At Left2Right, Elizabeth Anderson has been discussing freedom; in particular, she’s been discussing two different notions of freedom. The first, “freedom as non-interference,” is the notion of freedom most Libertarians appeal to. The second, “freedom as opportunity set” – the idea that people are most free when they have a large variety of desirably options to choose between – is more like my personal conception of freedom, and I suspect that of most folks who favor redistributive government policies.
If the only kind of freedom that matters is that no one intentionally interfere with one’s formal freedom of action, and not that one’s opportunity set be large and full of worthwhile options, then freedom-lovers would have to oppose traffic laws, stop lights, and so forth, for interfering with freedom of movement. The result of a lack of such laws, however, is not actual freedom of movement, but, in areas of high traffic density, gridlock. (And, in areas of high traffic flow, grave danger.) To be sure, in a state of gridlock, one has the formal freedom to choose any movement in one’s opportunity set–which amounts to being able to rock forward and back a couple of inches from bumper to bumper, getting nowhere. Some freedom! By contrast, if we give up certain formal freedoms–to run red lights and stop signs, to drive indiscriminately across lanes–we get in return a vastly expanded opportunity set, including the ability to actually get to places one wants to go, more safely and quickly than if we hadn’t given up those freedoms. The point of formal freedom of movement–the right to move around, without coercive inteference by the state or other people–is that it is instrumental to expanding actual opportunities to move around where one wants to go. Merely formal freedom of movement, with nowhere to move to, or nowhere worth moving to, is not an end in itself. Different configurations of formal freedom of movement–different traffic laws–are justified by the extent of the opportunities for safe freedom of movement they enable. Give up a little freedom-as-non-interference, get a big bundle of freedom as real opportunities to move around to worthwhile places in return. A pretty spectacular bargain in terms of freedom, if you ask me.