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Free trade "decreases freedom"

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Limelight
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We just started covering the "ethics of rights" in my ethics class, and we began to discuss what role the market plays on the philosophy of liberty and equality. To no surprise, my instructor is anti-capitalist, making such claims as freedom is actually increased by gov't intervention (i.e. socialized medicine), and how market transactions in a perfectly 'free' economy decreases freedom by creating inequality, as a reflection of power relationships.

Here's the last thing he wrote to me in this little argument we've been having outside of class (I'd appreciate any feedback):

"If a perfectly free market would have inequality independent of any factors extrinsic to the market, then it follows that markets create inequality.

Now, you are arguing that a totally free market means that the individual is not interfered with. This is not the case, because the market produces structural inequalities. These structural inequalities prevent individuals from acting freely, because people born into different structural positions, having access to different levels of resources, are able to exercise different levels power in a marketplace on the basis of these resources. More resources means more power and opportunities. The chances of somebody born poor becoming rich are much lower than the chances of someone rich staying rich.

The market is not just a bunch of freely interacting individuals. The market is a system of structural power relationships which are the outcome of people's position within the market. Resources provide power, which allows one to exercise one's will more freely and with more rewards. This is why your negative conception of freedom, if it becomes the normative foundation of a society, creates more inequalities. "Freedom from..." does not equal "freedom to..."

If actually existing market relationships are given free reign, inequalities increase because the power relations which currently constitute the market are unchecked. This is nothing to do with the 'natural order' of things. Society did not always function like this, and may not in the future (although it is impossible to say). Rather, this is an outcome of actually existing economic relationships, the way that access to resources constitutes these relationships, and patterns of resource distribution that 'market' activity in this context creates."

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He is making two points:

First, he says that capitalism allows some people to have more money, and therefore more ability to do things

Second, he says that inequalities increase

His first point might be split into two:

1a) That wealth allows some people to buy governmental power, and thus use force against others. Of course this is not a good thing, and should be outlawed under capitalism. Some people refer to this a "crony capitalism", others think it is simply inherent in capitalism.

1b) That wealth allows some people more options e.g. allows one person to get lots of information while a poorer person cannot. There is nothing wrong with this; some people are rich and they have more choices, and they can give their kids more choices.

On his second point, he is wrong. Inequalities do not increase under capitalism if one excludes so called "crony-capitalism". Consider how budding capitalists slowly became wealthier than the feudal classes in Britain. Or, examine the list of the world's richest people. Select the ones from free countries (i.e. remove all Arab sheiks etc.) and see how successive generations often fall lower and lower on the scale of wealth, and how so many of the wealthy are the first generation from their families to be among the super-rich. Or, consider that of the 30 companies in the original DOW-30 index, only one remains in the index today (and that one too was out at one point).

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The market is not just a bunch of freely interacting individuals. The market is a system of structural power relationships which are the outcome of people's position within the market. Resources provide power, which allows one to exercise one's will more freely and with more rewards. This is why your negative conception of freedom, if it becomes the normative foundation of a society, creates more inequalities. "Freedom from..." does not equal "freedom to..."

You might make the point that in a free market, where individual rights are upheld and therefore coercion is banned from human interaction, the only way that one gains a disproportionate amount of "power" is by providing value to others and bettering their lives. If wealth cannot be gained by force or fraud, then those who maintain or increase their wealth will be doing so by providing others with value. To say that inequality between aristocrats and serfs is wrong is to say that B is wronged when A increases his wealth by taking from B. This statement is entirely proper. To say that inequality is wrong in a market context is to say that C is wronged when A and B better each other in a transaction which does not involve C. This statement is simply incorrect. The equivocation of market power and political power ignores the vital difference between inequality created by some making others worse off and the inequality created by some making others better off. There is a world of difference between the use of force and the practice of the trader principle. Inequality per se is not improper; it is an unavoidable consequence of people making their own lives better.

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This is why your negative conception of freedom, if it becomes the normative foundation of a society, creates more inequalities.

here he successfully argues that capitalism leads to inequalities, good for him... it is just a shame you are discussing freedom.

"Freedom from..." does not equal "freedom to..."

he wants to live in a fantasy world were people are not subject to reality.

he might as well demand the freedom to fly - despite the laws of gravitation.

