The Instigator
Pro (for)
0 Points
The Contender
Con (against)
3 Points

Resolved: Economic freedom should be a higher priority than economic equality.

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 4/18/2012 Category: Politics
Updated: 6 years ago Status: Post Voting Period
Viewed: 1,418 times Debate No: 22958
Debate Rounds (3)
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This debate will focus strictly on economic freedom vs economic equality. To avoid confusion, we will presume that both scenarios are to take place in a politically free society.
Round 1)
There is undoubtedly a connection between political freedom and economic freedom. If a society places equality above freedom, then it must infringe upon the liberties of individuals. For one man to be equal to another man, only two options exist. One is to reduce the wealth of the richer man through coercive means of taxation, in this case a legalized form of theft. Furthermore, a society of economic equals requires a robust state to manage the citizens as if they are chess pieces. These people are human beings, all with real hopes and desires. It is immoral to deny a person his natural right to the fruits of his labor. The concept of rights is also an aspect in this debate that must be observed. A state may be required to protect the rights of the people (to protect property rights, provide courts of law for fraud and/or abuse, to provide legal recognition of intellectual property and patents). This is an example of a proper understanding of the social contract, in which individuals of a society form a government to protect these rights from other individuals who would seek to undermine them (i.e. thieves). Wrongly understood, the social contract may be used as a justification to diminish the rights of the people by creating "positive rights," or rights that are invented and promised to people. Positive rights are not legitimate rights because a positive right would necessarily require that one's natural rights be violated as a means to achieving the fulfillment of the positive right. In order for one to receive his or her "right to a minimum income" (a positive right), the natural rights of fellow citizens to their own properties must be violated. This is immoral, as the means to achieving the positive right involve a loss of liberty. This is immoral because the loss occurs coercively via the state, but it is perfectly moral and even desirable for individuals or charitable organizations to volunteer to donate the fruits of their labors to those who are less fortunate. However, it must be noted that this type of transaction usually occurs as a way to relieve poverty rather than bring about an abstract virtue of "equality."


Since Pro formulated the debate topic as a resolution, took the Pro side and did not stipulate a shared burden of proof, I will take it that Pro has assumed the burden of proof.

I will also construe the resolution to be a general principle; that is, to say that economic freedom should always be prioritized over equality unless exceptional circumstances are involved.


Pro's argument boils down to the notion that humans have certain economic rights, and that prioritizing economic equality violates these rights. His argument consists of three basic propositions, all of them questionable.

A) Taxation is coercive, and thus theft.

Of course, it can just as equally be argued that property is coercive, and thus theft. No existing piece of property cannot be ultimately traced back to someone who drew a line, either in the sand or on a map, and threatened to initiate force against anyone who crossed that line.

But that aside, the main problem with this proposition is that, per Pro's stipulation, we are dealing with a politically free society; political freedom necessarily entails the right to choose, and voluntarily live under, a system of governance. Taxation is payment in exchange for services from the government. This is part of the social contract, a concept which Pro accepts, although we differ as to what the contract actually consists of.[1]

Taxation is not coercion; it is the price we pay for living in this society.

B) Economic equality requires micro-management of all human activities.

Pro has given no reason to believe that this is true. There is no reason why economic equality cannot be achieved through enacting a set of broadly applicable principles under which everyone in the society agrees to live. More on this below.

C) The social contract exists to enforce natural rights, and may not invent and enforce rights by fiat.

Pro refers to the latter as a "positive right," but this is a misuse of terminology; a positive right is a right that entails an obligation of action on another, as opposed to negative rights, which obligate inaction. For example, if I have the negative right to a fancy car, then you have an obligation to not interfere with my acquiring one, whereas if I have a positive right to a fancy car, then you (or someone) have an obligation to see that I get one.

This raises an important point about rights: all rights can be reduced to moral obligations upon others. We will come back to this later.

Pro, in any case, meant to distinguish natural rights from legal rights, or rights given by fiat of others. A good example of the latter is Pro's example of the minimum wage. Pro claims that the legal right to a minimum wage violates the natural rights of their fellow citizens to their own property. This is probably the main thrust of Pro's argument.

