It’s been a few days since our last post on the new Routledge Handbook of Libertarianism. (We have already reviewed nine works from this remarkable collection of theoretical and applied essays.) In this post, we will review Jahel Queralt’s excellent essay: “Economic liberties are also the liberties of the poor.” It’s one of the best essays in the entire collection and deserves to be read in its entirety. [Dr Queralt, a law lecturer at Pompeu Fabra University in Barcelona, is the author of Igualdad, suerte y justicia (“Equality, Luck, and Justice”); see book cover below.] In summary, Queralt explains why libertarian theory is so relevant to the lives of working men and women around the world. From a theoretical perspective, she shows how economic liberty–defined broadly as the right to engage in whatever trade or business one wants without governmental interference–is both “autonomy-protecting” as well as “autonomy-enhancing.” Economic liberty protects and enhances individual autonomy because it allows us to decide for ourselves what occupations to engage in, what goods to make, or what services to provide. But more importantly, economic liberty is essential from a practical perspective as well. In the eloquent words of Dr Queralt (the links are hers too): “The poor have a strong interest in having their economic liberties respected. Indeed, in developing countries approximately half of the workforce is self-employed. This includes pushcart vendors, itinerant barbers, shoemakers, and other entrepreneurs that run small businesses against all sorts of government failures—onerous and cumbersome business regulations, bribery, and corruption. Such obstacles not only make it extremely difficult for them to succeed in the market and to earn a livelihood. They also create a division between them and wealthy individuals who can handle regulatory costs and are able to hire legal aid in navigating the maze of red tape. To put it bluntly, infringements of economic liberties can perpetuate poverty and deepen inequalities in the marketplace. When this happens, economic unfreedom harms the poor even more than it harms the rich.” In a nutshell, Queralt’s defense of economic liberty is one of the best we’ve seen in a long time.
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