One of the oddities of freedom is we all benefit from freedom we are unable to utilise ourselves. There are many things, for instance, that I am free to do but which I am unable to do.
Others, however, are able to do those things and often what they do benefits me.
I would argue most of us benefit more from the freedom others enjoy than from the freedom we ourselves have.
Some people use their freedom to produce food, others produce clothing, shelter, transportation or entertainment. They make me better off as a result whether they intended to do so or not. Their actions improve my life by giving me more choices.
We can see how a great achiever in some field benefits from his freedom. They may win great acclaim or accrue a vast fortune, both of which, in a free society, reflect their ability to improve the lives of others.
Assume our entrepreneur produces a Twidgit. For our example, it doesn’t matter what is a Twidgit, just assume it is a useful item. If there is no political manipulation in the market, you can’t get rich producing Twidgits unless other people want them. You have no ability to force people to buy your Twidgit. If consumers wish, they may pass it by. If they don’t pass it by, but purchase it, your wealth increases. The more people you make happy, the greater your wealth.
You may improve their lives only a little and they may increase your wealth only a tiny bit, but, if you add enough of those little bits together, you can do very nicely and so can they.
Because you were free to produce Twidgits, a large number of people were made better off. Yet none of them may have had the ability to do what you did. The inventor benefitted from his freedom, but so did the consumers.
Right this second I am benefitting from freedom others enjoyed in more ways than I can count. First, I have the benefit of electricity others produce. I have my computer sitting in front of me using software I couldn’t invent, hardware I couldn’t imagine inventing, and an Internet that is made up of the technological wizardry of millions of people. And I have an air conditioner someone made keeping me cool. Left to my own devices, about the best I could do here is take a piece of cardboard to fan myself. Everything else is pretty much beyond my individual talents. But I’m better off because others are free to do those things.
I even benefit from the existence of people who are unable to produce anything more than brute labour. In a free society they are employed by others who know how to combine labour, resources and capital to create an end product with greater value than the sum of its parts. In return for their effort, these labourers are rewarded with income. The value of their labour is exchanged for money. They benefit from their employer’s freedom and the customers for the items produced benefit from the freedom of both the entrepreneur and the workers who work for him.
With their salaries, employees buy goods and services. That demand spurs creators on to produce things I may want. That other people want things means there is a vast number of individuals trying to figure out what things ought to be produced and the best means for producing them. And when they do, there are always others trying to figure out how to improve on what is being done. All of which just gives me yet more choice.
Certainly, if I were someone who produced very little in life, I would especially benefit from the freedom of others. If I were a relatively talentless individual, the freedom of others to utilise their talent would be particularly important to me. If left to my own devices, there would be little chance I’d have anything but a short, brutish existence.
We all benefit when others have freedom, a freedom that isn’t reserved for only a select group.
James Peron is the president of the Moorfield Storey Institute and author of several books including Exploding Population Myths and The Liberal Tide.