The Relationship Between Economic And Political Freedom

One of the greatest economists of the 20th century, Milton Friedman, wrote this in the beginning of the first chapter of his book Capitalism And Freedom:

“It is widely believed that politics and economics are seperate and largely unconnected; that individual freedom is a political problem and material welfare an economic problem; and that any kind of political arrangements can be combined with any kind of economic arrangements. The chief contemporary manifestation of this idea is the advocacy of “democratic socialism” by many who condemn out of hand the restrictions on individual freedom imposed by “totalitarian socialism” in Russia and who are persuaded that it is possible for a country to adopt the essential features of Russian economic arrangements and yet to ensure individual freedom through political arrangements”.

He than went on to show that “such a view is a delusion, that there is an intimate connection between economics and politics, that only certain combinations of political and economic arrangements are possible, and that in particular, a society which is socialist cannot also be democratic, in the sense of guaranteeing individual freedom”.

I was reminded of this when I read the Becker-Posner blog discussing the relationship between economic and political freedom.

Gary Becker, Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences, writes:

Since both economic and political freedoms are highly valued, it is essential to understand how they interact as nations evolve. The history of different countries during the past century strongly indicates that economic freedoms over time typically push societies toward political freedoms. To take a few examples, South Korea, Taiwan, and Chile all started their economic development under military regimes. Korea and Taiwan both began freeing their economies around 1960 after centralized direction of their economies failed to produce economic growth. Chile began opening its economy under General Pinochet in 1981, also after his centralized approach to the Chilean economy failed. Within two decades, all three nations had achieved, or were moving rapidly toward, political democracies, with vibrant competition for elections among competing parties, and a mainly free press.

The path from political to economic freedom, by contrast, is slower and more uncertain. It took India over four decades to begin to loosen its extensive controls over private companies, labor markets, start-ups, imports from abroad, and numerous other activities. It still has a long way to go. Mexico has had a free press and considerable political freedom for a century or so, but economic freedoms did not begin to evolve until the latter part of the 1980’s. Israel has fierce competition among political parties, but continues to have an overly controlled economy.

Read it in full here. Becker responds to comments here.

Posner and The Right Coast have more.

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