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he wants to live in a fantasy world were people are not subject to reality.

he might as well demand the freedom to fly - despite the laws of gravitation.

100%.

Freedom to this guy means the freedom to pick your neighbor's pocket, beat him over the head, and chain him up.

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I think the best way to respond to this is

Freedom =/= Equality. This isn't to say that there is a dichotomy, but clearly believes that people are only free if they are equal. They think the government's job is to make people "equal", financially. We are all equally allowed to pursue our happiness (or should be), we're just won't get equal results.

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Even more fundamentally than that, it's an issue of defining rights. He's obviously defining them the socialist way, not the Objectivist way. Equality in rights, to him, does not mean what the DOI means by it, because rights mean something else.

If you want to challenge him, challenge him on his definition of rights. If rights, instead of freedom to action, become the right to someone else's life and actions, then his "rights" are clearly no longer synonymous with freedom, and should have nothing to do with establishing the degree of individual freedom inherent to various forms of government.

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I appreciate the feedback. I responded back to him and addressed many of the points you guys have posted. I also brought up the fact that absolute equality, if mandated by the state through regulations, is both impractical and infringes upon freedom. I discussed fairly basic facts regarding the tragic outcomes of leftist nations that have attempted to resolve the issue of socio-economic inequality through economic regulation. I even brought up a hypothetical scenario in which the government were to regulate the economy to the point where everyone would have a fair share of wealth--an equal share. I asked whether the government would then dictate what we can eat, drink, and purchase to the point where we all live alike. Or if we were allowed to choose how much and where we spend and live as "individuals", the state would still have to see to it that everyone is reimbursed with a periodic "allowance" where anything extra is deducted and dispersed to the people; anything less would fall short of a truly "equal" society. Surely the country would need a continuous flow of currency to continue this path, but how? More and more freedom will be taken from us. What kind of society would we be looking at? Forced labor camps? What would be the point of living if everything is completely prescribed and determined for us? And furthermore, what would be the point of equality if all other rights are denied to actually reap the benefits?

He later replied with this unflattering response:

First of all, your points contradict one another. In the first paragraph you say that in capitalism (by which I assume you mean in a market) people have more power by virtue of their having money, and that 'there really is nothing wrong with this' because the alternative (equality as a normative foundation for society) would be bad because it infringes on freedom. Then you contradict yourself by saying that actually, money only provides power under a 'pseudo-capitalistic' society, and that in a 'truly capitalistic society' (by which I assume you mean a society in which the government did not regulate the market) this would not happen. First you assume that the relationship between money and power is a bad thing, and in the first you say that not only is an admitted feature of the market, but that it is also okay, you are contradicting yourself here and you need to work this contradiction out if you want your argument to be meaningful.

Nevertheless, the propositions of each paragraph can be rebutted separately.

Firstly, you are proposing that the only alternative to a completely unregulated market is a society which strives for total equality. This is obviously not the case as it is not "absolute equality" I'm promoting, just regulations to ensure the gap isn't as wide and as corrupting as it currently is.

Two more unsubstantiated claims you also make: that absolute equality is impractical, and that it impinges on freedom. The first is a political claim and by no means obvious, and the second is only the case if you hold to your totally negative conception of freedom ('freedom from'...).

The gap between the rich and the poor, in countries such as America, Australia, and the United Kingdom has increased over the past thirty years. This has been accompanied by the progressive liberalisation of market regulation during the same period of time in all three of those countries. Secondly, your examples do not get anywhere near the heart of the issue of the way that inequalities are reproduced. Class remains an extremely important determinant of outcomes in all aspects of society. Class is an important determinant of educational attainment, labour market success, and mental and physical health. This is not really disputed by anyone outside of meaningless political rhetoric. All of the research shows that this continues to be the case. So you're examples of "the departed companies within the DOW-30 index" are not relevant. Go and look at some research about the relationship between class and educational attainment. The results are clear. Class matters, and it matters now as much as it ever has.

With your whole "look what happened in Russia" argument, you again seem to think that the only political alternatives are libertarianism, and Stalinism. This is obviously not the case, as the diversity across the global political spectrum shows. You also seem to think that intervening in an economy in order to redistribute wealth equates to the government controlling 'what we can eat, drink, and purchase to the point where we all live alike,' and then you go on to equate government intervention in the economy with a 'slippery slope to forced labour!' This is ridiculous. I mean, Australia has universal socialised health care and a stronger welfare system than the US, and I can assure you that when I was living there we did not pay for them with forced labour.

