, a fetus is a child, so its right to life is undeniable, and abortion is no different from any other homicide.

To a pro-choice person, a fetus is at best an appendage to a living thinking woman, and at worst a malignant tumor, so an abortion is no different than a tooth extraction.

The disagreement is at such a basic level that any objective weighting of freedom is meaningless.

As my POV, people should avoid abortions in the same way they should avoid root canals, but I don't think banning root canals is a good way to encourage proper oral care.
 
 
Nov 13, 2012
Under your freedom idea, if the president put someone in jail in order to get re-elected, but his policies provided the most overall freedom to society, should we still vote for him?
 
 
+8 Rank Up Rank Down
Nov 13, 2012
"A focus on freedom will skewer the sacred cows on both sides of the aisle. Conservatives might have to live with higher taxes on the rich, and liberals might lose their strongest argument for abortion rights."

I think what we are really talking about is bringing back a bit more intellectual depth and honesty into debates on role of government. Of course it isn't as simple as "get the government out of the way" or "give the government more authority to reign in the oligarchs who want to turn the rest of us into serfs." However, you wouldn't necessarily get that there is more to the story by listening to most political discourse.

The government is what we make it. When people waste their time and energy debating the "right" or "wrong" way to run a government - they lose the opportunity to engage thoughtfully in a discussion of what type of government contributes to the type of world we want to live in and leave for our children.

Of course - that is the sort of thinking that lead to communism and all the attendant evils. However, the experiment revealed a great deal about the interplay between idealism, human nature and politics. Fascism did the same on the other end of the spectrum. We also have feudalism and aristocracies as models. We have more models, data, experience etc. than any society before us - along with the political freedom to experiment. What we appear to lack is the intellectual flexibility and honesty necessary to actually benefit from this legacy.
 
 
Nov 13, 2012
@ChristopherJBrennan

You are spot on, except I would expand what you call physical violence to what I would call 'legitimate force'. Which includes physical violence, but also other methods of force as well. That is, a government can organize resources, redirect lines of communication, and manage information in ways that no other voluntary organization can, and they do this by use of legitimate force - or force under the law.

In the absence of this force of law, the strong will invariably oppress the weak. Laws that support freedom will protect the weak from the strong. This is agreeable to all because even the strong know that someday they may need protection. The challenge to this is the balance. Favor the weak too much and the whole society becomes weaker. Protect the weak too little and civil society collapses.
 
 
Nov 13, 2012
@usmdj

Obama phones aint real.

http://www.forbes.com/sites/kellyphillipserb/2012/09/28/crazy-for-obama-phones-but-are-they-for-real/
 
 
+6 Rank Up Rank Down
Nov 13, 2012
I want to be free from paying for freeloaders. I want to be free from paying for Obama phones. I want to be free from supporting 4th generation welfare families. I want to be free from Islamic fundamentalists. I want to be free of Chinese low paid laborers. I want to be free of preachy comics. Retroactive abortions for all of them.
 
 
Nov 13, 2012
It's a shame that we only have the one word - freedom - to describe two related and equally important concepts. I think it is important to divide the term freedom into these two concepts.

1. Freedom to - what I would call Power - is the ability to act on our own desires without resistance,

2. Freedom from - what I would call Peace - is the absence of negative external influences both natural and man-made.

These two aspects of freedom are often - but not always - in conflict. If I have the freedom to do what I want regardless of how it might negativly affect others, I have to accept that the freedom of others might negatively affect me. So my Power is increased, but my Peace is diminished.

On the other hand, if I am protected from the negative influence of others, I have to accept that there may be some things I am not allowed to do - my Peace is increased, but my Power is diminished.

Some people will prefer more Peace, while others will prefer more Power. The goal in any self directing society is to find the right balance so that everyone is okay with the result.
 
 
Nov 13, 2012
@lcdroberts
[I think the abortion argument comes down to 3 possibilities

1. I don't want a baby ever
2. I don't want a baby now
3. I don't want his baby]

[Option 2 get over it, a child shouldn't limit your life it should add to it. Address any reasons it limits it by changing society (allow you to take baby anywhere, others help, etc)]

What a wonderful idea! Instead of one person not having a baby we should change everyone else so that having a baby doesn't ruin their life! What? One person can't change the world to suit them? Oh, well, guess its back to the abortion clinic.

[Options 3 sounds like hate against other people, this is a mindset and can be changed by thinking more positively, changing society again.]

What about hating your rapist. Your father for getting you pregnant. Your boyfriend for dumping you rather than helping you raise the kid. Is it okay to not want to have their baby?
 
 
Nov 13, 2012
@language

["Practical reasons for abortion" amounts to wholesale slaughter of hispanic and black fetuses to limit their population growth.]

Im sure that thought never entered most pro-choicers minds but, now that you brought it up, what are you saying here? That you want to limit everyones options here because its an option blacks and hispanics would choose more than whites? Sounds like you want to limit minorities freedom, which makes you the racist here.

[Whats the matter scott, are you just an angry white male who hates obama? you racist a hole.]

Obama is the guy who, not too long ago, tried to force religious colleges to make abortions part of their health plan. Face it, to support Obama is to support the pro-choicers.
 
 
Nov 13, 2012
Here's another aspect to the whole freedom thing, which I am able to recognize because I just finished watching the anime C-Control (it's basically about economics).

