The socialists must admit there cannot be any freedom under a socialist system. But they try to obliterate the difference between the servile state and economic freedom by denying that there is any freedom in the mutual exchange of commodities and services on the market. Every market exchange is, in the words of a school of pro-socialist lawyers, “a coercion over other people’s liberty.” There is, in their eyes, no difference worth mentioning between a man’s paying a tax or a fine imposed by a magistrate, or his buying a newspaper or admission to a movie. In each of these cases the man is subject to governing power. He’s not free, for, as professor Hale says, a man’s freedom means “the absence of any obstacle to his use of material goods.”6
Professor Hale ignores the requirements of producing material goods on a large scale. Producing material goods on a large scale requires things like property rights so that people can have predictable access to means of production, and so that consumers can know they’ll have predictable access to consumer goods that they buy. In a world where there are no predictable access to means of production, long range economic planning becomes impossible, and that restricts what can be produced. And in a world where there are no property rights, consumers can’t rely on having predictable access to the things they buy (cuz the government might take it, or gangs or whatever). So then there is less incentive to work and be productive, cuz anything you can’t defend with force might get stolen anyways. And this is just a tiny subset of the issues with getting rid of property rights.
There’s also a whim-worship element here, to look at it from an Objectivist lens. It’s basically saying, “freedom means my whims are satisfied regardless of context, even if that contradicts the nature of reality and leads to conflicts with other people’s rights.”
This means: I am not free, because a woman who has knitted a sweater, perhaps as a birthday present for her husband, puts an obstacle to my using it. I myself am restricting all other people’s freedom because I object to their using my toothbrush. In doing this I am, according to this doctrine, exercising private governing power, which is analogous to public government power, the powers that the government exercises in imprisoning a man in Sing Sing.
With private ownership you can offer people money for sweaters and toothbrushes. The government, OTOH, points guns at people.
Those expounding this amazing doctrine consistently conclude that liberty is nowhere to be found. They assert that what they call economic pressures do not essentially differ from the pressures the masters practice with regard to their slaves. They reject what they call private governmental power, but they don’t object to the restriction of liberty by public government power. They want to concentrate all what they call restrictions of liberty in the hands of the government.
Even if they were right that there were lots of private restrictions of liberty (and they’re not), concentrating all that power in the hands of the government sounds dangerous! Better a thousand petty tyrants than one uber-giga tyrant.
They attack the institution of private property and the laws that, as they say, stand “ready to enforce property rights—that is, to deny liberty to anyone to act in a way which violates them.”7
A generation ago all housewives prepared soup by proceeding in accordance with the recipes that they had got from their mothers or from a cookbook. Today many housewives prefer to buy a canned soup, to warm it and to serve it to their family. But, say our learned doctors, the canning corporation is in a position to restrict the housewife’s freedom because, in asking a price for the tin can, it puts an obstacle to her use of it. People who did not enjoy the privilege of being tutored by these eminent teachers, would say that the canned product was turned out by the cannery, and that the corporation in producing it removed the greatest obstacle to a consumer’s getting and using a can, viz., its nonexistence.
I really liked this point. It was the reason I wrote the post. It was a very Objectivist-y type focus on CONTEXT. The can literally wouldn’t exist if not for the corporation. Is the private housewife gonna figure out how to deal with acquiring and processing tin and dealing with canning and all that crap? No. She’ll just make soup in a pot like her grandmother did. The corporation is offering another option that is HELPFUL AND LIBERATING, not oppressive.
The mere essence of a product cannot gratify anybody without its existence. But they are wrong, say the doctors. The corporation dominates the housewife, it destroys by its excessive concentrated power over her individual freedom, and it is the duty of the government to prevent such a gross offense. Corporations, say, under the auspices of the Ford Foundation, another of this group, Professor Berle, must be subjected to the control of the government.8
I liked Mises’ casual trashing of the Ford Foundation. People recognize some stuff as activist groups, but these left-wing “do-gooder” non-profits with vague mission statements about advancing human welfare have been a big cultural/social problem for a long time. And lots of people are fooled by them, in a similar way to how they were fooled by stuff like the communist-founded ACLU being “non-partisan” up until the past year or two.