Remember that we are discussing the philosophy of freedom. Which means that it's about competing definitions of freedom. I argued that the you and the overall classical liberal position has a purely negative conception of freedom, which was problematic because the operation of purely market forces can be seen to make many people less free, since poverty reduces their autonomy and agency. If you want to justify your negative conception of freedom and overall libertarian position, then you need to argue that these people deserve to be poor, because their failure to increase in wealth reflects their own inadequacies or irresponsibility. Essentially, the standard libertarian line here is that poverty is, in a sense, the normal and inevitable outcome of a free society. Now you can go ahead and do that, but that's a whole other discussion.

You are clearly a young man of great intellect and remarkable philosophical insight who stands out above the average student which is truly refreshing for me. However, I fear that many of your beliefs are inhibiting you from reaching your full academic potential and by keeping you close-minded and unwilling to explore many avenues of thought. In my sincere opinion, you are following a very dark, dehumanizing, and narrow path by jumping on the whole 'Randian bandwagon'; a very typical thing I've seen within the college youth usually as an act of rebellion and of which many later regret. My oldest son, for instance, went through a similar phase after reading Atlas Shrugged in which he alienated and criticized practically everything. I'm at the point in which I feel like keeping my younger son from being exposed to any of her literature. Unless you can fully defend your positions, it is best to be pluralistic."

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... unsubstantiated claims you also make: that absolute equality... impinges on freedom.

... is only the case if you hold to your totally negative conception of freedom ('freedom from'...).

Folks like this confuse freedom with capacity. One has the freedom to do all sorts of things, but one may not have the capacity to do some of those things. The confusion allows the word "freedom" to be used for capacity. That way, they can demand freedom and they're actually asking for capacity. So, when we take money from the rich guy to give the poorer guy the capacity to buy something, they can claim we're giving the poorer guy the freedom to buy something that he could not otherwise buy.

Sometimes, the same thing is framed by conceptualizing freedom as being something between man and nature, as opposed to being between man and other men. So, someone might say: "the poor guy does not have freedom from hunger, by taking from you and giving to him I am equalizing your freedom".

As for his final point, where he draws a parallel with his son, it might be his misreading of his son. However, it might hint at something every budding Objectivist should aware of: which is that happiness -- done properly -- is a noble goal, but requires a focus on the positive. By "positive" I do not mean some bromide like "ferret out the positive within everything". No, rather, knowing what is wrong is well and good, but knowing what is right and pursuing it is vital.

Also, his comment about this affecting your "full academic potential" is interesting. Not sure what he could mean.

Edited by softwareNerd
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You are clearly a young man of great intellect and remarkable philosophical insight who stands out above the average student which is truly refreshing for me. However, I fear that many of your beliefs are inhibiting you from reaching your full academic potential and by keeping you close-minded and unwilling to explore many avenues of thought. In my sincere opinion, you are following a very dark, dehumanizing, and narrow path by jumping on the whole 'Randian bandwagon'; a very typical thing I've seen within the college youth usually as an act of rebellion and of which many later regret. My oldest son, for instance, went through a similar phase after reading Atlas Shrugged in which he alienated and criticized practically everything. I'm at the point in which I feel like keeping my younger son from being exposed to any of her literature. Unless you can fully defend your positions, it is best to be pluralistic."

In other words: "I'm dogmatic, you are trying to call me on it, so STFU."

On the one hand he's trying to control the argument via semantics - as in, 'what is freedom', but he assumes that his definition is the definitive one from the outset. There is no pluralistic debate here, just an immature close-minded dogmatist.

But, assuming this person wanted to suddenly have an open mind, here's where I would approach his point of view: what, according to the nature of man and the universe, is the proper thing for man to do? This is basic standard of ethics. He talks about how the 'resource structure' of capitalism doesn't represent how things have always been or how they may always be. So, his argument seems to be centered around the standard of ethics I have mentioned. The solution to the debate centers around answering metaphysical questions, down on to defining the nature of man.

