9.2.3 Giving People the Opportunity to Flourish

Governance has a role in giving people the opportunity to flourish: enabling them to have a realistic chance of living fulfilling lives.

Individual freedom is meaningless in practice unless one has a realistic opportunity of exercising it.  At the start of this book it was noted that there are different concepts of ‘freedom’, leading to disagreements between individualists and collectivists (2.1).  These positions emerge strongly in politics:

●  Individualists emphasise personal liberty, defining it as freedom from constraints and protection of property rights (2.2). They want to pay as little tax as possible and minimise the role of the State.

●  Collectivists believe that individuals should surrender some liberty in order to support the wellbeing of the community (2.3). They acknowledge that paying tax is necessary to ensure that everyone can flourish.

This book argues that extreme positions in either direction are dysfunctional and that a centrist compromise needs to be reached – since both individual freedom and the well-being of the community are important (6.2.6).  Agreement on these topics is reached in democracies by voting for political parties.  An authoritarian government would not offer negotiation (6.3.1), but it would be most unwise for it to ignore what people want.

The wellbeing of the community needs to be defined.  Baroness Minouche Shafik, in her book What We Owe Each Other, argued that “We need a new social contract fit for the 21st century”:

“This new social contract depends on three pillars: security, shared risk, and opportunity.”

“The bottom line is that everyone must have a minimum level of security for a decent life.”

“Employer flexibility when it comes to being able to hire and fire workers depending on market conditions is feasible if workers are guaranteed unemployment insurance and retraining until they find a new job. The risks from economic shocks should be shared by employers and society as a whole and not placed solely on individuals.”

“Harnessing everyone’s talents is not just an issue of fairness; it is also good for the economy.”

Agreement is needed on the role of the State in giving people this opportunity to flourish: to achieve their potential and be secure in the way that she envisaged.  The following list suggests some appropriate measures:

●  Politicians can manage the economy for everyone’s benefit (3.5.9).

●  They can grant human rights and entitlements (4.2.4). These include socio-economic rights such as welfare benefits for people in need, and access to education and health services.

●  The law can safeguard people (5.2.5) in a manner that most find acceptable (5.4.3), avoiding unnecessary restraints on their moral choices (5.4.4) and protecting their freedom of speech(5.4.5).

●  Politicians determine how much to spend on public goods and services (6.7.1).

●  They can protect the interests of ethnic minorities (6.7.4).

●  Subsidiarity can counter undue domination by central government (6.6.2), so that power is distributed and services can be locally negotiated.

Governments might use military force to protect the population from external threats (7.2.7).

Conversely, government can be a threat to freedom if it takes the form of domination, as described earlier (9.2.1).

Meaningful negotiation is a safeguard which prevents such domination:

●  Political systems offer varying degrees of control over how politicians are appointed (6.8.2). People then need to be able to influence those politicians (6.8.3) and to be able to negotiate governance changes (6.8.4).

●  The Legal Dimension has some negotiability if the legislature is a representative body (5.2.1).

●  Political problems are somewhat mitigated if one has the freedom to leave, to live somewhere else with a preferable system. Ideally, though, it should not be necessary to leave one’s country to escape oppression.

These freedoms would ideally be provided within each country, but an international guarantee might also be needed to protect populations from governments who infringe agreed rights.  The ‘responsibility to protect’ ( could be formalised, as suggested later (9.5.3).



This page is intended to form part of Edition 4 of the Patterns of Power series of books.  An archived copy of it is held at https://www.patternsofpower.org/edition04/923.htm.