Equality and Freedom

John Locke (1632-1704) popularized the concept of natural rights and freedom. Human freedom meant being free from as many constraints as possible. Natural rights (also called moral rights or inalienable rights) are the rights that are not contingent upon the laws, customs, or beliefs of a particular society or civil government. Locke maintained that natural freedom was obtained when natural law is obeyed. He believed that when securing social order through government the will expressed by the majority must be accepted. Through legislative power is found the ability to provide for social order and common good by setting standing laws over acquisition, preservation and transfer of property. The purpose of authority was to protect human equality and freedom. He declared that when society or institutions unduly interfere with the property interests of the citizens the people have an obligation and a natural right to protect themselves by withdrawing their consent and altering their relationship.1

Rousseau (1712-1788) believed that the role of government should be to secure freedom, equality and justice for all within the state (regardless of the will of the majority).  He believed every man is free and equal and has no more power or influence than any other citizen – everyone forfeits the same amount of freedom and imposes the same duty on all. By ‘equality’ Rousseau did not mean that everyone should be exactly the same, but that differences in wealth should not imbalance the state.  Equality, it seemed to him, is a necessary condition for the preservation of liberty, while property and material inequality are the root of human misery and evil. Rousseau believed that within the social contract freedom must be directed towards a common interest.

Both Locke and Rousseau pledge membership through a social contract and not to an individual or minority. Societies or institutions lacking the consent of the governed are illegitimate. For Locke the basis of equality, independence and freedom that exists between all men is reason.

Wellness (good health) is about reaching one’s full potential as a person. The World Health Organization defines wellness as the optimal state of health of individuals and groups. There is a growing body of evidence about what makes people healthy and that the contribution of medicine and health care is quite limited, and spending more on health care will not result in significant further improvements in population health. It appears that lifestyle behaviours – smoking, diet and physical activity account for small variations of incidence in heart disease, cancer and diabetes. The environment, things over which one has little control, plays a greater role in wellness than personal life style choices. Ideally people should be in a position to avail themselves of these freedoms – and have choices and opportunity – not affected by access to education and healthcare. Governments have a role in protecting this (newly recognized) freedom of potential.

Globalization is the dominant ideology with the largest institution of the 21st century, corporations, expanding across borders while capital moves to locations where it will find the best conditions for return. Countries compete for the world’s investment capital, which removes traditional government accountability – consequently affecting the ability of elected leaders in democratic countries to make decisions in the interests of the workers. Five decades of tax cuts for the rich have been linked to income inequality, but not job growth in Canada and the US. This highlights the hollowing out of the middle class and the polarization of jobs – job growth for high and low paying jobs.

Living in a society that tolerates large gaps between the rich and the poor is bad for your health. The stress that comes from the inequality of our society, in particular, from economic inequality, may have more effect on our health than any other single factor. With the increasing income gap, many have lost their previous opportunity to achieve their potential – inequities (Social inequity is unfair, avoidable, differences arising from poor governance, corruption, or cultural exclusion.) potentially leave the most vulnerable at sustained risk and disadvantage.

This inequality reduces the freedom and opportunities for one to reach their full potential. The financial institutions unduly undermined natural freedom and choices of individuals, and must be held accountable. As the institutions’ decision-making interfered with the choices of citizens who had nothing to do with the institution, citizens have the right to protect themselves. The middle class must press elected officials (who have the obligation) to legislate changes to how the big banks operate in order to reverse the increasing inequality and subsequent loss of freedom of citizens.

1 Greg Horsman, The Narcissist’s Vocation and the Economic Debacle, (p. 230)

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