Podcast on Economic Liberty & the Right to Earn a Living

by on June 3, 2021 · 0 comments

I was my pleasure to appear on the latest episode of the Dissed podcast to discuss economic liberty and the right to earn a living. The show was hosted by Anastasia Boden and Elizabeth Slattery of the Pacific Legal Foundation and it included legal scholars Hadley Arkes, Timothy Sandefur, and Clark Neily. I appear in the second half of the program.

I’ve spent many years writing about the relationship between innovation, entrepreneurialism, economic liberty, and the right to earn a living. My latest book (Evasive Entrepreneurs) and previous one (Permissionless Innovation) devoted considerable attention to this. But I tried to bring it all down to just a few hundred words in my 2018 essay, “The Right to Pursue Happiness, Earn a Living, and Innovate.”

I’ve reprinted that down below, but please make sure to click over to the Dissed page and listen to that excellent podcast.


The Right to Pursue Happiness, Earn a Living, and Innovate
by Adam Thierer

[originally appeared on The Bridge, September 20, 2018]

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

That memorable line from America’s Declaration of Independence makes it clear that we are at liberty to pursue lives of our own choosing. Our path in this world is ours to make. It is not predestined by government.

It is time to think more expansively about the right to pursue happiness. Specifically, it is time we acknowledge that our freedom to pursue happiness is the basis of many other corresponding rights, including the right to innovate and the right to earn a living.

Our right to pursue happiness aligns with our corresponding rights to speak, learn, and move about the world. Our constitutional heritage secured these rights and made it clear that we possess them simply by nature of being human beings. So long as we do not bring harm to others, we are generally free to act as we wish. These rights also serve as the basis of more specific freedoms: the freedom to tinker and try, or to innovate more generally.

Knowledge isn’t a mere collection of words that have existed since the dawn of time, and growth isn’t merely a matter of luck or destiny. Knowledge comes from acts of trial-and-error experimentation, and growth comes from innovation.

Repressing innovation has profound consequences. When critics decry a particular innovation or propose limiting entrepreneurial acts, they are challenging our freedom to know and learn more about the world and pursue a better future. By challenging our freedom to experiment with new and better ways of doing things, critics are essentially condemning us to the status quo.

Worse yet, denying people the freedom to innovate deprives society of the wisdom and prosperity that accompanies innovation, which is the foundation of human flourishing.

In sum, if you are not free to innovate, you are not free to pursue happiness.

So, let us resolve to clearly establish that the freedom to pursue happiness and the freedom to innovate are, in reality, the exact same right. Our freedom to try, to tinker, to learn, and to know are all just the same as our “freedom to innovate” and our freedom to pursue happiness however we see fit to pursue it.

Fostering a social and political culture that protects entrepreneurialism, the freedom to innovate, and the right earn a living is a moral imperative because it has enormous consequences for the well-being of current and future generations. To the extent this freedom is denied, the burden of proof—and the consequences for this denial—lies with those critics who would wish it so.

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