Sen’s Five Freedoms

Last time, I wrote about why I felt the State was necessary in the lives of the Citizen. More recently, I wrote about the Tragedy of the Commons, and how the utilization of shared resources required the surrender of certain freedoms. But I never really talked about what those freedoms were, except to quote from the Constitution of the United States (justice, domestic tranquility, common defense, general welfare, blessings of liberty). It will be useful, going forward, to have a more rigorous taxonomy of freedoms.

Types of Freedom

Amartya Sen (Nobel laureate whose book Development as Freedom is a favorite at the Georgia Wonk), writes that there are five types of freedom: political freedoms, economic facilities, social opportunities, transparency guarantees, and protective security. These five freedoms are in the broader context of what Sen conceives of as a broader freedom to live one’s own life, a freedom largely based on opportunities for success, achievement, and flourishing. I’ll let him take it from here:

Political freedoms…(including what are called civil rights) refer to the opportunities that people have to determine who should govern and on what principles, and also include the possibility to scrutinize and criticize authorities, to have freedom of political expression and an uncensored press, to enjoy the freedom to choose between different political parties, and so on. They include the political entitlements associated with democracies in the broadest sense (encompassing opportunities of political dialogue, dissent and critique as well as voting rights and participatory selection of legislators and executives.

Economic facilities refer to the opportunities that individuals respectively enjoy to utilize economic resources for the purpose of consumption, or production, or exchange. 

Social opportunities refer to the arrangements that society makes for education, health care and so on, which influences the individual’s substantive freedom to live better. 

In social interactions, individuals deal with one another on the basis of some presumption of what they are being offered and what they can expect to get. In this sense, the society operates on some basic presumption of trust. Transparency guarantees  deal with the need for openness that people can expect: the freedom to deal with one another under guarantees of disclosure and lucidity. 

[N]o matter how well an economic system operates, some people can be typically on the verge of vulnerability and can actually succumb to great deprivation as a result of material changes that adversely affect their lives. Protective security is needed to provide a social safety net for preventing the affected population from being reduced to abject misery, and in some cases even starvation and death. The domain of protective security includes fixed institutional arrangements such as unemployment benefits and statutory income supplements to the indigent as well as ad hoc arrangements such as famine relief or emergency public employment to generate income for destitutes. 

Notably, Sen makes no reference to the security of borders or protection from foreign and domestic enemies. One could certainly infer that being murdered by an invading army would detrimentally affect a Citizen’s freedom to life, and so would fall under protective security. But especially in today’s political climate, and given my background in libertarianism (where defense from evildoers is one of the only legitimate purposes of the state), it is curious that Sen chooses to omit that.

Important to note is Sen’s focus on opportunities. At the Georgia Wonk, we feel that one of the most crucial roles of the State is to ensure equality of opportunity, not equality of outcome–Sen’s taxonomy of freedoms is a nice parallel to this concept.

Sen and his writing will show up again, I have no doubt. His preoccupation with freedom as a means to achievement is fascinating, and going forward, we’ll explore just what that achievement means. Stay tuned.


Categories: Dispatch

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  1. Voting Rights, Clarified – The Georgia Wonk

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