02 December 2012


I was just reminded of an old favorite blog post, Brad DeLong's Tale of the Serf, a riposte to glibertarians. I'm posting it entire here, because DeLong's website is so screwy that you can only see it in the Internet Archive.

Here are two situations:

  • In the first, you are a free and independent peasant living in a village. Your field is your own. Your crops are you own. After working, you huddle before the fire in your peasant hut until you fall asleep. A smallpox epidemic comes. You, your spouse and your children all die.
  • In the second, you are a peasant living in a village. Once a year a thug with a spear — Sir Pierre de Bois-Guilbert, say — comes and takes 10% of your crop. He uses his takings to live well in the castle up on the hill. He also employs a troubadour who comes and entertains the peasants nightly in the village square, singing, juggling, and telling stories. He also employs chirurgeons who undertake research into the balance of the four humours. One day, the chirurgeons come with their knives: they cut the arms of you and your family, and insert some cowpox-infested tissue. When the smallpox epidemic comes, you and your family (and the other families in the village) survive.

In which situation are you “freer”? Do you really care whether you are “freer”?

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