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Coercion’s effect on freedom

By Grace Cifuentes
we'posted November 5, 2018

Imagine you are going to school one day. You brought your own appetizing lunch, your favorite kind of sandwich with an outstanding drink.  When you get to the lunchroom the principal requests everyone to stop eating because she is going to make an announcement.  Her announcement is: Everyone must eat the lunch provided by the school, no questions asked.

Milton Friedman, a Nobel prize laureate, was famous for ideas on monetarism which went against the grain of the 20th century economics of his time.  To the average person Friedman is known for his book and TV series Free to Choose.  He wanted to communicate the idea that everyone should be concerned and knowledgeable about economics.  His idea was, if they didn’t have any knowledge about economics the government would take away their freedoms.  In Milton and Rose Friedman’s book, Free to Choose, he talks about how choices relate to both economic and individual  freedom. Neither can you have one without the other.  Free to Choose emerged out of a time where there was economic instability and the people felt as though the government was failing them.  The US was becoming a less prominent economic leader in the world and the cold war heightened. Meanwhile the economy was in trouble because of the stagflation, which is rising inflation and rising unemployment.  There was a battle between centralized economic planning like in the USSR and the free market.  Through all of this Friedman was one of the main advocates of the free market as a way for individual freedom.

This essay will especially be concentrating on an excerpt from Friedman's  book, Free to Choose, found in the Wall Street Journal, titled 'Milton Friedman in His Own Words.' Quoting from the excerpt, 'Political freedom means the absence of coercion of a man by his fellow man.'-Milton Friedman.  I will prove Friedman's idea that coercive power reduces both economic and individual freedom, through two examples from Saudi Arabia, highlighting its political election and its laws.

The first example is the elections of Saudi Arabia.  The Saudi government, although it is opening up, has coercive power over their people.  I know this from my own experience, since I lived in Saudi Arabia from 2010-2013.  Saudi Arabia is one of the few absolute Monarchies in the world.  This means the King has the ultimate and final say in everything.  One of the consequences of this kind of government is there are no free elections.  The few elections that there were, weren't open to women.  Half of the population does not have a voice in the few things they are allowed to vote for.  People in this country don't choose what is happening in their government or in the country. They are coerced by the King or government to do whatever they mandate.  This form of government hinders the economy by suppressing diversity of ideas.  We can see the effects of this on their economy because even though the country has a big oil industry, the young adult unemployment rate was 33.5% in 2015.  Consequently, they are very vulnerable in the aspect of freedom.

This last lack of freedom already seems like an absolute shock to us.  This next lack of freedom will blow your mind.  What they consumed and wore were controlled. There were a lot of restrictions on the items that were sold in the country.  Pork, nutmeg, alcohol and legos were some of the items which were banned from being sold in Saudi.  People I knew bought some of these items on the black market.  When and if Saudi Arabia permits people to buy and produce these things options of people will open and the power of coercion will be taken away from the government thus making the people freer.

My mother personally experienced this next lack of freedom of choice in the area of what clothes she was allowed to wear.  The women were regulated to wear a certain type of clothing whenever in public.  She had to always wear a black abaya. If she did not comply with the law the religious police would arrest her.  This did not allow her to have a choice in what she would wear, hence having no freedom in that area.  She was not even able to choose which color she had to wear.  Additionally she was not able to at any time try on clothes at a store.  The government regulated this. Unfortunately this law did not only affect my mother's personal freedom but it was restricting economics activity. Consequently it harmed the economy. My mother can personally testify that she would have bought more clothing there if she would have had the individual freedom to choose what to wear, contributing to their economy.  Our family saved all our clothing shopping for when we would return to the United States. The reason for this being that  she really only had to wear one piece of clothing when leaving the house. She couldn't try anything on at the stores and it was illegal for my mother to drive. Everyone knows that women would shop more than men.  Economically Saudi Arabia was hindered by these laws and the restriction on what women wore. The government was restricting choices. By this coercion, of limiting what they wear and options to buy, the economic activity within the country is reduced. 

Throughout these two examples, in Saudi Arabia I have been able to prove to you that coercive power reduced the individual's freedom and the economic freedom.  First, we saw that in Saudi Arabia, they do not have free elections. The government forces them to do whatever the government mandates. This eliminates choices.  Second, the laws that were put in place, coerced the people to do things that didn't help their economy.  We saw how their political, individual and economic freedom was taken away by the coercion of the government.  Coercion eliminates choices and fewer choices limit economic activity. Many people will try to coerce you to do something. We should always be on our guard against such attacks to our freedom. ESR

Grace Cifuentes is a a high school student taking AP Macroeconomics. This is her first contribution to Enter Stage Right. (c) 2018 Grace Cifuentes




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