Is total freedom good?

A viewer asked this question on 8/22/2000:

I am doing a speech over how total freedom is total chaos and I was wondering how your views were on this topic....maybe you could give me some information on this to get me started off thanks.

stevehaddock gave this response on 8/22/2000:

There is an excellent episode of the short lived series "The Paper Chase" about a group of first year law students.

The assignment is to search through campus libraries to find the answers to 100 questions. The only rule is that there are no rules, and anything less than answering 75 questions gets you an "F".

Naturally, students start hiding books. Then stealing them. Then other libraries on campus close their stacks to law students. Chaos reigns.

As the deadline nears, the hardest working of the "study groups" realizes that it has only answered forty questions - a miserable failure. The other sixty are out of their reach.

Finally, it hits the leader of the study group. He seeks out the leader of another study group. He has twenty answers. Within minutes, they finalize a written contract for the exchange of answers. They seek out other study groups. By the deadline, everyone in the class has almost all of the answers, but they have all missed the point - not to answer the questions, but to work together to do so.

Ayn Rand is popularly attributed with the belief that if everyone pursued their own selfish self-interest, everything would turn out all right. That's only partly true, because every model of behaviour shows that the best way to promote your own self interest is to co-operate with others.

Law, as we know it, is partly a system of forcing us to chose co-operative options rather than competitive options. So is progressive tax policy (making rich people pay a higher rate of tax than poor people).

Von Neumann's game theory (a staple of political science classes) came to the conclusion that in a single game of what is called "The Prisoner's Dilemma" where you have a choice to compete or co-operate, competition is "safer". However, subsequent studies have shown that when you play more than one round, co-operators prosper and competitors suffer.

While competition is a good thing (some people, naturally, are better at one thing than another), in practice, unrestrained competition usually leads to prosperity for a few and disaster for many. Take the "dollar auction", a simple game played for many years at the University of Minnesota in their economics course - the rules are simple - a dollar bill is auctioned off to the highest bidder. However, the second highest bidder also has to cough up his bid. Naturally, the safest high bid is 45 cents. However, if someone bids 50 over you every time, you keep losing 45 cents. You will be tempted to pay 55 to save 45, but the same strategy means your opponent will have to bid 60 to save 50. The game turns a profit for the university and I believe the highest recorded bid was in the $500 range.

To end this off, we generally feel that the higher the stakes are, the fairer the game should be. You might not mind your auntie cheating at gin rummy if you are playing for a penny a point, but if you are playing for a dollar, you want everything to be on the up and up. Otherwise, it merely becomes a game of "strongest rules" and that changes ever day. To get things done, sometimes the meek do have to inherit the earth.

JesseGordon responded:

... [LP perspective "as much freedom as possible" is unrealistic]

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