Why Be Free?

This may seem like a silly question, but why be free?  Does lack of freedom always lead to misery?  For some people, freedom seems like a terrifying thing.  Having to choose from so many options can be problematic if all you want to do is chug along through life without any hassles.

Imagine how life would be if we were to have everything we need and want materially.  The only catch is that we have to have the use of our time entirely dictated by others.  Happy now?  Most people would not be, no matter how destitute they are.  Why?

As Milton Rockeach put it, there are two kinds of values–instrumental and terminal.  We hold instrumental values because they enable us to realize other values–they are not values in themselves. Money, for example, might be called an instrumental value because it is valuable only in virtue of  its ability to purchase things like food and shelter–terminal values.

I would be in favor of free markets even if it could be shown that people in general would be less well off.  This because freedom is a primary, not a secondary value.  My freedom would be worth living with less material comfort, and I suspect the same of most other people.

Blessedly, we do not have to make that choice.  Freedom, properly understood, is not only conducive, but necessary for humanity to prosper.  The ability to speak freely allows us to learn from one another, exchanging ideas and building things together.  Property rights give us a reason to create material things for the benefit of ourselves and the ones we love.  Freedom to worship as we please lets each tend to his/her own spiritual garden and let others do the same even when they plant different things.

There is a price for freedom that does not come on the battlefield.  Even after we have won our liberty at the hands of oppressors, economic reality continues to exact its price–living truthfully. More on that Monday.

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About Terry Noel

I am an Associate Professor of Management and Quantitative Methods at Illinois State University. My specialty is entrepreneurship.
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