23 December 2011

Accusations of Madness

Clive Hamilton, The Freedom Paradox (Crows Nest: Allen & Unwin,  2009), p. 22.
[M]uch is revealed by the emergence of a class of citizens known as ‘downshifters’ -- people who have voluntarily decided to reduce their incomes and consumption in order to free up time and energy for other pursuits. They represent a surprisingly large proportion of the populations of rich countries. Yet, having exercised their freedom by choosing to assign to market considerations a lower place in the order of life’s priorities, these people report that they face suspicion, accusations of madness, and loss of status. The obstacles put in the way of those who want to partially withdraw from the market are formidable and include being told they will no longer be able to participate in normal discourse and they will be impoverished in retirement.
It is astounding, therefore, that perhaps as much as a fifth of the population of Anglophone nations have opted for this life change in the last decade or so. The phenomenon is a sign that, in the face of unprecedented freedoms and abundance, the pressure to conform to a market model of happiness has for many become unbearable. Libertarians do not know how to respond to this incipient revolt: although they must applaud people who exercise their free will, they are baffled and distressed when these people exercise that freedom by rejecting the values of the market. If one believes that the world is populated by homo economicus, rational economic man, what happens to that world when rational economic man freely chooses to transcend himself?