Political liberty without economic equality is a myth. Political freedom can be achieved through various means. But it will never exist if the population lacks access to basic needs such as food and shelter. It has been said that “Liberty cannot be enjoyed by those who are too poor.”
If you are not both free and rich, you are living in an illusion of freedom. It is an empty shell that may look like democracy or capitalism on the surface but does not contain any of its core principles. True political liberty exists when people have the same chance of success in life, no matter what their economic status is. This idea is captured in France’s motto: Liberté, égalité, fraternité. Political liberty is a vital feature in a governing structure, but if it lacks economic equality, then it is fruitless.
What is political liberty?
Political liberty is a socio-political concept that links liberty – the ability to do what one wants. Or more precisely, not be constrained by others from doing as one wishes. It is the recognition of equality between all people. In its fullest form, it is a philosophical doctrine that requires each citizen to have an equal right to claim power and authority over their lives. It is a “central concept in history and political thought and one of the most important features of democratic societies”. It consists of the “right of individuals to take part in government by voting and by holding public office” [Source]. In this light, it is seen as a movement that enables people to have a say in government decisions. It enables them to lend a hand when ruling a country and enjoy all democratic processes available to create their future.
What is economic equality?
Economic equality is even the distribution of income and opportunity across society [Source]. It means that there will be zero disparities when it comes to one’s earnings and wealth among individuals in a society. The wealth gap between ‘poor’ and ‘rich’ individuals will be narrow and sensible to show a fairly straight distribution line. Every economic player is given a platform to showcase his or her business skills.
Political liberty is meaningless without economic liberty
It is often said that ‘Politics drives a nation’ but ‘the economy puts food on a person’s table’. These statements represent the modern world trend. Everyone is worried about the economy because that is the source of food and funds. Having a good political system transcends into a viable economy. The vice versa is true. In some cases, a booming economy suffers from government mismanagement. In certain cases, it may be possible to have a good economy even without a good government. This is because you can privatize property and other important things.
One cannot separate political liberty from economic liberty. Political liberty entails leeway for the masses to contribute to decisions made in their country. Especially those linked to the future and exercise democratic rights. Economic liberty is the “ability of people of a society to take economic actions” [Source].
An ability to take part in economic actions is granted by the political system, hence these two are intertwined. Economic liberty is embedded in free markets, free trade, free enterprise and privatisation of property. People cannot enjoy these liberties without permission from politicians or the ruling government. The modern definition of liberty focuses on having enough money and security. [Source] Democracy is not limited to politics. It allows people to fend for themselves through economic activities. It supports entrepreneurship to aid start-up businesses.
Civil and political liberty
Civil liberty is defined as “freedom from arbitrary interference in one’s pursuits by individuals or by the government” [Source]. Freedom is when you are not under someone’s control. You can do what you want to do and say what you want to say. Civil liberties are backed up by constitutions in democratic countries.
Enjoying those civil liberties is actually political liberty rolled out by governments. Observing human rights is the primary duty of a democratic government and it is only possible with political liberty. Also, the public can contribute to drafting laws related to freedom so that they can be included in constitutions.
Interference with political liberty
Interference means someone stopping another person from doing what they want. In some places, it is a crime to do this. The Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918 – SECT 327 says, “A person shall not hinder or interfere with the free exercise or performance, by any other person, of any political right or duty that is relevant to an election under this act” [Source].
Queensland Consolidated Acts quotes Criminal Code 1899 – Sect 78 which states that “Any person who by violence, or by threats or intimidation of any kind, hinders or interferes with the free exercise of any political right by another person, is guilty of a misdemeanour, and is liable to imprisonment for 2 years.” [Source].
Dictators thrive on interfering with people’s political liberty. That is why they refuse to relinquish power because all democratic rights would have been removed. If laws are to be followed faithfully, then interference with political liberty must put the perpetrator behind bars.
South African Example of Political liberty without economic equality
South Africa is one of the richest countries in Africa. Its success in holding the 2010 World Cup proved that it is a step ahead of its neighbours. They have a viable economy, while surrounded by developing nations. The country is ruled by the African National Congress runs a form of political liberty that lacks economic equality.
As of 2021, the richest 10% in South Africa own more than 85% of the wealth. Over half of people have more debt than assets. [Source] As noted by Time in an article titled ‘South Africa Wealth Gap Unchanged Since Apartheid, Says World Inequality Lab’. Such findings were penned by Thomas Piketty-backed World Inequality Lab report. South African governments have been trying to reduce the wealth inequality inherited from colonial and apartheid regimes. They have not been successful. Wealth inequality has remained remarkably stable”.
South Africa is democratic. People can vote and there are many political parties with people in parliament. It is said that the Mandela regime brought power black to the people but economic inequality shows the opposite. Economic equality is hard to attain because South Africa seem to have inherited the apartheid system of governance which continues to starve the masses.
Political equality is incomplete without social and economic equality
As mentioned earlier, politics drives a nation, and a nation comprises politics, social and economic issues. In a utopian setting, these three aspects are supposed to be at par. A country would have political equality, social equality and economic equality. Having equality in one aspect does not fix all problems but causes an uneven flow of governance.
Political equality ought to prioritise the well-being of citizens. This is only possible when social and economic are also solved. It is argued that “Political equality ensures that people have the right to vote and they are granted all rights irrespective of their caste, class or sect. Economic equality takes place when people have the purchasing power to use all basic amenities in life. Social equality refers to a condition in which people are not discriminated on the basis of caste, class or gender” [Source].
The forms of equalities are linked together. One can conclude that “in order to enable people to enjoy political equality, it is first important to provide them with social and economic equality.”
Some people think that a homeless person who is starving isn’t focused on political equality. Satisfying their basic needs is the priority. [Source] This means that a person must eat and drink before thinking about politics.
Democratic nations that have a lot of wealth inequality are not doing well. This is because they have political equality but no social or economic equality. To ensure that people have equal access to resources, it is important to provide them with the same opportunities in life.