It’s safe to say that every rational individual — one who is emotionally and intellectually competent — values freedom over enslavement by others. Then why do so many people choose “voluntary servitude”? Why don’t they struggle against their oppressors? What do they hope to gain by their voluntary submission? Why don’t they understand that most of the misery they suffer is because they lack freedom?
I believe that the problem stems from two factors. First, they have become accustomed to not being free. Born into servitude, they consider it to be as unalterable as a fact of nature. Having never experienced freedom they cannot imagine what it means to be free. Second, it is not easy to make the necessary connection between freedom and human flourishing. It does take a lot of intellectual effort to understand the analytical case why freedom is essential for prosperity, and that no individual can reach his potential if he lacks freedom.
Some of us are fortunate enough to have the opportunity to learn what individual freedom means and why it is important. We may not be intelligent enough to discover by ourselves why freedom matters, but when we are told about it we do get it. Speaking for myself, I definitely didn’t understand that connection.
My study of economics was motivated by the simple question, “Why is India poor?” The formal study of neoclassical economics is hard because it involves a lot of complex mathematics. I thought it was clever of me that I could manipulate all that abstract algebra. After many years, I realized that it was mostly a waste of time. It was not entirely a waste because I don’t get intimidated by impressive mathematical formulations any more.
The answer to my question about persistent poverty does not involve any mathematics at all. The summary answer is simple. People who lack freedom cannot escape poverty.
Poverty is the default state of humanity. People in every part of the world, ever since the birth of species some 250,000 years ago, have lived lives of grinding, unrelenting poverty. It was relatively very recently, just a few centuries at most, that some people became free, and they escaped poverty. Gradually freedom and prosperity spread around the world. Now only those countries that lack freedom are still locked into poverty.
India is not prosperous because Indians are not free. Why are they not free? Because they don’t struggle to be free. Why don’t they struggle for freedom? Because they think that they are free. If they understood that they are prisoners, they would struggle, they would gain freedom, and thus escape poverty.
While it is easy for the average person to understand the core ideas of freedom and the causes of prosperity, it is hard to get hundreds of millions people to understand them. Impossibly hard though that may be, we have to try. To start off with, we who have access to the internet must ourselves become convinced that freedom matters.
Here’s a start. Watch this intro to libertarian thought. Think about it. Do you find it persuasive? Which bits do you disagree with? I look forward to your comments.