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A human-centred approach to rethinking wealth and individual liberty

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It is election season, so to speak. From the EU to India to the US, Ghana, Brazil and many more countries. An estimated 49% of the world’s population will head to the polls in national elections this year. Among those, 30 countries still have elections scheduled for the second half of the year. That means politics is the subject on everyone’s lips and with it comes political ideology and questions on how society and the economy should be organised. However, it is time to rethink how we should approach these questions.

At the top of this list is the fundamental enquiry, how wealth should be distributed? Political discourse today is dominated by promises related to wages, jobs, purchasing power, healthcare, education, the environment, and much more. While these issues are important, one thing which is severely lacking is the fundamental thinking as to how these issues come about.

Novelist and philosopher Ayn Rand rightly asserted political economic discourse makes the grave error of starting its reflections midstream. The focus is on questions like “How should wealth be distributed?” rather than the more foundational question, “How is wealth created?” In a world of abundance, it is easy to forget that these things are not simply given but created and this is a problem. 

Wealth is not a given. If anything, societies start in a natural state of poverty. This can be attested to by the persistence of poverty all over the world for millennia. The contrast with the exponential increase in wealth and quality of life in the past 200 years following the industrial revolution is further proof. If we ignore this fact and assume that wealth is a constant, we risk losing the progress we have made so far.

Another problem with such an  approach is its view of man. Man is viewed as simply a part of a system, a cog in the wheel that should be placed in a designated place in order to make the machine run, not taking into account the individuality of each person and his choices. 

A human-centred approach

So how should political economic discourse be approached? The first question we can ask in all these is: ‘What is the common factor in all these discussions?’ The answer to this is man. Whether it is economic calculations or political policies, they are all centred around the actions of man or aim to define a state of existence of man. They all seem to try to respond to the needs and/or wants of man.

But how exactly do you answer that question for billions of people? Given the varying values, beliefs, and needs of each person, it is impossible to do so. Yet politicians’ careers rely on promising people such ideals and finding perfect or rather imperfect balance of wants and needs of whatever section of the population they can pander to. However, the only way to ‘provide’ each man with what he needs is for him to be able to go after this himself. 

How can this be made possible?

According to Rand, we need to examine first and foremost the nature of man. Using the aristotelian approach to definitions, we can say that man is an animal and what differentiates man from other animals is his mind. However, this mind not only differentiates man from other animals but is also his means of survival.

The survival of the human race and each individual up till now has been thanks to the use of the intellect to solve problems that threaten our existence from the discovery of agriculture to the discovery of vaccines to the everyday tasks we carry out to earn a living and protect our families. Each individual acts in his best interest – granted, not all do – in order to lead a flourishing life.

Freedom as a prerequisite for living

But what if we were unable to ? What if no one was allowed to choose in any way what actions they would like to carry out? The multiplicity of choices we have today is often criticised by many as needless. Nevertheless, as overwhelming as it may be, we need to stop and consider the alternative.

The chilling consequence is that we are then helpless, at the mercy of whoever calls the shots. It also means that our greatest faculty, the human mind is relegated to the backseat, left to wilt away in unuse. Lastly, it means that each individual cannot pursue his own happiness. This happiness doesn’t have to be assured and while it is true that it doesn’t guarantee anything, the possibility of pursuing offers a freedom first of all in the mind. The freedom to dream.

The case for individual libertyA society that protects individual liberty, that is one that bans force from human relationships and lets man exercise the use of his mind and choices is one which can guarantee this freedom. Why should you support individual liberty in spite of your world view? Even if such liberties cannot realistically create the world you wish for? The possibility of conceiving and acting on a life/society that we want to live in exists only in a free society. In a society in which we are compelled by force to live how those who govern prescribe, your utopia cannot even exist in the recesses of your mind.


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