Invisible hand shoots itself in the foot

Tim Soutphommasane’s “True liberals are at liberty to disagree over what it means to be free” (The Australian, 25/6) is welcomed as an antidote to the simplistic polarities of much media politics and as a recognition that liberty is complex.

As Soutphommasane notes, few today outside of the extreme old Right actually oppose the ideal of liberty, although conservative liberals have trouble explaining how they otherwise intend to enforce tradition.

But in the real world, we must apply values to choose between conflicting liberties. Does the freedom to own a gun have a higher value than the freedom to walk the streets without fear? If not, we need gun control. Does the freedom of an entrepreneur to reap the benefit of their effort override that of a property owner to charge whatever rent the market will bear? If so, we need rent control. Does free trade imply the free movement of labour? If so, we must relax our borders.

Despite what naive market libertarians tell us, there is no stark choice between liberty and government control, but a considered weighing of liberties against eachother. If we don’t make such decisions, the market’s “invisible hand” shoots itself in the foot.

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