Tuesday, May 8, 2018

The Importance of Personal Autonomy

In a recent article for Project Syndicate, Yanis Varoufakis worried whether personal autonomy has been lost to totalitarianism tendencies:
It used to be an axiom of liberalism that freedom meant inalienable self-ownership. You were your own property...
A capacity to fence off a part of one's life, and to remain sovereign and self driven within those boundaries, was paramount to the liberal conception of the free agent and his or her relationship with the public sphere. To exercise freedom, individuals needed a safe haven within which to develop as genuine persons before relating - and transacting with others. Once constituted, our personhood was to be enhanced by commerce and industry - networks of collaboration across our personal havens, constructed and revised to satisfy our material and spiritual needs.
He highlights "branding" as part of the problem. Might Varoufakis appear overly concerned about the loss of self ownership?

Realistically, citizens have more resources at their disposal which could assist them in restoring autonomy, than the average economist or policy maker is inclined to give them credit for. The self ownership which matters most, is not how we use our time for consumption possibilities (such as social media), but the full extent of our personal production possibilities. After all, a restoration of our rights to produce, would make it possible for us not only to help one another, but to help ourselves when we need it most.

A marketplace for time value, could once again provide viable means to negotiate how we seek to experience the world with others. The real issue all along, has been loss of economic freedom in terms of personal production rights. Without sufficient economic freedom, it eventually becomes more difficult to maintain other vital aspects of freedom. Indeed, the lack of a viable platform for our economic time value, helps to explain why people resort to signaling and branding activities, so as to stand out in the oversupplied institutional space that still seeks to arbitrage skill.

What can be done about the freedoms we have lost, in terms of production rights? The basic issue is that where we've lost personal economic freedom, the market often remains artificially constrained as well. In other words, it might be an entirely different matter to attempt to regain personal production freedoms, were our prevailing institutions doing a reasonably good job of services generation for all concerned. But often, they're not. Across the globe, there's so many potential arenas, where productive agglomeration could take place via renewed production of high skill time based product. Economic options such as this continue to gain urgency, as the prosperous regions containing our most important service sectors, are slowly closing their doors to newcomers. Increasingly, there's no good excuse for extreme societal divisions in knowledge use, now that the digital era holds vast potential for widespread dispersal and preservation of knowledge.

Fortunately, citizens could build new forms of wealth creation for the 21st century, which include vital components of self ownership as an integral part of the process. A marketplace for time value would bring everyone's skills use options to the table. What's more, it would do so by allowing individuals to choose from a broad range of skills preferences in relation to the time and geographic preferences of others. People would become free agents within the processes of knowledge production, yet in ways which allow groups to coordinate for the services they seek through the course of a lifetime.

Of course, time arbitrage as a marketplace option, is hardly the only form of personal autonomy which the average citizen needs to regain. Meaningful ownership of self, would also extend to one's right to innovate and design physical environment and infrastructure. This means special zones, where groups with limited income would not be constrained by strict and often out of date building codes, which have been enforced by unions for too long. Innovation in these areas would gradually create non tradable sector good deflation, which would allow millions to rejoin economic (and social) life as responsible citizens. In all likelihood, there's still plenty of hope and possibilities for the near future. Chances are, with a little luck, it may be premature to claim that our personal autonomy has been lost.

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