Promoting freedom for abstract or spiritual pursuits

Unfortunately, people who are not materially oriented—for example, those who might want to pursue lives of much personal contemplation or prayer, of ministry to others, or of artistic creativity—are seen as laggards in statist, government-planned economies, and they could be jailed or even killed for refusing to perform government-mandated jobs. But they are free to pursue such lives with no fear of government penalty in a free-market system.

Mark Zupan, dean and professor of economics and public policy at the University of Rochester’s William E. Simon School of Business, notes that only in a decentralized, pluralistic, private-property order can the inalienable rights of everyone be secure.[1] This includes the right to pursue non-material activities.

Robert Sirico, in his thoughtful book Defending the Free Market, shows how material and non-material pursuits are naturally interconnected:

Private property demonstrates the interpenetration between our physical bodies and our capacity for transcendence. We engage nature with labor that our reason plans and directs—and produce something that did not previously exist. Not just another beaver dam exactly the same as the ones beavers have been building for millennia, but a Chartres Cathedral, a Mona Lisa, or an electric light bulb, a smallpox vaccine, a revolution in agriculture that lifts millions of people out of dire poverty or, more modestly, a garden or orchard that feeds a family and expresses a particular gardener’s thoughtful stewardship of the land.

These things are possible because we don’t just relate to the material world in an immediate or temporary manner. The relationship of human beings is not merely a relationship of consumption. It is also one of reason and creativity—and it is that relationship that makes the institution of private property possible. “The right to private property” is not merely control over a physical object, as my dog Theophilus might possess a bone. Rather the right to property is wrapped up in a person’s capacity to apply his intellect to matter and ideas, to look ahead, to plan and steward the use of that possession. Just as other fundamental human rights are not created by the state but are possessed by virtue of a person’s existence and nature, so also the right to private property is recognized rather than granted by the government. . . .

It is sacred because it has such close connection to human beings as creatures made in the image of God, creatures placed in the context of scarcity and given a capacity to reason, create, and transcend.[2]

Therefore, the freedom to use the income we earn, the property we possess, and our time and effort to focus on abstract and spiritual pursuits is a moral advantage of a free-market system.

  • [1] Ibid., 177.
  • [2] Robert Sirico, Defending the Free Market: The Moral Casefor a Free Economy (Washington: Regnery, 2012), 31.
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