"If you had to choose, would you go with economic freedom (capitalism) or social freedom (indevidualism)?"My friend and fellow Libertarian Alliance member Nigel Meek has reminded me of his excellent paper that he wrote on this very subject.
Nigel's conclusion (using "civil" rather than "social") reads:
We end by arguing that we have demonstrated that the two sorts of freedoms here discussed – economic and civil – do indeed ‘go together’. They are not inextricably linked by some iron law of human society, but the relative absence of one usually indicates the relative absence of the other. The implication that we are probably entitled to draw from this is that that those who – again accepting for the moment good faith – argue for the diminution of one to shore up the other are making a dangerous and inhumane mistake.I used to wonder why traditional conservatives support (sort of) economic freedom, but not (too much) social freedom with traditional social democrats being the other way round. Shouldn't people be consistent? Preferably consistently in favour of both freedoms like libertarians of course, although we can acknowledge the consistency of those who are nastily against both sorts of freedom like the communists and fascists.
In addition, we have also provided evidence for the claim that - assuming that satisfaction of material wants is an underlying aim of all more-or-less coherent political belief systems that wish to be taken seriously – that free markets are relatively more important than free speech.
I concluded that the conservatives favour economic freedom because they tend to work in the business world, often being entrepreneurs in their own right. Social freedoms perhaps don't seem to be as important to such folk because running a business takes up almost all of one's time, and besides, those who are pro social freedom are often anti-business, so why support them? Conversely, the social democrats are predominant in the arts, media and education. Free speech is understandably a high value to such people. But the social democratic workplace is all too often funded by the state. In my experience, taxpayer-funded employees have no conception of how difficult it is to run a profitable company - so why support them?
So which freedom is more important to me? Almost all of my working life has been spent in the private sector and so my first reaction would be so say that economic freedom is more important - thus agreeing with Nigel's conclusion. I am though tempted to conclude the opposite.
Economic freedom has been achieved or recovered quite speedily in certain circumstances. Think of the creation of Hong Kong, the recovery of the British economy following Thatcher's reforms and the success of West Germany after WWII. On the other hand, the loss of social freedom - especially free speech - would bring about a new dark age for all of us.