Tuesday, April 7, 2009

A Measure of Freedom (Jim Davies)

Jim Davies on the rise and fall of freedom throughout human history:

Jim DaviesQuite rightly, we tend to focus here mostly on what is happening today, rather than long ago. However, to do that all the time is a pity, for it robs us of historical perspective, which can be quite valuable. For example, consider: Are we more free today, than our forebears were in the 1900s? How can we tell? Does it matter?

I think it may matter, because if we can measure changes in human liberty, we may be able to correlate them with other things that were going on then, and so deduce reasons for the increases or decreases in liberty over time. Then, knowing better the factors that cause more or less of it, we may be able to influence corresponding factors today to increase it here and now.

So I offer a diagram of relative degrees of freedom at four different stages in human history.

It uses a form of the concept called "Agricultural Surplus." The thinking is that until we have enough to eat, all else is irrelevant; there is no life. Once we do have enough to eat, then we can talk about what happens to our spare time--the surplus.

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