Let us follow Isaiah Berlin in differentiating positive and negative liberty, and let us also adopt C. B. Macpherson's dissection of three aspects of positive liberty. First is the freedom to participate in political decision making; these political rights are compatible with, but distinct from, negative liberties, or civil rights. Second, and ac-
cording to Macpherson at the heart of the concept of positive liberty, is developmental liberty, the freedom to be one's own master, to act on one's conscious purposes, and to develop and apply one's capacities and abilities. Unfortunately, developmental liberty is often transmogrified into the third aspect, a distorted form of liberty by which those who think they know human truth more perfectly than others coerce others to act accordingly.
The importance of negative liberties—freedom from external constraints on speech, press, and association—in American history is partially responsible for the characterization of the United States as a nation in which individualism reigns. In the Lockean tradition, American political culture generally holds government to be the principal external threat to liberty. But as Hobbes reminds us, the actions of individuals may pose threats to fellow citizens, in which case government is expected to step in to help. Marketplace operations may also be seen as infringements on liberty, though America has been more reluctant than other advanced industrial societies to adopt this view.
There are potential clashes between my conception of socioeconomic rights and Americans' negative liberties in at least four areas: participation would be compulsory, rather than voluntary, for all members of the paid labor force; increased payroll taxes would further reduce discretionary income; the professional autonomy of physicians and perhaps other providers of essential services might be restricted; and program beneficiaries could be subject to certain requirements. Let us take up each of these in turn.
The kinds of social insurance programs I am proposing require the compulsory participation of all members of the labor force so that the costs are spread as widely as possible. Compulsory participation would also preclude the individual and societal problems that arise when people decline optional enrollment but are subsequently beset by social hazards. Yet compulsory participation in a program addressing hazards that may never afflict some participants seems a poor fit with the aspects of negative liberty that Americans denote with the term individualism.
Nonetheless, there was no widespread public protest when Supplementary Medical Insurance (SMI—Part B of Medicare) to cover physicians' bills was changed from an option that social security recipients had to explicitly elect into an automatic enrollment that
recipients had to explicitly decline. Indeed, the change in procedure was made because more than 95 percent of recipients were opting to pay the extra monthly premium for the additional coverage. In general, the opposition to compulsory social insurance has come not from the general public but from employers, private insurance companies, and the American Medical Association (AMA), with the AMA being the most persistent in its resistance.
As to the cost of social insurance programs, certainly increased payroll taxes would reduce workers' discretionary income and the freedom of choice that it supports. To the degree that new taxes were progressive they might be all the more obnoxious in that those least likely to receive benefits—high-income taxpayers—would be required to pay a disproportionate share of the costs. Such complaints, however, always arise in any discussion about the American tax system. On this count, the theoretical constraints posed by socioeconomic rights are no different than those posed by the overall revenue-gathering system.
The practical importance of progressive taxes is unclear, for we cannot precisely discern how regressive or progressive the current American tax system is. What is the overall effect of various federal, state, and local levies: income taxes, property taxes and assessments, sales and excise taxes, and taxes on estates and inheritances? Suppose we assume that the overall system is moderately progressive and that the well-off do pay more heavily for social programs that serve the poor. Does this mean that our tax system places unfair constraints on the liberties of the well-off?
Surely some vertical redistribution takes place, but, as noted in chapter 1, a substantial portion of social program benefits involves horizontal rather than vertical redistribution. The social merging programs I am suggesting would create some vertical redistribution, as does the current AFDC program, but social insurance does not involve much vertical redistribution since a good portion of today's taxes for social insurance programs will be returned to a worker in benefits as he or she encounters social hazards. Thus constraints on current income are the means of providing a citizen with freedom in subsequent situations.
Further, while socioeconomic rights do make substantial demands on government budgets, one cannot say that cutting social program expenditures would reduce taxes or the constraints on
liberty that they represent. The savings might simply be shifted to defense or other programs, as has occurred to some degree during the Reagan administration. It is also reasonable to ask, as I will in the next section, whether the developmental liberty that socioeconomic rights create offsets the constraints to negative liberty that taxes pose.
As to how socioeconomic rights might challenge the liberties of providers of basic services, possible restrictions on physicians are the most commonly discussed. In Britain's National Health Service (NHS), American providers see fearful restrictions on income and professional autonomy. It is possible, however, to ensure broad access to medical services without following the British model. In the Federal Republic of Germany, for example, a system of decentralized private organizations operates within federal guidelines to secure socioeconomic rights to medical care.
The fourth type of constraint on negative liberty concerns various restrictions on the recipients. For instance, programs that distribute basic goods in kind—food stamps and some housing programs—offer recipients less freedom to choose goods than do transfer-payment plans. Public assistance programs such as AFDC and related efforts in other nations in some instances dictate constraints on personal activities, including household membership.
