Individual economic freedom: I’m all for it, being me and all.
But I doubt it had that much relevance to, say, the American Revolution (which I think counts as a revolution because, rather than fighting the king to force him to acknowledge their rights, they simply cut off the king to enforce their rights for themselves–I’m not judging this one way or another, just recognizing the revolutionary step). It may have had a bit. It all depends when you date the industrial revolution and how far you date it at the time.
I had, coming out of college, more or less seen individual liberty as a progress of constitutional recognitions of rights that could be tracked as a series of political wins. For example, the Magna Carta would be a part of this heritage.
But, at the same time, being deeply immersed in libertarian/”capitalist” theory/propaganda, I more or less correlated or even smudged this with economic individual liberty. Free individuals making free choices about price, purchase, investment, and risk were the key ingredient in a prosperous and civilized community.
But to even begin thinking that way, there is a necessary precondition: It must be widely understood that your carreer is largely undetermined and unconstrained by your father’s career. Otherwise, it simply makes no sense. If you are a blacksmith because your father is a blacksmith dealing with landlords and with farmers whose lives have been determined the same way, then you are not going to think much about the freedom of “a person” as an individual needing economic freedom. You will think of yourself as a member of a class that is trying to find a correct fit with other classes.
You will think this way because anything else would be irrelevant and stupid.
You go to the bookstore and you will find a whole industry on how to choose a career, how to measure your gifts/skills/proclivities/turn-ons, how to present yourself and find your place in the economy. Did this literature even exist in the 1770s. Maybe Poor Richard’s Almanac was the start. Maybe geographic displacements make this sort of thinking more likely. Maybe. But I doubt it was that common compared to the 1850s. And so on. Continue reading