Consider these questions: what is man's proper pursuit in life? how does he go about pursuing it? what social circumstances affect this effort? Here's the point: in answering the first two questions, you necessarily think of man as an individual. The receipt of values, and the pursuit of values is ultimately an individual concern. It can, from that point broaden out into a social concern, but only from an individual foundation. This means that social circumstances, where they contradict the role of the individual in the pursuit of value, can only hinder that pursuit. This is why freedom is in fact a 'negative' proposition.

Like someone has said before, it is no more within a man's proper nature to be entitled to the economic circumstances of his neighbor, as it is in his proper nature to be entitled to flight. Both must be achieved, and only according to proper circumstances: in the latter case man must obey the laws of nature, in the former, he must obey the laws of the land.

Put another way, collectivists like saying that individuals only build sandcastles, societies build skyscrapers. I like to tell them that collectives only build wigwams - skyscrapers require some concentration and centralization of capital. Free markets, free trade, different people filling different roles of differing value according to a division of labor work to make industry and vast wealth available - and going back to the original argument: everyone is better off with skyscrapers over sandcastles, and wigwams. But that's not even really ethically relevant.

In the end, this instructor is accusing you of a dark, dehumanizing outlook - because you're merely trying to say: please don't destroy what I've worked to build. Your defense of your rights is what makes this anti-human, anti-freedom, anti-pluralism, anti-intellectual barbarian so darn angry.

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I'm at the point in which I feel like keeping my younger son from being exposed to any of her literature. Unless you can fully defend your positions, it is best to be pluralistic."

Yes, best not to let the youngster be exposed to ideas that question the established order of things. So much for "pluralism."

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softwarenerd and ZSorenson put it perfectly.

I'll just add that he seems to understand implicitly the problems of applying his philosophy in reality (Stalinism) so refuses to argue for that outright. As an intelligent guy, he also recognises the supremacy of a free market - he simply doesn't like the results. His communist sense of life conflicts with reality, he tries to overcome the cognitive dissonance it creates by arguing for a compromise. He comforts himself by accusing you of being an extremist, positioning himself in his mind, as a reasonable balance between communism and capitalism. None of it is relevant to a discussion about freedom, get him to stick to the subject at hand. Inequality, class and the socio-economic outcomes of capitalism are irrelevant to freedom - as is the capacity to act.

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For those who care to shed more light on this subject, the argument continues:

"Well, it seems to me that in this context, capacity is the more meaningful term. Saying that somebody has the freedom to do something which they do not have the capacity to do is hollow. A person living in poverty does not have the freedom to buy a yacht in any meaningful way. Were they to go and try to buy the yacht, they would be prevented from doing so by the market. So perhaps freedom, in the terms in which it's usually used, is not on its own a sufficient normative foundation for society

If you read back over what I've written, you'll see that I haven't actually proposed any definition of freedom at all. I don't claim to have a definitive idea of what freedom is. I don't think anybody does. All I have done so far is critique a purely negative concept of freedom by pointing out that the 'free' market in fact creates inequalities. I am also arguing is that there are contradictions in your own position:

You think that negative freedom "freedom from..." is sufficient as a normative foundation for society. You also think that this legitimises market based inequalities. I am arguing that market based inequalities make certain people (those born into poverty) less free, since poverty operates as a real impediment to many forms of action. This means that negative freedom is not sufficient as a normative foundation for society since it does not legitimise market based inequalities (unless you think poor people deserve to be poor, something which you have not argued so far).

Leaving aside the problematic nature of the idea that ethics comes from individuals, your argument in itself is contradictory. You say that "in ethics, social means or situations that contradict ones role as an individual in pursuit of value, will only impede their pursuit"...and yet, it is precisely the social circumstances of the market that prevent people who live in poverty from pursuing their own individual values. The way the market operates is in fact the reason why freedom can not be a purely negative conception.

"Different individuals fulfill roles of differing value within a division of labor"...sounds to me like a society there. Suspiciously like a collective in fact! Different people, brought together to fulfill certain social roles according to a system which allocates them a place in the process of production. Sounds like a society to me. It's too general a definition to define individualist societies from collectivist ones, but it certainly seems to cover both quite well.

