Sunday, March 22, 2015

What Really Stands in the Way of Freedom?

A few centuries earlier, liberty didn't seem quite so elusive. Indeed, freedom in a newly formed United States was possible, due to the presence of private property in the form of land. That land not only meant ownership rights for personal production, but protection by an otherwise minimalist government. However, that basic framework included some wealth creating economic circumstance which have shifted considerably in the last century. Personal production is no longer quite so simple, in spite of an infinite variety of ownership options which seek to reduce risk in this regard.

Freedom is difficult to ascertain without the meaningful economic access that production allows. And back then, land was the economic access that mattered most. Liberty was a relatively simple concept, so long as one's holdings included adequate means to make a living - even if only through subsistence means. For instance: once individuals became landowners, even subsistence gardens tended to be more reliable to maintain personal circumstance, than subsistence employment. Time ownership has become extremely fragile (whether rich or poor), compared to the time that could once be dedicated to land ownership with understandable reward. And yet, subsistence gardens are no match for the consumption requirements of developed nations in the 21st century.

Today people can be misled by calls for greater freedom, if and when recent shifts in wealth creation and societal participation are not taken into account. The kinds of property which one associates with wealth formation, have completely changed since today's democracies were formed. In the meantime, time use in coordinated relation to others has become the primary key to economic access. If no one was an "island" before, that characterization holds especially true today. Unfortunately, today's marketplace has yet to define property protection for time use options. This means there are no individual time and knowledge use rights, even though both have become necessary to make freedom and economic participation possible for populations as a whole.

As new pathways for knowledge use wealth emerged, they were staked out as holdings which resembled the claims of kings for their countries, as new nations were discovered centuries earlier.* Only consider how long it took for the private (real estate) property which became associated with democracy, to emerge from those earlier massive holdings! One only hopes that local knowledge use holdings - in the form of time use rights - do not take centuries to unfold. After all, knowledge use and the success which accrues to populations as a whole can be quite fragile, compared to changes in the use of land over time.

Even though royalty has largely given way to meritocracy, the latter nevertheless still stands in the way of personal freedom, when knowledge use comes to the fore. How so? Without a distinct marketplace for time use, "one size fits all" meritocracy has little choice but to monetarily fill in the skills gaps for information, technology and the digital realm which individuals could otherwise put to use for services in local circumstance. As Friedrich Hayek noted, "Competition...means decentralized planning by many separate persons." One of the more counterintuitive aspects of a thriving economy is the greater the inclusive nature of what is allowed, the greater the degree of competition, coordination and personal choice.

When meritocracy stakes the primary value of time use in association with knowledge, the ability to ascertain time use value for complete time aggregates is lost. However, that time value could gradually be regained. Should those with meritocratic claims on knowledge choose to make room for chartered knowledge use communities, people could rediscover freedom they scarcely knew they had: that of (1) real choices for time use organization, and (2) experiencing time choice in ways which generally lie within one's control, and (3) rediscovering economic personal time use value, as opposed to institutional time use value.

One could describe freedom as a right to participate in the kinds of "planned" institutional settings which Hayek spoke of. Still, participation in these institutions has become limited, particularly given the fact meritocracy leaves too few remaining avenues for growth in services formation. What's more, Hayek's arguments for decentralized knowledge were largely understood in a tradable goods production context. It was not as easy to apply decentralized knowledge for services, because - without a designated marketplace for time use - too much compensated time can be extremely problematic for both profits and monetary flows in general.

Therefore, knowledge use decentralization has not been adequately understood for present day services product formation - which unlike other forms of production - needs to maintain time as a central element. Unfortunately, meritocratic structure has little choice but to limit compensated time aggregates, in order to maintain knowledge values as they are defined in primary equilibrium.

The arguments of this post are not to suggest that meritocracy isn't useful, desirable or even relatively necessary in many instances. Rather, time aggregates need coordination to include those who otherwise have little room to participate in the important knowledge and services of the present. New paths of freedom would allow everyone to partake in knowledge use, in order to maintain personal responsibility and social commitment.

Monetary and time use roles for purposes of freedom, are scarcely complete. Even though barter has no place in monetary economies, economic validation (monetary compensation) for group forms of time coordination would allow the further evolution of freedom for knowledge and time use which are now needed. Not only would time ownership make comparative advantage in services possible, it would mean the validation of personal aspiration, as well. Think about the comparative advantages derived from tradable goods over recent centuries. What if a marketplace for time arbitrage meant the same advantages could be derived from time use and knowledge use? Comparative advantage for personal time use freedom, has the capacity to restore humanity to a better place.

*In other words, a total wealth value of time aggregates can also be defined by knowledge based activity that the group as a whole is specified not to perform, in a given economic setting. This in turn can be a factor in permanent limits on economic growth, if the activity holds an important consumption function.

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