The creation of wealth requires freedom. Wealth – real wealth – is the result of many people voluntarily collaborating to create products that enrich their lives. The accumulation of wealth takes many years, and its existence is proof that freedom existed in the past – but only in the past.
A society can ride for decades or even centuries on the momentum of past freedom. Production assets like machines, factories, and skyscrapers can continue creating wealth for centuries.
 
A 50,000 metal press built in 1955 is still making F-35 fighter jet parts today, long after the labor regulations and unions halted innovation the rust belt. 
 New York City skyscrapers still house millions of employees decades after zoning regulations paralyzed construction of new corporate headquarters, and supertall construction innovation moved to Asia.
 
“Freedom” is multi-dimensional: specific kinds of political and economic freedom and affect different people in many ways. The idea of “freedom” today is understood primarily in the political sense of free speech and free elections, but this is not the kind of freedom that makes a difference in the lives of ordinary people.
 
Ludwig von Mises defined it best:
“The meaning of economic freedom is this: that the individual is in a position to choose the way in which he wants to integrate himself into the totality of society.”
 
If you want to understand what societies are truly free, don’t look at which countries are wealthy – look at which countries are creating wealth.
 
The fastest growing economy, in terms of long-term purchasing power parity (PPP), is China. How can China sustain economic growth without political or economic freedom?
 
Economic freedom follows from political freedom, but the ideology of democracy has confused our understanding of freedom. Freedom is not the freedom to vote. Elections in a democratic society are a form of organized violence, not an expression of freedom.
 
Again, Mises had the key insight in “Theory and History”:
 
“The characteristic feature of a free society is that it can function in spite of the fact that its members disagree in many judgments of value.”
 
Political and economic freedom is the ability is to engage in meaningful disagreement in thought and action against the opinion of one’s peers or society. Freedom to disagree is the freedom to face the natural consequences of our actions rather than political violence or social ostracism.
 
The need for natural consequences rather than arbitrary edict and punishment to stimulate human flourishing is essential for the flourishing of children and adults. Yet both our parenting philosophy and political systems are dominated by the opposite philosophy.
 
China (I use it only as an example) allows both political and economic disagreement to a remarkable degree – far more than Westerners realize. Its rapid economic development is a reflection of both political and economic freedom in ways Westerners steeped in democratic brainwashing are unable to appreciate. Even within the Party, there is a remarkable degree of merit-driven advancement and entrepreneurial decision-making.
 
That is the reason for its rapid development. Ironically, many Westerners believe that it is the totalitarian central control by the Communist party which has enabled China’s rapid economic development. The reality is that the “communist” system, while totalitarian, allows more meaningful disagreement than Westerners realize.  Having spent five years in China, I saw firsthand how both professionals and the poor live remarkably entrepreneurial lives, defy social expectations, and avoid the legally-imposed poverty traps common in the United States.  By contrast, wealthy elites on the West have far less meaningful freedom than they think. They often have less control over their personal quality of life and their livelihoods than someone living in a “totalitarian” regime, whether that is China, Vietnam, or the UAE.
 
For example, high-earning New York City residents are global elites by any financial metric. Yet their life is highly constrained by legal and social norms. The combination of regulations on their personal lives, tax regimes, business controls, and regulatory burden on transportation, education, healthcare, and food means that they never have the freedom to enjoy their wealth. Middle-class New Yorkers are chronically stressed by their oppressive society — financially, emotionally, and physically. The best they can hope for is to escape in mindless media consumption and get away for a few weeks each year to the Poconos or Barbados.
 
My purpose here is not to praise or to condemn any specific political system, but to help you see that the Western view of freedom is too narrow and leads to improper understanding of the causes and direction of economic development. I value a Consitution with a Bill of Rights that enshrines the freedom of speech and freedom to own arms over the one-party rule, but I don’t expect them to automatically guarantee that the resulting society will be freer than a dictatorship. In most ways, China is far less both economically and politically free than the U.S.A, but history will tell whether the freedoms we have are the ones that make a real difference.   Freedom is the ability to make choices without coercion, not putting your name on meaningless pieces of paper, and in several key aspects, there is more freedom in China than in the USA.