Socialists sometimes define the economic liberties differently. For them, economic liberty involves the right to participate in collective decision making about the issues of socially owned property. There are complicated issues here, but speaking generally, classical liberals are skeptical of this socialist conception. They see the socialist approach as involving a form of political liberty rather than one of economic liberty. Imagine a conception of religious liberty under which each citizen was given a say about what religious practices would henceforth be required by all members of the community. Rather than protecting individual freedom in the area of religion, such a system would violate religious liberty by making religious decisions subject to collective decisions. Similarly, classical liberals see the socialist conception as giving primacy to collective decision making in the economic affairs, rather than protecting independent economic decision making and activity.
From Free Market Fairness by John Tomasi
Remember that Tomasi distinguishes classical liberal thought from “high” liberal thought. Classical liberal thought is in the tradition of Adam Smith, John Locke and Hayek. Classical liberal thought sees economic liberties as ‘thick’ and on par with other personal liberties such as freedom of assembly, speech and religion. “High” liberal thought sees economic freedom, particularly in the realm of owning means of production as a lesser right than the other freedoms. “High” liberals justify government intrusion into the sphere of economic liberty to attain a greater equality.
Tomasi’s comparison between the approaches to religious liberty and economic liberty illustrates that collective action erodes liberty and individual freedom regardless of the liberty that collective action is applied to.
Imagine a response to a problem resulting from free speech to be a restriction of speech or a collective input into what speech is allowed. The answer to problems of free speech is more likely to be more free speech.
Yet our response to economic problems is to restrict economic freedoms with endless regulations that accumulate and restrict the ability of the economy to perform. We understand that there are rules that govern our economic behavior just as there are rules that limit free speech. But we have also learned that the less freedom allowed in economic activity the less prosperous the economy, for all classes of citizens.