What does it mean to treat people like human beings?

The 2014 election was the first time I’ve ever had real trouble deciding how to vote. For the first time, no party represented my interests. My desire for liberty and efficiency, born of my training and work as an economist, clashed with my desire for a decent standard of living for all – a result of my socialist upbringing. My awakening feminism found no friends on the Right, and my liberalism was an uneasy companion on the Left.

After a lot of deep thought (and eventually voting strategically, which I loathe), I realised that there’s no real reason for my two ideologies to disagree. Everything I believe about how society should operate comes down to one basic tenet: treating people like human beings.

So what does that mean?

It means a basic standard of living, yes, but it also means having a care for what kinds of distortions are being created along the way.

It means letting people make their own choices. Trusting that they know what’s best for themselves, no matter whether they are a parent or a beneficiary or a criminal or a homeowner.

It means holding people to account for their choices while recognising that those choices are a product of the person’s preferences, incentives and social environment.

It means avoiding unnecessary intrusion into people’s lives, by the state, by the health or welfare or education system, by spy agencies.

It means letting business get on with its central function of adding value, seeking profit, and employing labour. It means allowing profit-seeking behaviour to identify the best types and means of doing business, giving everyone in society the best possible chance of having access to goods and services that satisfy their wants.

It means support for free market pricing and the conditions that lead to efficient decision-making, so that individuals’ choices are not unfairly constrained by inefficient markets.

It means every person and business that benefits from the system contributing to the cost of maintaining the system.

It means recognising market failure when it happens. It means promoting equality of opportunity without trying to dictate what that should look like. It means taking care of public goods so that everyone can benefit from them.

It means protecting the most vulnerable and supporting them in self-determination – to heal, to work, to parent, to stay alive.

And it means making sure that, when today’s kids grow up, there will be a meaningful role in society for them.

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