A reader writes:
Where does Rick Hertzberg think society's ability to give people "enough to eat and a roof over their heads" comes from, if not from those economic liberties and rights he holds as secondary? It's all from the surplus created by the division of labor and comparative advantage. The overflowing abundance that marks modern society - where people like Hertzberg can make a comfortable living writing for The New Yorker without ever cultivating his own food, weaving his own clothes, building his own home, and so on - would not exist if not for the continued protection of free enterprise and private property. (And he dares to quote Adam Smith in his follow-up post!?)
Free enterprise comes before voting.
If I can steal generously from Hayek for a second, society didn't develop the complexity that it has today because everyone in a small village in 2,500 B.C., or 100 A.D., or 1640s New England got together and voted to divide their time and effort in order to provide goods and services for exchange; this happens organically. This happens because it has proven, over thousands of years, to be the most efficient and mutually-beneficial means of getting past subsistence and reaching a better life. Without this, there is no possibility for organized self-government and modern civil rights.
In what possible viable world view could the "right to vote" be valued more favorably than property rights and the freedom of enterprise? Let's leave the philosophical for a second and look at this empirically: What impact does my right to vote have on the world? Very little. I live in a gerrymandered Democratic district, as a classically liberal Republican. My school board has had the same self-interested bozos in office for twenty years. Forget about the U.S. Senate; the only numbers that matter in the Senate are the size of the caucuses, and not the relative impact of my vote in Pennsylvania. My various executives - county, state, federal - merely preside over a rapidly-growing administrative state that is increasingly autonomous, practically speaking, and far too complicated for any particular chief executive to influence at more than a 10,000-foot broad policy level.
Honestly, the only two reasons I even make the effort to vote are 1) that I want to enter politics and thus need to cover my tracks, lest I be criticized someday, and 2) if I vote in 50 straight elections in Pennsylvania, I'll get a certificate when I'm 68 years old. It's nothing more than a frivolous little game and good cocktail party fodder.
Let's be clear: of course, the right to vote and popular sovereignty are vital, and in a healthy republic, inviolable. But without free enterprise and private property, they are practically meaningless.