Economics 101 & Public Square

We’re Terrified of Freedom, and It’s Hurting Our Ability to Flourish

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The U.S. has dropped from the second most economically free country in the world to the eighteenth in the past twelve years.

One of the major reasons we’ve lost economic freedom is because humans, by nature, hate uncertainty. We try to plan and control the future to reduce it.

Usually when we try to control future economic outcomes, it makes things worse. Our natural human fear of uncertainty is what drives our government to pass more regulatory legislation, suffocating economic freedom. When we lose economic freedom, we lose human flourishing. We are worse off than we were before, and the poor suffer the most.

This fear of uncertainty is part of our human nature. It is a spiritual problem that affects our personal lives as well as our nation at the policy level.

There is another aspect of human nature that causes us to lose economic freedom: freedom itself is scary.

We’re Terrified of Freedom

You might think of freedom as something that makes life easier. It means less rules and more room to do what you want to do with your life. This is true in a sense, but at the same time, freedom is a burden.

Freedom doesn’t require less of us. It requires more. To many, the burden of freedom is a scary thing.

Michael Novak says in The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism: 30 Years After:

It cannot be supposed that human beings always love liberty. Free persons must meet the burdens of personal responsibility, and for some, that responsibility is too onerous. If I may paraphrase Dostoevsky: “When people cry out for liberty, give it to them—in fifteen minutes they will give it back.” For most of history, humans have been remarkably unrebellious under tyranny. If their simplest appetites are met, and why should they take up irksome responsibilities?

So it is today. Not all human beings desire to be economically free. If they are free, they are obligated to bear responsibility for their own welfare. Of course, there is always some percentage of the population too old or too young, too ill or too disabled, to carry their own weight in economic responsibility. There will always be some people who rightly depend upon the help of others. By its own moral identity, any honest Jewish, Christian, or even secular humanist society must come to their aid.

Freedom means we have a huge responsibility to care for our neighbors and trust they will come to our assistance when we are in need.

We are scared of freedom because the burden is heavy. We do not trust ourselves or others to carry the burden, so we continue to hand over our freedom to someone or something we think can manage it better, like government, even when giving up economic freedom to government leads to lower levels of human flourishing.

Freedom is a burden, but we are always better off with it than without it.

Freedom Is What We’re Made for

These two natural human tendencies that cause us to lose economic freedom, our disdain for uncertainty and our fear of freedom, are both spiritual problems.

It makes sense why we lose economic freedom when we look at our sinful human nature, but we need to remember how God created us. We were created to flourish and we were created to be free, and freedom leads to flourishing.

Economic freedom is the force wiping out poverty across the globe.

It is the reason so many people around the world are not starving to death today.

It is the best known path towards flourishing because it reflects biblical truths, allowing us to unleash our God-given creativity, enjoy the dignity of a hard day’s work, and flourish as God intended.

It gives us the best chance to provide more opportunities for people of all income levels, not just for the wealthy.

If we really want to fight poverty, we have to fight for economic freedom for everyone, at home and abroad, and in spite of our fears.

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