On Social Freedom

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When thinking about our personal freedom within society, an obvious place to start is with the choices we are able to make relating to our everyday needs and preferences. How free are we to eat and drink what we want, to work and play where we want, to live how we want? Sadly, it increasingly feels as if UK policy-designers have chosen the same starting point. In a time in which governmental emphasis is understandably on Brexit and related international issues, the domestic agenda seems increasingly focused on making our everyday decisions for us. Whether it’s the size of our pizzas or the content of our memes, the state is ready to step in and save us from ourselves.

As the writers in this essay collection aim to show, the risks of such an approach can be serious. Not only do policies intended to bring about ‘good results’ in these areas — ranging from food and drink, to drugs, to internet usage — often have deleterious unintended economic consequences, they also eat away at our individual decision-making capacity and crowd out natural societal virtue.

To divide the economic from the social is to create a false dichotomy. But this collection seeks to investigate the impact of state intrusion on those areas that seem the most personal — areas related to our habits, the stuff we ingest, the things we get up to in private. We will never all agree about whether these things are good things, or whether they’re bad but worth doing anyway, but — to believers in individual freedom — it’s essential that we are able to make decisions about them for ourselves.

Click here to read the collection