Capitalism and Freedom: As long as economists like Brad DeLong and John Cochrane are going to use their blogs to debate introduction to political philosophy issues, Moneybox may as well chime in…. Cochrane, like a lot of people with right-of-center views, thinks that he espouses a "negative freedom" view in which "rights, of individuals against interference by their government" trump things like a "freedom from want."… [M]y strong suspicion is that, like most people who say this is what they believe, he actually hasn't scrutinized it in detail….
[I]f we really wanted to maximize everyone's freedom from government interference we would get rid of all these pesky traffic laws…. [M]y most frequent encounters wth the long arm of the state are the constant walk/don't walk injunctions…. Those who commute by automobile will have noticed the traffic signals and the stop signs…. [Y]ou can't really posit these as prohibitions that are necessary to preserve the natural rights of other people…. Nevertheless, it's much better for everyone if you follow the rules as posted rather than simply asserting your inalienable right to drive around as you please. The freedom we care about when it comes to traffic laws is not minimizing government coercion, but maximizing our practical ability to get from place to place.
As a second example, air pollution. If John Cochrane drives around town and the particulate emissions from his automobile impair my ability to grow basil on my porch and exacerbate my allergy-induced respiratory problems, and in response I assault his person or his car the authorities will look askance at my claim to be acting to uphold my natural right…. The police will instead act to uphold his right to engage in a limited-but-meaningful level of harm-inducing pollution and will arrogate to the political process the authority to decide how much harm Cochrane will be allowed to impose….
As a third example, intellectual property. Cochrane's wife is an author. If I buy a copy of one of her books, retype it, and start selling copies at a discount rate over the internet I'll get arrested.
And all of that is to the good…. I don't think we should do without traffic regulation, halt all harm-inflicting air pollution, or have no intellectual property laws. It turns out that for a modern capitalist economy to function, you need to constrain individual liberty a fair amount relative to what a strict natural rights reading would entail…. [T]he original set of liberal thinkers who propounded natural rights theory were writing before digital reproduction or automobiles… [or] air pollution was really understood…. [T]hey didn't deal with these issues not-yet-arisen issues…. Which is fine. But I think most of the people around today who praise those thinkers… don't actually think we should throw the whole idea of a modern technologically advanced society overboard in the name of adherence to a strict Lockean doctrine…