Charlotte Gore of The Guardian on liberty is more than just free speech and privacy. The battle for economic liberalism against establishment tyranny must go on:
Liberty central has given a voice to writers and thinkers who sought to revolt against the encroachment of the government against our privacy, our dignity and our hard-won rights. They argued as passionately as possible that the relationship between the government and the people had become inverted and corrupted. Our rulers had forgotten that they were supposed to be our servants, not our masters.
The election came and went, and with the new coalition government has come promises to put right these wrongs. So, time to pack up the laptop and start enjoying these newly restored liberties, right? Sadly not. There’s another kind of liberty – one that needs us to champion that least fashionable of causes: economic liberty. People’s day-to-day lives are impacted by it more profoundly than any CCTV camera or snooping council official.
Governments make the decision about how much of your money you should be allowed to keep for yourself. They do it through taxes on your income, and they even charge your employer for the privilege of giving you a job. Then they decide how much of a cut they want when you buy things. They try to discourage you from smoking and drinking by raising the price to beyond the limits of what many people are prepared to pay, causing hardship on those who have no choice.
It all adds up, and before you know it even someone on a modest £20k-a-year wage can find that nearly half of what their employer pays for them ends up on the way to the Treasury – and that’s just the cash. Economic liberty is also concerned by the rules about what you can do with the money you have left. It’s difficult when you’re left with so little, but if you can get a loan or get enough savings together to go into business for yourself, suddenly the controls upon you and the demands on your money from the state become more onerous still. Trade remains the most regulated human activity of them all…
The rules politicians have put in place have made it difficult to get into business and stay afloat, when in reality merely surviving at all in a competitive environment would be challenge enough for most. Surely, any sane society wants more economic activity? More businesses means more jobs, and more competition means lower prices and better products. But every rule, every regulation – they all cost money, directly or through having to employ people or use time on meeting these demands. Why does this matter? Why should normal people care for the problems of business owners?
Every worker, factory, shop and office that sits idle represents resources not being used, because there’s no one out there that believes they can make money using them. We shrug our shoulders and blame capitalism, or we blame the bankers, or we blame international competition, or we insist that it is those evil business owners who abandoned such resources in the first place. But if you really want to point the finger of blame, I recommend looking in the mirror. It’s almost impossible to do anything without the government having something to say, charge, or demand of you. We’ve done this, every time we’ve demanded “something must be done”. What’s true in the world of personal freedom versus security is true of economic freedom, too. We’ve gifted politicians enormous control over our economy and the nation’s wealth.
I understand why it’s happened. People crave security and stability, without really comprehending what they’re giving away to get it, or who specifically pays the price for it, or what it ultimately costs us in terms of opportunities lost – such as millions of people wasting their lives on the dole.
Before the last century, economic liberalism, especially free trade, used to be the great cause of the left – because it championed the rights of the people to live free of the tyranny of an establishment that assumed too much control and caused so much harm in doing so. It is a cause, however unfashionable, that needs fighting again. It just needs the left to remember it doesn’t exist purely to divvy up the spoils collected by the Treasury for its friends, and to remember, once again, that liberty is more than just free speech and privacy.