A. Promoting personal freedom

Promoting freedom of choice for moral actions

A free-market system is consistent with certain fundamental moral principles—that we should respect the dignity and individuality of each person, that governments should not manipulate people as objects but recognize each person’s rights and values, and that economic decisions should be directed by means of persuasion and voluntary exchange rather than coercion and force. These ideas are summarized by the concept of individual freedom.

Free markets thrive on the non-aggression principle that protects human freedom. The requirement that transactions in the private sector of the economy must be voluntary ensures that, if such a system is working properly, the moral and physical autonomy of people is protected from violent attack by others. Force is inadmissible in human interpersonal relationships under a system of free markets, because the free market depends on people making voluntary exchanges.

Economist F. A. Hayek said it this way in his classic book The Road to Serfdom: “Individualism, in contrast to socialism and all other forms of totalitarianism, is based on the respect of Christianity for the individual and the belief that it is desirable that men should be free to develop their own individual gifts and bents.”[1] Everyone should be able to make choices free of external intimidation and coercion. The free-market system, in which only voluntary and mutual exchange is permitted, thus promotes freedom of choice.

The Bible places a high value on human freedom and voluntary choices. God gave Adam and Eve a choice in the garden of Eden before there was sin in the world: “But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (Gen 2:17). Other passages emphasize the importance of such freedom of choice:

“I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore

choose life, that you and your offspring may live.” (Deut. 30:19)

“Choose this day whom you will serve.” (Josh. 24:15)

The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.” And let the one who hears say,

“Come.” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take

the water of life without price. (Rev. 22:17)

In the Old Testament, slavery and oppression (the opposites of freedom) are always viewed negatively. In fact, the Ten Commandments begin with God’s declaration, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery” (Ex. 20:2).

Later, when the people of Israel turned against the Lord, he gave them into the hands of oppressors who enslaved them and took away their freedom (see Deut. 28:28-29, 33; Judg. 2:16-23). Loss of freedom was a curse, not a blessing.

That is why one blessing God promised was that a deliverer would come who would free the people from oppression by their enemies, for he would come “to proclaim liberty to the captives” (Isa. 61:1).

Throughout the Bible, from the beginning of Genesis to the last chapter of Revelation, God honors and protects human freedom and human choice. This is an essential component of our humanity, and it ultimately is a clear reflection of our creation in the image of God

(Gen. 1:27) and our desire to imitate God (Eph. 5:1), who has absolute freedom to do whatever he pleases as long as it is consistent with his own righteous and holy nature.

Freedom of choice is important for building other virtues in a nation, virtues that together make up a person’s character. Yes, the more choices we have, the more opportunities there are to choose wrongly. But being deprived of choice does not build character; choosing rightly among many choices does. Punctuality, courtesy, truthfulness, trust, and productive efficiency are all strengthened when their opposites are options. So are other virtues that are encouraged and developed in a free-market system. These virtues improve the quality of personal relationships and increase respect for other people in a society.[2]

  • [1] Friedrich A. Hayek, The Road to Serfdom (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1944; repr., Washington: Heritage Foundation, 1994), 6.
  • [2] Mark A. Zupan, “The Virtues of Free Markets,” Cato Journal 31, no. 2 (Spring/Summer 2011): 171-94,mentions a much longer list of positive moral virtues that are encouraged by free markets: integrity, trust, morality, cooperation, ethical behavior, legality, honoring one’s word, honoring informalcontracts, generating prosperity, punctuality, civil behavior, fidelity, win-win relationships, voluntaryphilanthropy, civic mindedness, social well-being, social harmony, minimal envy and resentment,freedom of choice, expanded options, and less selfishness.
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