I haven't proposed a philosophy, and I think the idea that if I don't accept a negative conception of freedom then I am either a Stalinist or a hypocrite is ridiculous. I also haven't recognised the supremacy of a free market (I don't even know what that statement means, so at this point I have no opinion on it). I haven't argued for any compromise (since I don't know what I am supposed to want to compromise on or between). I also haven't at any point in this discussion called you an extremist. All I have done is point out that a purely negative conception of freedom doesn't work, because it doesn't recognise the existence of systematic inequalities, and also contradicts itself on its own terms by failing to understand the real nature of the market as a system of material power relations. You seem to think this makes me a Stalinist, which I find confusing to say the least. I don't think I've proposed total government control over production, government censorship and control over the media, or killing dissident intellectuals. So you should probably drop the Stalin rhetoric if you want to be taken seriously.

I don't see how socio-economic outcomes of capitalism could be irrelevant. I don't see how telling someone who lives in poverty that they have the freedom to get rich whenever they like could possibly be the outcome of a real normative foundation for social relations, or a meaningful ethics. To me it sounds like a hollow justification for the continued existence of inequalities, a meaningless gloss over the reality of life in a society which distributes material goods through a market. That is, unless you think it is okay to use a distinction between freedom and capacity to legitimise a society which systematically impoverishes certain people, which I think is the ultimate effect of your kind of politics."

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It seems as though there are a few things your professor has failed to understand.

1) First of all, the negative concept of freedom does work, and it doesn't contradict itself. Economic power is not the same as political or military power. No matter how powerful wal-mart is, they will never be justified in taking away my property or imprisoning me. Sure, they may be able (to a degree) to restrict which grocery stores I can go to by becoming increasingly dominant in the market, but that's not inhibiting my freedom in any meaningful sense. I don't have the "freedom" to stop capitalists from trying to be as successful as possible. Just like a poor person doesn't have the "freedom" to steal money from a rich person to fulfill his need. The negative concept of freedom is the only concept of freedom that works, because it is the only kind of freedom that doesn't involve inhibiting the freedom (by infringing on the rights) of others.

2) Inequalities are irrelevant to the foundations of a moral code. For one thing, everyone has differing abilities, and so inequalities will always exist unless they are forcibly eliminated. Thus, economic inequalities have to be accepted as a matter of fact if you are going to have justice in society.

3) The "system" isn't impoverishing anyone. In fact, the whole point of a laissez-faire economy is that the "system" isn't controlling anything or harming anyone. Rather, people are left on their own to do as they will and try to accumulate wealth. Further, he seems to be implying that it "isn't fair" for people to be born into poverty. By his logic, why not simply make it illegal for poor people to have children? Further, where do you draw the line to call someone "impoverished"? If he doesn't think it is fair for people who are called "poor" in the United States to be born into poverty, what about people in third world countries that are often incomparably poorer? Why should we not be forced to redistribute our massive wealth among them? Surely they aren't getting the positive "freedom" that they deserve? Perhaps at this point he may try to claim that our government should only be concerned with the welfare of its own people. What of immigrants (non-citizens) then? But there are even worse problems. Poverty, even within a country, is relative. Where do you draw the line? What is the difference between forcing economic equality and communism? Surely everyone in the United States on average is better off economically than they were 100 years ago. Does that mean that poverty has been (even nearly) eliminated? No, of course not. People will always be poor relative to others in a free society.

Your professor tends to use a lot of straw men, wishful thinking, reification, and irrelevant conclusions. However, I can see why calling him a Stalinist would make him angry (he is clearly a moral relativist of sorts since he believes in compromise). It might be easier to argue with him about why morality doesn't need to be objective to work. Of course, that is an entire other argument that could take a while to convince him.

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"If a perfectly free market would have inequality independent of any factors extrinsic to the market, then it follows that markets create inequality.

This just shows that he does not understand the market. The market is not an entity, it is a relationship. A relationship cannot create anything: it merely reflects the status of the individuals in that relationship.

Now, you are arguing that a totally free market means that the individual is not interfered with. This is not the case, because the market produces structural inequalities. These structural inequalities prevent individuals from acting freely, because people born into different structural positions, having access to different levels of resources, are able to exercise different levels power in a marketplace on the basis of these resources. More resources means more power and opportunities. The chances of somebody born poor becoming rich are much lower than the chances of someone rich staying rich.

The market is not just a bunch of freely interacting individuals. The market is a system of structural power relationships which are the outcome of people's position within the market. Resources provide power, which allows one to exercise one's will more freely and with more rewards. This is why your negative conception of freedom, if it becomes the normative foundation of a society, creates more inequalities. "Freedom from..." does not equal "freedom to..."

