Siriwat Sriphojaroen



Liberalism Makes People Happier

One of my greatest privileges was to come to know and be friends with Dr. Nathaniel Branden (1930–2014), considered by many to be the father of the self-esteem movement.

I spent considerable time listening to him lecture and spent hours in discussion at his home and at his dinner table. Somewhere along the way, he said something that struck me as particularly profound, even if I can’t remember precisely where or when. But it got my attention — it wasn’t the first time his observations did this for me.

He was discussing the similarity between psychology and liberalism. My career has been writing about politics and my academic background was in psychology and sociology with economics as my hobby, and this got my attention.

He said the proper goal of therapy and of a free society was the same: the expansion of individual choice and freedom. It was a short comment and I never got around to asking him to expand on it, but I knew him well enough to know it came with the caveat, “provided one does not violate the rights of others.”

One thing psychological problems do is limit your options, they restrict you and the choices you can make. Consider the similarity between phobias and a regulatory system.

Think about agoraphobia: where one of the symptoms is a fear of the wider world. This fear severely restricts your options and can limit your freedom of movement. I have lived in four different countries and have seen a large part of the world. Because of this, I have met wonderful people from around the world. I consider that a major benefit of my life. With agoraphobia I would never have profited from those experiences — and remember, profit is always more than just financial gain.

Statism is the opposite of liberalism — it means state control and state provision of important goods and services.

Years back, when I moved to New Zealand, one of the first things I did was switch my electricity from the current provider to a different provider.

There were five companies producing electricity in New Zealand, and switching providers was simple. I suspect a lot of electricity customers around the world wished they had that option today. And they could, except some governments won’t allow it.

One of the major differences between statism and liberalism is statism severely restricts your choices — the same way phobias do. The more choices you have the more likely you are to find one to optimize your life. You have a better chance of improving your life the more choices you have.

A key purpose of therapy is to help you expand your choices. If you are afraid to travel your options are severely limited. If therapy helps you overcome that fear your available options expand dramatically. If you lack confidence in yourself, you won’t make choices most likely to have higher returns. You will be hesitant to take a risk and that tends to mean you must shun the bigger returns or profits as well.

Of course, profits and costs cover more than monetary returns or expenditures. It means all costs and benefits. If you go to the movies on Friday, you can’t simultaneously have a night out walking along the beach. You give up one in order to do the other. If you create a business and it works, you gain economic profits, but you also have a sense of satisfaction.

Liberalism is about maximizing individual choices consistent with individual rights. Good therapy is about maximizing individual choice as well. I would argue these choices always have to be consistent with individual rights, thus maximizing the choices and resulting in benefits for others as well.

One of my greatest pleasures is when I see good things happen to other people. It makes me smile; I feel happy when it happens.

Off and on in my adult life, I have lived in liberal societies, and South Africa where I currently reside is a heavily statist one.

The results I’ve seen are those liberal market-based societies have a higher life expectancy, higher rates of employment, greater prosperity for all, better housing, and lower crime, just to name a few. The more choices people have the happier and better off they tend to be.

Just as a good therapist helps maximize the client’s choices in life, a good government does the same thing. A therapist who imposes phobias and diminishes the client’s options would lose their license, be sued for malpractice, and be put out of business. The same should apply to politicians who reduce choices and maximize suffering.