Religious Liberty Encourages Economic Liberty

May 11, 2021 | Christos Makridis
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In an essay on religious toleration in England, Voltaire called attention to the London stock exchange, where “the Jew, the Mahometan, and the Christian deal with one another as if they were of the same religion and reserve the name of infidel for those who go bankrupt.” The philosophe, who didn’t allow even his contempt for Jews to interfere with his appreciation for British religious liberty, suggests that freedom of conscience is connected to economic prosperity. Taking a more empirical approach, Christos Makridis argues that this connection runs deep:

Using data on more than 146 countries since 1996, my research finds that increases in religious freedom precede, and help explain, increases in economic freedom. The logic is simple: since religious freedom fundamentally involves granting individuals the autonomy to think and worship in whatever form they wish, it is arguably the most basic of all freedoms. Property rights are of little use if those who retain them do not have the freedom to think what they wish and to practice what they believe.

Religious freedom is fundamental. Even committed secularists should care deeply about it. If the right to think and worship freely slips away, economic freedom will follow.

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