He is taking a few true ideas and morphing them into some kind of materialism. It is true that there are structural power relationships, and that a person's position (ie. wealth) affords that individual more power, whether born into it, given it, or earned it. But power, once again, is just a tool. Give a savage a gun and he's likely to blow his head off. Some people have more choices, more resources, or more power, than others. But in the long run, the power can only be handled by those who earned it-the savages will drown themselves in hedonism. Look at Lindsey Lohan or Paris Hilton for your modern day equivalent of that.

Tell him that and I bet you will force out of him the Maoist truism/argument: power grows from the barrel of a gun. Then you know who you are talking to.

If actually existing market relationships are given free reign, inequalities increase because the power relations which currently constitute the market are unchecked. This is nothing to do with the 'natural order' of things. Society did not always function like this, and may not in the future (although it is impossible to say). Rather, this is an outcome of actually existing economic relationships, the way that access to resources constitutes these relationships, and patterns of resource distribution that 'market' activity in this context creates."

I would ask him to prove this. It sounds just like an assertion. So what if they are unchecked? What happens if they are unchecked? Why does that happen?

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Firstly, you are proposing that the only alternative to a completely unregulated market is a society which strives for total equality. This is obviously not the case as it is not "absolute equality" I'm promoting, just regulations to ensure the gap isn't as wide and as corrupting as it currently is.

Two more unsubstantiated claims you also make: that absolute equality is impractical, and that it impinges on freedom. The first is a political claim and by no means obvious, and the second is only the case if you hold to your totally negative conception of freedom ('freedom from'...).

As others have stated, this is a semantics war-one which the collectivist have been playing for a long time. The original equality of opportunity (meaning that all have the free opportunity to pursue their goals, but no guarantee of success or assistance) has morphed into equality of condition (meaning that all have the free necessities provided to them so that all may have an equal share the process of pursuing their goals). They know that America is a nation which likes the word equality. So the Marxist have hijacked it to pull a fast one over you. Watch out for their words, and don't let the particulars boggle you down and lead you into believing the definition he wants you to believe in.

The gap between the rich and the poor, in countries such as America, Australia, and the United Kingdom has increased over the past thirty years. This has been accompanied by the progressive liberalisation of market regulation during the same period of time in all three of those countries. Secondly, your examples do not get anywhere near the heart of the issue of the way that inequalities are reproduced. Class remains an extremely important determinant of outcomes in all aspects of society. Class is an important determinant of educational attainment, labour market success, and mental and physical health. This is not really disputed by anyone outside of meaningless political rhetoric. All of the research shows that this continues to be the case. So you're examples of "the departed companies within the DOW-30 index" are not relevant. Go and look at some research about the relationship between class and educational attainment. The results are clear. Class matters, and it matters now as much as it ever has.

It is almost impossible to debate class with a Marxist. They accept it as blind faith, though of course, the truth is-there is no such thing as class. The only rebuttal would be to tell him that you could pull equally tantalizing data proving that hair color had a lot to do with your income levels, and thus hair color influences your behavior. "Class" is an artificial range placed on an income scale. The purpose or qualifications remain, of course, relative.

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It is almost impossible to debate class with a Marxist. They accept it as blind faith, though of course, the truth is-there is no such thing as class. The only rebuttal would be to tell him that you could pull equally tantalizing data proving that hair color had a lot to do with your income levels, and thus hair color influences your behavior. "Class" is an artificial range placed on an income scale. The purpose or qualifications remain, of course, relative.

I'm not sure that I agree that class doesn't exist, nor would Ayn Rand who identifies that middle class as the motor of capitalism (http://aynrandlexicon.com/lexicon/middle_class.html). Class is certainly a valid concept, identifying a group of people with certain distinguishing characteristics, not just their income level, but the nature of their occupation, educational level, leisure pursuits, social attitudes and other values. I am sure this is just as real in the US as it is in the UK, you would expect to find very different types of people at an opera and NASCAR race.

it is also a fact that the class you are born into will have an influence on your life, the children of poorer families will, on average, do worse than middle-class families due to a variety of factors (mostly attitudes towards and parental involvement in education). however, that is not to say that class structurally determines your future - only you can decide that, subject to reality. a working class child can achieve greatness, an upper class child can squander their inheritance. class may not be rigid and determinist, but it is a valid concept.