There's current freedom as well as future freedom, the catch is if you focus on one, you end up neglecting the other. Take your credit card. If you leave it empty, you have a lot of future freedom in case you need it but your present freedoms are limited. If you max it out, you can have a lot of freedom now, but you are a slave to your contract until you've paid everything back. Or you can do the opposite and save up first. You're actively trading (or saving) freedom now, but in the future you've got the freedom to do more.

Then you've got abortion. You've got a short term "benefit", however it limits the freedom of the parents (no future workers paying into social security and medicare) as well as the future of the society (again no one paying taxes, buying goods, or creating new wealth and ideas). Even the very poorest could have a child that rises out of the situation and creates a positive impact for society. Then you've got to consider that said child probably will be producing even more children for even more potential in future generations, so a short term convenience has a multi-generation impact. Finally there's that potential for hell thing to worry about; burning in hell is probably the greatest loss of freedom possible assuming it exists.

Then you've got the nasty possibility that absolute freedom could be neither possible nor desirable. Take any sort of contract or agreement. You need these things to get important things done. If someone had the "freedom" to back out without consequence at any time, the confidence and desirability of those necessary agreements for the betterment of people would be severely limited. Marriage isn't the rule anymore and starting to become the exception because "marriage confidence" is down for the current generation to the point people aren't opting for it or opting out of it. If parents didn't have a responsibility to take care of children and educate them, our society would have no future besides devolving back into animals.

Another thing to consider is that wanting freedom (poverty) is a prime motivator. Colonel Saunders didn't start KFC until he lost his previous restaurant. The United States was created because we didn't have the freedom we want, and because we earned it, we made the most of it. We won WWII because of the threat of loss of freedom, we could have said we should be free not to fight germany, but who knows what could have come of that. We won the cold war because the mere thought of the Star Wars missile defense collapsed Russia's freedom to be our enemy because they didn't have the money to throw into keeping up with us. I would argue that a generation not having to live with the possibility of the nearest major turning into a mushroom cloud a fair exchange of future freedom for a present lack of freedom (throwing money at star wars).

So I guess the short of this is, you need to consider there are severe consequences if you trade in the future for the present.
 
 
Nov 13, 2012
Just in point of fact, the full gospel of Jesus Christ is also in fact the system that maximizes both personal and collective freedom. I'm not trying to be a zealot here either - it's just true. That system also comes with its own effective wealth redistribution (voluntary, out of love for fellow man, to lift another in need).

Also, there are really no victimless crimes. The perpetrator is always a victim due to the damage taken to personal character and integrity.

I like the idea of the freedom metric, but I think without the highest personal moral standards, I think it would be tough to legislate. But still worth a shot. :)
 
 
-1 Rank Up Rank Down
Nov 13, 2012
@language - how many little green man have visited you recently?
 
 
-23 Rank Up Rank Down
Nov 13, 2012
Scott wrote: [Personally, I'm pro-choice, for purely practical reasons. If freedom were my top priority, would my opinion on abortion rights change?]

How does anybody make such a racist comment and get away with it? I remember a segment on jon stewarts daily show a few years back. It was of Bob Bennett (context of "evil democrats") talking about how "we" want to kill millions of black babies.

"Practical reasons for abortion" amounts to wholesale slaughter of hispanic and black fetuses to limit their population growth.

Whats the matter scott, are you just an angry white male who hates obama? you racist a hole.
 
 
+6 Rank Up Rank Down
Nov 13, 2012
Whenever you create a system where people can say "Why do I need to work for a living, it's handed to me on a plate if I go around saying I'm poor?" you create a problem.
 
 
+5 Rank Up Rank Down
Nov 13, 2012
"How committed are we to this freedom thing?"
I can't speak for others, but based on your post, I am light-years more committed than you. Living in the bay-area appears to have warped your perception of reality (unless this is a DMD exercise).

"Freedom" already has a definition, and does not need to be redefined. If you want to redefine something, get your own word, this one is taken. Definitions matter. Neener neener neener!

Contrary to politically correct Utopian dogma, raiding the bank accounts of billionaires/millionaires will not change the world. The ratio of billionaires/millionaires to the poor is too small to overcome financial hardship with confiscation. It will just eliminate billionaires/millionaires, which hurts the economy. Then we can all share in the misery. Do you want freedom, or Marx's goal of fairness?

Life isn't fair. Work hard and make the best of it. TANSTAAFL.
 
 
+5 Rank Up Rank Down
Nov 13, 2012
It was just yesterday, you were arguing that we should surrender all privacy in the interest of larger efficiency. Now you say, we should reorganize to maximize freedom. Which one is it, Scott - because Freedom and efficiency don't go together.
 
 
Nov 13, 2012
Scott - you mention that billionaires should be taxed less on money that go into risky ventures. Isn't that what the capital gains exemption is all about? ;-)
 
 
Nov 13, 2012
Freedom is not given, but it can be taken. Taking taxes is reducing the taxpayer's freedom. One can say it is a necessary reduction of freedom. But you can't say that it doesn't reduce that person's freedom to keep whatever they have, because some sort of coercion is involved. Therefore that person is less free.

Giving that money to someone else has nothing to do with freedom. The recipient may have more money, but they are not necessarily more free. They could be a rich prison inmate. Freedom is irrelevant to the transaction.
 
 
Nov 12, 2012
You characterized David Petraeus's actions as a 'victim less crime' . I wonder how Mrs. Holly Petraeus feels about that. And bear in mind, this whole thing erupted when a woman started getting harrassing emails from the mistress!
 
 
 
Get the new Dilbert app!
Old Dilbert Blog