But this ignores the basic foundation of property. If Pro holds a Federal Reserve Note with a picture of George Washington and I hold a blank index card on which I have scribbled "ONE DOLLAR," why is it that Pro has a dollar and I don't? If we both hold a deed to Pro's house, but Pro's deed was issued by his county government whereas mine was issued by an artistically-inclined third grader, why does the house belong to Pro and not to me? Property in this society is considered legitimately owned if and only if the government recognizes it as such.

Indeed, government fiat is the very basis of money in this country. Since 1971, a dollar has not been worth a certain amount of gold, or other precious metal, or any other physical item; rather, it is worth whatever the United States government says it's worth. And even when the dollar was backed by gold or other precious metals, the worth of the dollar was, again, decided by a man-made document called the Bretton Woods Agreement.[2]

Since property is based on government fiat, it follows that the rights to that property, and the limitations thereon, are also based on fiat. For example, nobody in America has the right to prevent the government from entering their property, so long as they have a valid search warrant.


In addition to the above, Pro's argument contains the implicit assumptions that:

D) Natural rights exist.

The concept of rights existing naturally, absent a man-made institution to recognize these rights, is founded in natural law, a philosophically controversial concept which Pro did not bother to defend; thus he has not established the existence of natural rights, and cannot appeal to them to defend economic freedom.

Moreover, the notion of natural rights is problematic for at least two reasons.

First, to put it bluntly, Thomas Jefferson was wrong: the rights of "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness," while they exist, are not "self-evident."[3] What Jefferson was trying to say was that he and his fellow Founders wanted certain rights that British law did not acknowledge to his satisfaction. Pro and I can agree that these rights do and should exist, but this does not make them self-evident, nor does it make them natural.

Second, the notion of natural rights commits what G.E. Moore has called the Naturalistic Fallacy, the improper derivation of an "ought" from an "is." Pro simply assumes that, because humans are free to do what they want in a state of nature, that that is they way things ought to be. David Hume expressed the problem first, and best, when he complained that moral philosophers talked about what is, and imperceptibly started replacing is with ought, without giving a reason for how the latter can be deduced from the former.[4] Pro must satisfy Hume, and the reader, by giving a good reason for deriving ought from is. He has not done this.

E) Freedom is an absolute natural right.

Even if natural rights do exist, freedom as an absolute right cannot be established by appealing to nature because of the existence of other humans. If someone has a right to live, then someone else doesn't have the right to kill him. If someone has a right to breathe clean air, then someone else doesn't have the right to pollute the air he uses. And so on. Any natural right to freedom we might have is necessarily curtailed by the rights of other people.

This is what I mean above when I say that all rights can be reduced to obligations imposed on others. Why should nature impose upon me an obligation to not kill someone, or not pollute their air? The only way to establish these obligations is to form societies which decree and enforce these obligations; only thus can rights exist.

F) Freedom and equality cannot be reconciled.

The issue of higher priority only arises if freedom and equality cannot be reconciled. However, philosopher John Rawls has shown that they can. He proposed a thought experiment called the "original position," in which rational agents would create a society without knowing what position they would have in that society -- that is, without knowing their race, class, ability, gender, religion, ethnicity, personal value system, etc. Such agents, Rawls argued, arguing out of rational self-interest, would create a society in which everyone has certain basic rights, and in which everybody would be equal unless a particular form of inequality would be of benefit to everyone, and particularly to the least advantaged.[5] Since this system places equal emphasis on freedom and equality, there is no need to prioritize one over the other as a general principle.

For the foregoing reasons, I submit that Pro has not established that economic freedom should be a higher priority than economic equality.

[1] Huben, M., "A Non-Libetarian FAQ" (2007), available at
[2] Wiggin, A., "Bretton Woods Agreement" (2006), available at
[3] Declaration of Independence.
[4] Hume, D., A Treatise of Human Nature (1738).
[5] Rawls, J., A Theory of Justice, Revised Edition (Belknap, 1999).
Debate Round No. 1


billbuckley forfeited this round.


I extend all my arguments from round 1. I also submit that Pro should lose conduct points based on his round 2 forfeiture.
Debate Round No. 2


billbuckley forfeited this round.


I extend all my arguments, and ask for a vote of Con in all areas.
Debate Round No. 3
No comments have been posted on this debate.
1 votes has been placed for this debate.
Vote Placed by FourTrouble 6 years ago
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Total points awarded:03 
Reasons for voting decision: Pro forfeited.