Freedom and the Federal Job Guarantee (An Outline)

There are many arguments for a Federal Job Guarantee. This argument ties the program to the realization of freedom.

Pay attention to two recurring insights: freedom emerges through infusing an ethical principle that 1) accounts for how the options presented to people are calibrated to be attentive to, or reflect, the people who are choosing between those options, and 2) stabilizes the institutions through which people plan to realize their aspirations, so they do not labor in vain.


Against the Notion of Freedom in Nature:

A good number of Americans are taught to romanticize their relationship with nature as the epitome of freedom. I blame the way English teachers teach Walden. It’s a con. It’s a very comfortable con, though, because Americans don’t know nature.

Real nature is terrifying. A relationship with real nature is a war against an indifferent-to-hostile enemy, and nature doesn’t negotiate its terms of engagement. It neither forgives nor seeks forgiveness. Nature is fixed and independent, and you are always relating to it on its fixed terms. You can’t decide to play chess or basketball with a tiger. What counts as “self-determination” in your relationship with the tiger is determined by the tiger’s nature, set against your desire for life, a desire which overwhelms and negates all of your other particular aspirations. If the tiger gets hungry, it won’t recognize the right to your arm. It will not uphold your rights, yet it can do no wrong.

Our romanticized notion of nature is enabled because much of the United States has been domesticated for human use. But my dad is from Ghana, where nature eats you. Do not confuse your camping trip in the state park with a relationship with nature. You are in a garden that has been manufactured for your amusement. Even your body is about as natural as a Bonzai tree, with your immunizations, glasses/contact lenses, and dental work.

This is good. Freedom only becomes relevant after nature has already been worked on and curated. The only nature you know is the nature we’ve domesticated. Your freedom is won because we’ve made nature an artifice. You are welcome.

Against the Notion of Freedom in Choice:

Some people think that freedom is just choice. But if we treat choice as the sole principle of freedom, it’ll validate the content of every choice as the realization of freedom. Here are two problems with this. (1) If persons aren’t reflected in their options, then they’ll “freely” choose their way into oppression. (2) It’s not obvious why you should expect others to constrain themselves by choosing to respect your choices, because that expectation goes against their freedom as choice.

Regarding the first concern, every choice that is made among externally given options would be justified without accounting for how those options may be alienating, e.g., an ethical vegetarian may be in a position of choosing between stews that contain either chicken, beef or pork. This choice of stew is not a mechanism of self-determination, although it is a choice. As to the second concern, whatever properties you give yourself are not assured any objective stability, e.g., you could choose to become a soccer player, but what if the person you play with chooses to pick up the ball with her hands? If that’s the case, you can never validly realize yourself as soccer player because the identity depends upon other people playing along and not choosing to frustrate you or choose to trespass the rules of the game. The issue is going to be, “By what right do I keep them from choosing to break the rules?”

The way around this is by understanding that the idea that freedom is merely a matter of choice is fundamentally under-developed. Objective freedom, or self-determination, is a stable realization in the world. This means that any account of self-determination is going to have to account for how the free person is realized in the objective content among which she chooses, not just the subjective ability for her to choose.

For me to be free, it’s not enough for me to be able to make plans, the world has to be shaped to provide options that reflect my aspirations. In addition, the world has to be organized to stably uphold the plans I make in their realization.

In addition, one reason why interactive relationships that secure freedom in the world are called rights is because they allow for the capacity for the persons involved to do wrong. And the wrongs involved are often a matter of not fulfilling responsibilities regarding the production or stability of another’s self-determination, e.g., if an agent aims to determine herself as a car owner by purchasing a car, and you destabilize her self-determination by stealing her car. In this way, you have committed a wrong. The realization of her freedom, that is, her right, depend, in a way, on your choice to uphold them. Because you can choose to do wrong, you can choose, instead, to do right. This allows us to praise and punish you for your choices, rather than validate all of your choices, just because they are your choices.

These are some reasons why each account of objective freedom is going to be an account of mutual accommodation based on the recognition of free persons, persons who are duty bound to use their capacity of choice in order to uphold the other person’s realized aspirations. The relevant relationships of mutual accommodation for freedom are going to have distinct forms, and it’s important to get the distinctions right because these forms of freedom, if not developed correctly, can negate each other in their realization.

Property vs. Possession

Property is a matter of being recognized as having exclusive claim over external objects.

What’s the difference been possessing a car and owning it as property? If someone wants to steal my possession, that’s simply a matter of their power. However, property is a matter of stable, interpersonal recognition. That’s why if we are out to dinner, and I get up from the table to put money in the parking meter, you can recognize my food and accommodate me by not munching on it, even if I’m not there to defend it. Through your recognition, the food is not merely a possession; it’s my property, even when I’m not in possession.

The realization of freedom in the form of property is property right. You can ignore property rights, but that would be to commit a property wrong, and if someone wants to steal my property, then I can call on the recognized and legitimate authority of the governing body to negate the thief’s will and enforce the object as mine.

In order to conceive of property, the instability of possession is infused with an ethical element.

