Free Enterprise at the Baugh Center

Dr. John Tomasi Delivers Baylor a Double-edged Sword: Economic Freedom & Social Justice

Sept. 30, 2013

How do you bridge the divide in philosophy and politics for teams on the left and right separated by a "frozen, windswept sea?" Dr. Tomasi, a Professor of Political Theory at Brown University has taken on this heroic task using his political theory of market democracy to eliminate a false dichotomy between "economic liberty or social justice". Speaking to a crowd of over 200 Baylor students, faculty, alumni , and local business leaders on Tuesday, September 24, Dr. Tomasi explained that we need "a new way to have this political conversation, a way that disrupts the cozy camps we're living in."

Tomasi distinguished fundamental philosophical differences between libertarians and classical liberals on one side and high liberals on the other. The libertarian views the person as a self-owner in the tradition of John Locke while the classical liberal see self-interest in the tradition of Adam Smith as normative leading both groups to emphasize private economic liberties.

In contrast, the high liberal in the tradition of philosopher John Rawls, views the person as a democratic citizen with the capacity to consider the welfare of both self and other citizens. According to Tomasi, this leads to the conclusion that no one in society should be "left behind." Tomasi shares the high liberals' conception of the democratic citizen, and leaving no one behind noting that even classical liberals support the notion of a "safety net."

While Tomasi shares the high liberal view of the democratic citizen, he also questions whether we "really best respect our fellow citizens by seeking to use state power to curtail their private economic liberties." Tomasi draws from images of his immigrant family work ethic and self-reliance recognizing "the intrinsic moral importance of private economic liberties" that allows people to "more fully express who they are." Tomasi applies high liberal arguments of feminist concerns for economic injustice of women in 19th century "gilded cages" and applies the same standard against the European social-democratic ideal today calling for greater "free market fairness."

Tomasi's second part of his thesis is that social justice is compatible with such liberties. He suggests that what is most important is "how are people doing and not the equality itself." In other words, justice is measured more about welfare of the poor in absolute terms rather than the relative distribution at a point in time which allows room for the two views to meet in the middle.

Dr. Steven Bradley, Assistant Professor and Faculty Director for the Baugh Center, said, "This talk crystallizes the type of meaningful conversations we want to have on campus from different viewpoints - particularly regarding the poor. The question is not should we care for the poor, but how do we care for the poor in a way that is meaningfully helpful to them in the long run while continuing to respect others' basic rights. Bradley commenting on Free Enterprise at the Baugh Center, noted, "We need to regain an abundance mentality rather than a scarcity mentality in society. We perceive we are fighting over a limited pie when our greatest strength as a society is our initiative and ingenuity to create and start new businesses that makes the pie larger for everyone as Dr. Tomasi so aptly noted."

About Free Enterprise @ The Baugh Center

Free Enterprise at the John F. Baugh Center seeks to aid in the preservation of the competitive free enterprise system, including the vital small business sector of the economy. Our goal is to be a national leader in this area through research, teaching and informing public policy.

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