In summary, socioeconomic rights pose or can pose several problems for negative liberty. Libertarians who place negative liberty above all other values and tolerate conflicting concerns only reluctantly can never be expected to exhibit any enthusiasm for socioeconomic rights nor, in many instances, for social programs. But the libertarian position is an extreme one, even in America, and we need not end our inquiry here because libertarians object to the way in which socioeconomic rights infringe on negative liberty. Rather we need to focus our attention on the breadth and depth of the problems socioeconomic rights pose for negative liberty—that is, whose liberty is constrained and how severely—as well as on what practical measures can be taken to reduce these difficulties.
In this vein neither the compulsory character of social insurance nor its characteristic life-cycle redistribution has by and large created problems for participating citizens. Instead, these issues have been used by professional groups such as the AMA as stalking
horses for other concerns. The public may, however, protest if the level of benefits from social insurance programs drops and payroll deductions continue to rise.
The tradeoff of reduced discretionary income against social program benefits has been more problematic for public assistance programs than for social insurance, particularly when vertical redistribution is widely perceived as failing to facilitate improvements in recipients' lives. The investments approach attempts, through social merging efforts, to overcome this problem by assuring that, to the widest degree possible, recipients of these programs earn their benefits by contributing to their self-support in socially approved ways. All other restrictions on recipients could be reduced, for they are not inherent to socioeconomic rights.
This leaves us with the most politically troublesome problem that socioeconomic rights pose for negative liberty: the freedom of private service providers, doctors in particular. But we need look no further than Medicare to see that socioeconomic rights can be implemented in ways that allow providers relatively high incomes and considerable professional autonomy. Unfortunately, the British NHS, which does restrict providers, has so dominated the thinking of the AMA and other American medical organizations that they have exerted their considerable political resources—money, organization, and social position—toward blocking the development of all social programs intended to realize basic socioeconomic rights without stopping to differentiate among proposals according to the degree of threat to their interests.
By developmental liberty , I am referring to situations in which the application of external resources, tangible or intangible, opens up to a person new choices or opportunities that would otherwise not exist and that encourage the development of individual human potential. In practice, the fostering of developmental liberty involves devising ways by which limiting circumstances may be overcome—ignorance or indigence set aside—so that choices may be expanded. Here, governments often play a constructive role through infusions of resources that enable people to engage in choices denied them by market distribution. Developmental lib-
erty thus comes at some expense to negative liberty (taxes on discretionary income) of either the same or similar people at other points in time (social insurance) or of different and generally more prosperous people (public assistance or social merging). Among social scientists and the public at large, one hears diverse assessments of this tradeoff.
Americans have generally been supportive of developmental liberty as applied to public education, though this support is generally expressed in terms of meritocratic equality of opportunity rather than developmental liberty. Indeed the United States has been more inclined than most other industrial societies to attack problems of resource inadequacy through education (and the upward social mobility that it presumably provides) than through programs that directly upgrade the material resources of desperate households. My emphasis on self-help in socioeconomic rights, particularly in terms of acquiring better preparation for the labor market, fits well with these American predispositions. Beyond the realm of public education, however, the United States has generally been less supportive of developmental liberty, perhaps seeing in it troubling egalitarian manifestations of equal results. The British, in contrast, are quick to point out that the NHS contributes to citizens' liberty by healing and allowing normal activity as well as by relieving citizens of some of the costs and anxieties associated with medical care under market circumstances.
In contrast to what we found in the case of negative liberty, socioeconomic rights mesh nicely with the spirit of and the more prosaic material contributions to developmental liberty. Social programs that supply basic material goods and services such as education and medical care during difficult periods can open or reopen constructive avenues of activity. Of course, human development also requires intangible support, love and encouragement from others, for example. But social programs can help, and the basic resources they provide are more essential to developmental liberty than those directed through the police, courts, prisons, and defense programs. Nonetheless, we must be mindful that while basic resources are necessary, they are not sufficient for socially constructive developmental liberty. Food stamps may help to keep an impoverished child alive, but development can take ugly turns if the child grows up in a destructive family environment, faces stul-
tifying prejudice from society, or receives social program support of a form that stifles self-actualization.
As I pointed out above, the tradeoffs between negative and developmental liberty appear to be less bothersome to Americans in the case of social insurance than in programs designed to address persistent problems of social disadvantage. Self-interest may well play a part in this: most Americans expect to make use of social security, while far fewer expect to rely on AFDC. But the difference also rests on the public's perceptions of the recipients and on the style of redistribution. Social insurance recipients are viewed as sound people facing episodic problems involving life-cycle redistribution, while public assistance recipients are often viewed as persons of dubious character on the fringes of society who take resources from others. Here, the investments approach may be salutary in changing both the nature of programs directed at disadvantage and the public's perceptions of program recipients. People who receive benefits from social merging programs in return for their contributions to the social product are legitimized in a way that recipients of current public assistance are not.