Freedom in the Meaningful Sense

Here Yglesias argues that too much “economic security” talk sounds persnickety and that the left ought to emphasize a positive notion of freedom. OK. But, huh?

In another sense, more relevant in many contexts, you can't be especially free if you don't have any resources. People without cars, living paycheck-to-paycheck, without bank accounts or credit cards, weren't free to evacuate New Orleans before the hurricane hit in any meaningful sense.

I agree that you can't be especially free to do lots of different kinds of things if you don't have any resources. Which is why you want to try to get resources by working for a living, etc. And which is why the state and its apologists ought not to engender learned helplessness by making the urban poor into wards. It is flatly false that people in New Orleans without cars, bank balances, and credit cards “weren't free to evacuate” in a “meaningful sense.” The infirm were definitely stuck. But if you just picked up and started walking, you'd have been out of the flood zone in just a couple hours, even with kids in tow. If you had a bike, you could have made it to Baton Rouge in a day. That's a perfectly meaningful sense of free to evacuate. (Did you know that this great nation was settled by lots of poor people who more or less WALKED across the continent?) The fact that so few poor people did this is in no small part due to the fact that they got psychologically tangled in the safety net meant to keep them from falling too far, but which, in reality, keeps many from going anywhere. And that's neither freedom nor security.

Also, about “pro-growth progressives”. . . It's simply amazing that people don't take this to be a silly redundancy. Almost every bit of progress–socially, morally, in terms of happiness and longevity, aesthetically, WHATEVER YOU LIKE–is a direct or indirect product of economic growth. To be pro-growth simply is to be progressive, and there is no other way. It's nice that the left has apparently sort of given up on “liberal.” But using “progressive” to denote welfare state conservatism is just funny.