In the last century, Milton Friedman offered “freedom is a rare and delicate flower” and “a society that puts equality — in the sense of equality of outcome — ahead of freedom will end up with neither equality nor freedom.”
Economists, like Friedman, often made the case that freedom had instrumental value — it achieved other aims, including equality and prosperity. But no one should doubt that Friedman and Mill and Smith saw freedom as a fundamental good, a thing to be valued for itself. That is, after all, how freedom is treated at the very heart of economic theory.
The belief in freedom does, however, create a predilection for human interaction and trade. As Friedman wrote, “The most important single central fact about a free market is that no exchange takes place unless both parties benefit.” For many economists, defending free trade isn’t just about gross domestic product; it’s fighting for core values of freedom and human interdependence.
As Smith said, “To give the monopoly of the home market to the produce of domestic industry, in any particular art or manufacture, is in some measure to direct private people in what manner they ought to employ their capitals, and must, in almost all cases, be either a useless or a hurtful regulation.”