While I’m recommending good posts from around the ‘hood, this Catallarchy post from Jonathan Wilde builds on Brad DeLong’s “Tale of the Serf” post nicely. Basically, Brad creates a false dichotomy (as Jonathan notes) to illustrate a point: do you care how free you are if your life is better in other ways?
I agree with Jonathan and say YES! Put another way, I think of freedom as an a priori good. This is one reason why I go around arguing that retail electric customer choice is about more than low prices, that freedom to choose is a good in and of itself.
I think the crux of Jonathan’s point is:
We all have different preferences. Depending on the circumstances, my preference might be to not have my crop taken from me and to not have the chirurgeons insert vaccine into my arms. Perhaps I believe the vaccine to be unsafe. Perhaps my crop will be better invested by my decisions. In the end, the specific reasons do not matter; what matters is consent.
However, based on his preferences, DeLong is willing to violate my consent.
Oh, that’s important! Is the manorial lord not telling me about the cowpox thing because he thinks I can’t handle the risk, that I can’t be reasoned with because I’m just a stupid peasant? Does that condescension justify failing to obtain my consent through reason in the service of a “public good”? No.
Jonathan’s conclusion is particularly damning:
Of course, DeLong would likely make up some excuse for violating my consent anyway, like public goods problems, negative externalities, or simply the vague, undefined pit of darkness known as the “common good”. But that doesn’t make it right. Violating another’s consent based on your own preferences is the ultimate selfishness.