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there are so many things wrong with what he wrote, it is barely worth carrying on a discussion.

If you read back over what I've written, you'll see that I haven't actually proposed any definition of freedom at all. I don't claim to have a definitive idea of what freedom is. I don't think anybody does.

Ayn Rand put it correctly, "words without definitions are not language but inarticulate sounds." (ItOE, Ch.2, pp.11 in my copy)

going back to the OP, if he doesn't know what freedom is, how can he say it will be increased by socialised medicine?

All I have done so far is critique a purely negative concept of freedom by pointing out that the 'free' market in fact creates inequalities.

All I have done so far is critique a purely negative concept of freedom by pointing out that apples grow on trees.

I am arguing that market based inequalities make certain people (those born into poverty) less free, since poverty operates as a real impediment to many forms of action.

then he does not understand freedom.

as you have already pointed out to him, 'free to' does not mean 'able to'.

If I have 10p in my pocket, I am free to buy an apple or an orange that cost 10p each, I am not able to buy them both as economic reality impinges on my desires, this does not make me less free - unless you want to argue against reality. he can try that, but reality will always win.

"Different individuals fulfill roles of differing value within a division of labor"...sounds to me like a society there. Suspiciously like a collective in fact! Different people, brought together to fulfill certain social roles according to a system which allocates them a place in the process of production. Sounds like a society to me. It's too general a definition to define individualist societies from collectivist ones, but it certainly seems to cover both quite well.

people are not "brought" together, they voluntarily come together because it is in the rational self-interest of each person.

secondly

liberals do not seem to understand the difference between voluntary, mutually beneficial cooperation and forced collectivism. does he think that we want everyone to live alone on their own smallholding?

All I have done is point out that a purely negative conception of freedom doesn't work, because it doesn't recognise the existence of systematic inequalities,

doesn't work according to what criteria?

...in a society which distributes material goods through a market.

he thinks material goods just exist to be distributed? he doesn't understand the market.

he also seems to hold to the lump of labour fallacy, the idea that there is a set amount of work that needs to be done.

Edited by rebelconservative
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"Well, it seems to me that in this context, capacity is the more meaningful term. Saying that somebody has the freedom to do something which they do not have the capacity to do is hollow. A person living in poverty does not have the freedom to buy a yacht in any meaningful way. Were they to go and try to buy the yacht, they would be prevented from doing so by the market. So perhaps freedom, in the terms in which it's usually used, is not on its own a sufficient normative foundation for society

This reflects a common attitude towards the free market among those who buy into the positive conception of freedom: that "the market" restricts what would otherwise be possible. If "the market" wouldn't set the price of yachts so high, then poor people could have them. This treats prices as arbitrary conventions, that "the market" chooses to set at some level, and that the particular level is to some extent arbitrary. If "the market" were different, or not there, it would be easier or harder to obtain a yacht.

This is true in one sense, but incredibly misleading. It is true that if I have a yacht and choose to give it away, the person who receives it has gotten it for no cost at all. This is obvious. However, this does not mean that the production of yachts is suddenly costless. Where there is a yacht, someone must have incurred the cost of producing it. The cost of producing a yacht (using any given production process) is an objective fact of reality. A yacht has a certain cost in terms of physical resources, labor, knowledge, and time. These costs can only be compiled into one 'cost' using money as a denomination, but that does not mean that these costs aren't real, or that they wouldn't exist without money. The cost is real, and it must be incurred by someone. If you get the yacht for less than its total cost, someone else is taking on the additional cost for you. Money loosens this link, but does not make it disappear or somehow makes it otherwise malleable. Market prices are determined by the objective facts which constitute supply and demand: costs, consumer preferences, etc.

Thus, this is not obvious at first sight, but saying that I "lack the freedom to obtain a yacht without incurring its full cost" is just as meaningless as saying that I lack the freedom to avoid any other objective fact of reality. I do not "lack the freedom" to avoid the law of gravity; it is an objective fact of reality. I cannot "lack the freedom" to avoid the costs of producing any good for the same reason. Saying that I should have the freedom to buy a yacht at a low price, because the costs do not disappear, is the same as saying that I should have the freedom to force others to incur part of the cost. This is a contradictory definition of freedom; my freedom inherently infringes on the freedom of others. Thus, the positive conception of freedom to own goods is flawed.

