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The cogent idea of liberty or freedom—the idea as understood by everyone in the tradition of Locke, Hume, Smith, the American Founders, the Abolitionists, and so on—is that each is free to do with his property (including his person) and to enter into agreements as he sees fit, provided he does not tread on others’ property (including contracted rights). Social Security taxes and consumer protection laws (with concomitant enforcement) tread on property and freedom of contract, and hence on freedom; they are coercive. If anyone other than the government tried it, everyone would cry bloody murder. Imagine if your neighbor threatened his own violence against you for employing someone at a wage rate he deemed to be too low. Everyone would recognize it as coercion. In contrast, the rules at the Weight Watchers club do not tread on anyone’s property; they are not coercive. Libertarianism is the political persuasion that government coercion should be vastly reduced.
This article is a response to Response to Klein by Cass R. Sunstein (EJW, August 2004).