I've been reading the work of Dr. Amartya Sen, Nobel Prize winner for Economics, as of late, and his work has enabled me to verbalize something that I've been trying to put my finger on for some time now. My problem with traditional libertarians and neo-liberals has been a constant focus on the economic sphere when that always seemed to me a focus on a means rather than an end. Beyond that, I've always found that while using traditional economic indicators makes measuring progress and development very easy, it doesn't really define what it is measuring in substantive terms. What does a per captia income of $20,000 in an area with a median income of $40,000 mean? In some places, places like Sweeden, it means that your house is smaller and you drive a VW Beetle rather than a Saab, but in most parts of the U.S. it means that you are unable to raise a family in a manner consistent with good childrearing methods, that you can't get good healthcare, and that you are probably in debt simply to pay the bills.
What I have discovered is that we Americans have traditionally defined our freedoms neagtively. That is to say that we deal in terms of what we are free from rather than what we are free to do. We are free from government interference in our speech, but we are not free to communicate by the most common and widely accepted means unless we posess the wealth to purchase the needed communications technology.
It seems that in the begining of our country's life we did not define freedom this way. We wrote our definitions this way as a group of people who remembered being interfered with by a foreign government, but we also sought to expand the real freedoms of people by establishing public libraries and a postal system with standardized postage. As time passes, though, private systems have far outstripped the public ones. There are obvious market related reasons for this, but in certain areas, especially health care, communications and utility infrastructure, and security and emergency response it seems to me that we must begin to reconceive of these freedoms positively. The right to life should mean a right to health. The right to liberty should mean the right to have access to all of the same markets and information available to anyone else, and the right to the pursuit of happiness should mean that the opportunity to gain an education free of economic burden should be present for any member of society.
Many will argue, I'm sure, that this is leftist, bleeding-heart nonsense. It is, but it's leftist, bleeding-heart nonsense that will generate a more productive (not to mention meaningful) economy worldwide, raising the standard of living of all human beings and lowering crime rates and violence worldwide.