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Although the United States is often referred to as "The Land of the Free," we are so far from this ideal that it takes a great deal of imagination to picture what a free society would really look like. During my lecture tour for my book, Healing Our World: The Other Piece of the Puzzle, I was often asked to describe what a free society would be like.
Probably the most obvious characteristic of a free society would be its large annual wealth creation in relation to what it would otherwise be. Free markets mean more wealth, which is why the U.S., with more liberty than other nations of the world, became the richest nation on earth. Freedom is such a large part of the equation, that it wouldn't take a free nation, even a resource-poor one, long to become the dominant economic power.
Many people believe that free markets mean that the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. In fact, just the opposite is true. Studies show that the more wealth a country creates, the more even its distribution of wealth. Why does this happen? Regulations that restrict entry into business hinder the disadvantaged the most, resulting in cartels and concentration of the wealth creation in the hands of the privileged few.
When regulations are less restrictive, the disadvantaged have a chance to create wealth without excessive start-up costs. They have great incentive to put in long, hard hours and undersell their competition to get business. Thus, a free society allows the disadvantaged to become middle-class market leaders quite rapidly.
The potential for creating wealth is what attracted immigrants to our country in earlier years. "Only in America" became the phrase that exemplified the possibility of going from rags to riches in one lifetime. Thus, a free society would attract immigrants readily. Would the country be overrun by the hungry hordes?
Fortunately, a truly free society would be protected by the fact that all property would be private. Only an immigrant who had permission to occupy the property of another could even enter the country. Even roads and sidewalks would be privately owned and would probably require some type of fee for entry. Even if a foreigner paidsuch a fee, they would probably not be allowed to camp out there. Only those who came with enough money to rent an apartment or could convince someone to put them up until they were financially independent could cross the border without facing a charge of trespass by the irate property owner.
Of course, some charitable organizations would probably set up temporary lodgings for the poorer immigrants. If Mexicans entered this way, for example, and were not able to earn their keep, they might face eviction back to their native land unless the charity was willing to support them.
Foreigners trying to enter the country by water would have an even more difficult time, since coastal oceans and waterways would be privately owned as well. Some type of transit fee might be necessary to cross, and thus a charity attempting to evict someone who refused to work might have to pay another transit fee to send them home. Naturally, this would deter the charity from accepting anyone who might become a liability.
Thus, the marketplace ecosystem would select only those immigrants who could earn their keep. They would have to convince an individual or charitable organization or a for-profit immigration service of their worthiness before they could even enter the country.
Given the aggression of most governments, one can readily imagine that much of the world's population could in fact meet the "can you earn your keep?" test. Wouldn't a free country become so densely populated that the quality of life would suffer?
Once again, the marketplace ecosystem would likely protect against such an eventuality. As the population density rose, land prices and rents would also rise. Fewer immigrants could earn their way, unless they were skilled. Thus, the economic barriers to immigration would increase as the population density rose. At some point, equilibrium would be reached.
Where would this equilibrium be? How dense would a free nation's population be? I think it would largely depend upon how aggressive other countries were. After all, competition would still operate, even in a world not entirely free!
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