Legality as an Institution of Freedom

The problem of instability is going to creep up in many attempt to realize self-determination because of the way the capacity to do right enables discretion and the possibility of doing wrong. One of the reasons the nation’s Founders wanted to emancipate from King George’s tyranny was that tyranny comes with having control of your public life dictated by the capricious moods of a monarch. Even a benevolent monarch is controlling your objective world by her moods. That is not freedom.

Since freedom concerns making and realizing plans, constitutional governments are going to be institutions of freedom insofar as they stabilize the world through which people make and realize their plans. You need a constitution that is stable enough to allow people to make plans for their lives, but flexible enough to accommodate changing technology and sensibilities about freedom. Remember, any Disney movie that doesn’t end in a peasant revolt that dissolves the monarchy for a constitutional republic is trash.

Immediate Interpersonal Freedom

Property relations account for when we are talking about upholding freedom regarding external objects, but with freedom within relationships, it’s going to come in two forms. Either we are dealing with people immediately, that is, without any juridical barrier between us, or we deal with them in a mediated way that is refereed by a third party.

If we deal with them immediately, then there is no real barrier between our will and theirs. These immediate relations allow for a remarkable amount of vulnerability, but also a remarkable intimacy for enabling self-determination. This variety of self-determination, through relations of immediate mutual relation, is inextricably tied to co-determination because your self is immediately concerned with an other. The need for mutual concern becomes rather clear when it comes to something like sex.

For an immediate relationship to be a free relationship, I have to know that you are concerned about my plans in everything you do, as you know that I am concerned about your plans in everything I do, regarding this sphere of immediate freedom.

This type of freedom validates the family as an institution of self-determination, but it is also a reason that legitimate marriages, that is, marriages as institutions of freedom, aren’t held together merely by the spark of romance. The instability that separates possession and property is going to govern the relationship between romance and marriage. Since the spark of romance is inherently unstable, there needs to be an ethical principle infused into marriage in addition to romance to uphold marriage as an institution of freedom. What is being pledged in a marriage as an institution of freedom is the commitment to creatively work through and produce the internal dynamic and address external stressors impinging upon the conjoined unit.

Mediated Interpersonal Freedom

One of the downsides to immediate interpersonal freedom is that the individual does not yet develop herself and realize her individual will, separate from her partner.

As a further completion freedom, we have mediated freedom, where there are juridical barriers between participants. Whereas the virtues of immediate freedom are given expression in the family, mediated freedom legitimizes our relationships in civil society. It’s a market-based system of production and provisioning where, emancipated from convention and tradition, we produce goods, services, and institutions for each other.

There are a certain set of properties called commodities that can be put on the market for others to buy. These commodities range from needs for life, e.g., food, to needs for a way of life, e.g., the newest Iphone.

Civil society is mediated by juridical barriers, but these barriers allow for competition between civilians for each to establish their individuality. However, this mediated freedom realized in civil society still depends on an awareness of immediate freedom, property right, legality, and morality.

You need property rights in order to have commodity exchange. You need morality in order to only be accountable for what you buy and sell on purpose, as opposed to coercive contracts or fraud. You need immediate freedom because the juridical barrier only exists for people with which you have antagonist interest. I had a football center in one of my classes, and I asked him if he had ever been tripped by a member of his own team. He said, “All of the time, and it sucks.” Well, the refs don’t call tripping or clipping when the assailant is on your own team. The referees are there to call fouls on the other team. Which means that there is no substitute for having players on your team concern themselves with you immediately.

Freedom in a market-based civil society is going to run into the same problem possession, romance marriages, and political tyranny: inherent instability of any determinations involved. The dynamism of markets, like the dynamism of marriages, political, and property relations, need to be infused with an ethical principle to allow the institutions to be institutions of self-determination.

There are Toys ‘R Us employees who still have to eat and otherwise secure meaning and productive power within civil society as individuals once they close the stores. When automated cars are mainstreamed, there are 1.5 million truckers and haulers who are going be moved out of civil society.

The Federal Job Guarantee, as an institution of freedom, upholds the production of goods and services within the system of civil society and stabilizes the status of civilians as members of civil society, so the dynamism of the market does not undermine the conditions of mediated freedom and the way mediated freedom enables individuality, that validate civil society to begin with.

In addition to stabilizing person’s participation in civil society, these jobs would produce the material and cultural artifacts and infrastructure needs that the market simply does not provide, but also allows for options for participation as producers and consumers in a way that is calibrated to what the polity needs, not simply what the market happens to reward. For example, especially in a pandemic, the polity requires broadband. However, the private market does not support rural areas having real internet. I can tell the same story about elder care.

In these ways, the Federal Job Guarantee infuses an ethical principle that addresses instability in participating in civil society, and it provides options reflective of members of society through which they can realize themselves.

Against Liberalism/Libertarianism

A major problem with liberalism and libertarianism as theories of freedom is the inadequacy with which they consider production and stability: whether we are talking about liberals who think that food grows in grocery stores or libertarians who stop thinking about freedom after property rights, what separates under-developed conceptions of freedom from institutions of freedom largely turns on how fully developed institutions concern the production of options, and how the determinations by institutionalized selves are stably upheld by the world.