If you read back over what I've written, you'll see that I haven't actually proposed any definition of freedom at all. I don't claim to have a definitive idea of what freedom is. I don't think anybody does. All I have done so far is critique a purely negative concept of freedom by pointing out that the 'free' market in fact creates inequalities....I am arguing that market based inequalities make certain people (those born into poverty) less free, since poverty operates as a real impediment to many forms of action.

He may not think he has a definitive conception of freedom, but when he says that the market's creation of inequalities infringes on freedom, he implicitly assumes that the right to be equal is at least a component of freedom. He needs this unarticulated positive component of freedom in order for this criticism to apply. Without it, pointing out inequalities is no problem at all for the negative conception of freedom, because the negative conception of freedom holds that there is no connection between equality and freedom in the first place. He cannot criticize the negative conception of freedom on its own terms, only imply that it's "missing something" that it should (he feels) have.

And again we see that his conception of freedom smuggles in some freedom to escape the costs incurred by obtaining what one wants. If I'm poor, and I don't have access to a college education, arguing that I "should" is arguing that someone is morally obligated to provide me with one. This is the very premise under discussion.

... negative freedom is not sufficient as a normative foundation for society since it does not legitimise market based inequalities (unless you think poor people deserve to be poor, something which you have not argued so far).

That is not required to legitimate the negative conception of freedom. All that is needed for negative freedom is agreement on the idea that I do not have the freedom to force costs on others. So long as this holds, negative freedom stands. It is then the objective costs which stand between a poor person and the goods they can't afford, and "deserving" vs "not deserving" doesn't factor into the equation. You can't "deserve" to break a law of nature. So long as the negative conception of freedom also tells you that you can't "deserve" to put the costs on others, then you can conclude that the poor person's lack of access to the good is legitimate, without saying that they "deserve" their poverty.

You say that "in ethics, social means or situations that contradict ones role as an individual in pursuit of value, will only impede their pursuit"...and yet, it is precisely the social circumstances of the market that prevent people who live in poverty from pursuing their own individual values.

We see another example of the premise that it is only "the market" which stands between a person and a good, rather than the objective costs required to produce the good.

I don't see how socio-economic outcomes of capitalism could be irrelevant. I don't see how telling someone who lives in poverty that they have the freedom to get rich whenever they like could possibly be the outcome of a real normative foundation for social relations, or a meaningful ethics.

You shouldn't tell a poor person that. You should tell them that freedom has no fundamental connection to their ability or lack of ability to buy a yacht. It's the ability to produce which stands between anyone and gaining wealth. Freedom simply has nothing to do with the restrictions on gaining access to goods; it's reality that imposes the restrictions.

Edited by Dante
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I'm not sure that I agree that class doesn't exist, nor would Ayn Rand who identifies that middle class as the motor of capitalism (http://aynrandlexicon.com/lexicon/middle_class.html). Class is certainly a valid concept, identifying a group of people with certain distinguishing characteristics, not just their income level, but the nature of their occupation, educational level, leisure pursuits, social attitudes and other values. I am sure this is just as real in the US as it is in the UK, you would expect to find very different types of people at an opera and NASCAR race.

it is also a fact that the class you are born into will have an influence on your life, the children of poorer families will, on average, do worse than middle-class families due to a variety of factors (mostly attitudes towards and parental involvement in education). however, that is not to say that class structurally determines your future - only you can decide that, subject to reality. a working class child can achieve greatness, an upper class child can squander their inheritance. class may not be rigid and determinist, but it is a valid concept.

Class as a measure can be a valid concept-but even then, the measure has a subjective basis. How do you define class? The three-class system is a vestige of systems like the French system, which had three classes: Nobles, Church, Peasants. Marx had two classes: proletariat and bourgeoisie. Rome had the Patricians and Plebians. India has/had five classes: Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaisyas, Sudras, Pariah. So which measure are you going to use?

You cite certain distinguishing characteristics. Yet can you say that these are universal? Is the lower class of today the same as 50 years ago-100-1000? Or, of these characteristics, do they hold true for the lower class in North Korea as they do here? Or in Europe? Or Mexico?

The slide from measure to "group" is subtle, and the Marxists use it everywhere.

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