Economic Freedom: The Cornerstone of Western Civilization

Part I of II

Western civilization – with all its scientific and technological progress, artistic prowess, philosophical and sociopolitical evolution, moral values, ethical principles and rich culture – took millennia to reach its famed “Enlightenment” point. It has been a rollercoaster, violently swinging from highs to lows and from darkness to light, from autocracy, tyranny and despotism to humanism and individualism and back again.

The “Old World” evolved and progressed gradually and non-linearly, by taking two steps forward and one step back. However, inch by inch and piece by piece, a clear trend eventually emerged: a shift towards Reason and a move away from superstition, towards the pursuit of knowledge and away from willful ignorance and self imposed “nonage” as Kant would put it, towards critical thinking and away from blind obedience and “Groupthink”.

Although many different factors and important triggers contributed to this evolution and to the ultimate establishment of what we know today as the Western civilization, there is one catalyst that stands out: the rise of individual economic freedom, the crystallization of the concept of property rights and the formal, legal and widespread acknowledgement of the individual’s right to financial self-determination.

After all, the path to true freedom requires true equality among individuals, and the only way to ensure and to sustain this is through the recognition of each person’s uniqueness, their particular mindset, their talents, their interests, their weaknesses and flaws, their moral values, their personal integrity, their goals, their tenacity, and their experiences. Their achievements are a function of all these factors – their successes and failures, their gains and their losses, are theirs and theirs alone. They own what they build and what they earn and they have the right to do what they will with it, as long as they don’t tread on another’s rights – this is the most essential prerequisite for the formation of a civilized and thriving society.

As Dr. Wanjiru Njoya, Scholar-in-Residence for the Mises Institute, explained in a recent analysis: “Property rights—the rights to own property and to buy and sell property or enter into other contracts in relation to its use—vest equally in all individuals. Equality before the law is not a concept denoting equalization of the unequal, or equalization of property ownership, but a concept asserting the right to own property in the formal sense: not that everyone has property, but that everyone has the right to have property.”

Put in a different way: if the fruit of one’s labour, or the yield of one’s studies and practice, or the product of one’s mind is valued upon any other basis than its objective merit, if it is in any way constrained, penalized or, conversely, subsidized, true equality can never be achieved. If an individual is barred or restricted from benefiting from their hard work and from capitalizing on their inborn gifts and talents, what incentive would they have to fulfill their potential? If conformity, idleness, apathy or mediocrity are systemically rewarded, why would anyone ever bother to pursue their own self-improvement or to concern themselves with seeking solutions for the problems of others? Why study, why work, why risk anything, why build anything, why innovate, why strive for something better – why bother at all?

In a planned economy none of this matters. Great talent or great effort are equally irrelevant under a system that seeks to enforce conformity and compliance at all costs and that abhors any deviations from the norm or any exceptions to the rules it unilaterally imposed. Under such loathsome conditions, absolute uniformity is the ultimate goal. Mere equality before the law or equality of opportunity in society will not do. What is demanded is equality of outcome, unquestioning submission and mindless self-dehumanization.

To achieve this, the most hardworking, the most gifted and the most visionary among us must be penalized as harshly and as often as it takes for them to capitulate and to abandon their individual dreams and goals, to conform, to become assimilated, absorbed and consumed by the collective. Of course, these multidirectional pressures are (most of the time) presented as benign “nudges”, as the “right thing to do” or as a minuscule sacrifice that any “decent” person would make “for the greater good”. The tyrannical, inhumane and exploitative nature of centralized power is virtually never detectable until it’s too late. It never shows its true colors, instead it hides behind the veneer of civility, solidarity and “duty”.

For instance, taxation is not perceived as outright theft, it is “wealth redistribution” – it’s not a violation of property rights, it is simply a “rebalancing” to ensure social justice, fairness and equality. It’s all for a good and noble cause; it is what one must do in order to be a good neighbor, to help those in need and to support other good people that were simply less fortunate. After all, if you have more than you need, why not give it to those that don’t have enough? What kind of sadistic monster would oppose that way of thinking? As the architect of this detestable and cancerous ideology himself put it, “from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs”.

As lovely and as kind and as compassionate as this theoretical premise might sound to any decent person, it could not be further from the practical manifestation of the underlying doctrine or from the real motives of those who so fiercely propagate it. Collectivism and statism have never been about actual solidarity, sincere altruism or genuine philanthropy.

If those were their true end-goals, voluntary donations, private charities and the innate human capacity for empathy and cooperation would have been recognized and encouraged. Even under the current system, it is very often the case that private charitable organizations, foundations and even mere individual direct donations are more efficient and effective than government welfare programs or other state subsidies. If thats’s already the case, one can only imagine how much more of these private, voluntarily donated, and directly gifted funds and resources would reach those who really need them, in a genuinely free economy, without a tax burden that is mostly wasted on paying the salaries of unnecessary, unproductive, uncalled for and unelected bureaucrats and functionaries.

No matter what form it takes, what populist narrative it adopts, what promises it makes, and what political “color” it drapes itself in, underneath it all, collectivism is always the same rabid, violent, venomous beast – and so are the shameless opportunists, fraudsters and narcissists that embrace it, promote it, yearn to be part of it and ultimately enforce it.

No decent, moral and honest person would actively and passionately seek to secure a position that affords them control over their fellow man just for the sake of it. No human being of sound mind and of pure heart would ever crave absolute power over anyone but themselves. And yet there are some, perhaps lacking the aforementioned mental soundness or maybe being totally unburdened by basic decency and empathy, that do aspire to command and to dominate others. In a free economy, and thus a free society, they would never achieve their twisted goals. Under a centralized system, however, they can, and do, actually thrive.

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Claudio Grass, Hünenberg See, Switzerland 2024