Yesterday we looked at the ‘Quality of Action’ problem, concluding that Friedman’s definition of freedom is incomplete because it fails to appreciate the intrapersonal barriers to freedom like addiction, mental health, and education.
Today, we look further into the issue with the introduction of Friedman’s intellectual mentor, Friedrich Hayek. Hayek believed that a definition of freedom doesn’t need to account for intrapersonal freedoms – but why?
So far, we’ve covered Friedman’s ‘Logical Argument’: A free society is one composed of ‘voluntary exchange’, with governments justified insofar as they facilitate these exchanges.
This led us firstly to the ‘Engagement Problem’: why would individuals engage with other individuals if that engagement necessarily curtailed their freedom, in the form of a government? The only solution is that individuals are not motivated solely by freedom, but also by satisfying self-interests.
Then, a second problem: can a society made up of ‘voluntary exchange’ be called a free one? Friedman defines ‘voluntary’ actions as ones that have a wide range of choices. But having choices doesn’t necessarily make one free.
For example, choices driven by certain intrapersonal factors like addiction, mental health or education, may mean that the choice itself is made ‘voluntarily’, but the choice to make that choice isn’t determined by the individual. Friedman’s theory doesn’t comment on this possibility, so lacks a vital part of what we mean by ‘freedom’.
Why does Friedman’s account lack this definition? Hayek may have the answer.
1.1: Hayek & Friedman
Hayek and Friedman were close friends, giving Hayek a dominant influence on Friedman’s intellectual formation. Many of Friedman’s arguments come from Hayek, such as the premise that social co-ordination can only take place in two ways – by command, or by co-operation in a market setting (1960: 135). Friedman’s definition of political freedom as the ‘absence of coercion’ is derived from Hayek (1962: 15). Consequently, I treat Hayek’s comments on individual responsibility, coercion, and self-interest as implicit in Friedman’s work.
1.2: Hayek on the Quality of Action Problem
Returning to the Quality of Action Problem, Hayek accepts that the quality of an individual’s actions has an impact on their freedom:
‘Whether or not a person is able to choose intelligently between alternatives… to that extent, ”inner freedom” and “freedom”…together determine how much use a person can make of his knowledge and opportunities’ (1960: 15).
Hayek separates the concepts of ‘inner freedom’ and ‘freedom’ here to prevent confusion between ‘inner freedom’ and Kant’s idea of ‘freedom of will’. Kant believed that individual freedom requires their actions to have an uncaused cause, whereas Hayek believed that our actions are determined by external sources. These sources are our ‘inherited constitution’ and ‘accumulated experience’ (Kant 2012: 4:446) (Hayek 1960: 74).
Therefore, for Hayek, the quality of an individual’s actions does matter for individual freedom. One must act rationally, in a ‘consistent and coherent way’, to be considered internally free (1960: 76).
So, the Quality Action Problem is solved: so long as we act in line with our rational inner freedom, and so long as their actions are uncoerced, they are free. The smoking addict can be considered unfree, in line with our intuitions, because their decision to purchase cigarettes is not a rational choice but a failure to assert their ‘rational’ choice of quitting over their desires.
This seems like a consistent definition of freedom, so let’s put it into MacCallum’s formal formula: The individual X is free from Y to do or be. Freedom is of the determined, rational individual (X), from coercion (Y), to make rational choices and actions in their own self-interest (Z).
There is one more question to ask Friedman and Hayek though, and it’s crucial to their project: what do they mean when they say ‘coercion’?
We might assume to know what is meant: something to do with being forced to take a particular action. But what exactly does it mean to be ‘coerced’?
We’ll dive into that next time!
Ebenstein, L. Milton Friedman: A Biography (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007)
Kant, I. Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012)
Hayek, F. A. The Constitution of Liberty (London: The University of Chicago, 1960)
Friedman, M. and Friedman, R. Capitalism and Freedom (London: University of Chicago Press, 2002)
Friedman, M. and Friedman, R. Free to Choose (Harmondsworth: Pelican Books Ltd, 1985)
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