The Voluntary Life: 74 City Air Makes You Free

4 September 2012

74 City Air Makes You Free

This episode is about where you choose to live and the impact that this choice can have on your level of freedom. Many people who have written about personal and political liberty have suggested a link between where you choose to live and how free you are. In the podcast we explore 3 different ideas about this choice:
  • The ideas in "Walden" by Henry David Thoreau: finding freedom by living self-sufficiently alone in a rural setting
  • The idea of 'Galts Gulch' in "Atlas Shrugged" by Ayn Rand: finding freedom by living in a small community of like-minded people (again in a rural setting with an emphasis on self-sufficiency)
  • The idea that 'City Air Makes You Free' (expressed by writers such as Jane Jacobs): finding freedom in the division of labour and diversity that cities provide.
Arguably, the benefits of self-sufficiency have been overestimated in books like Walden and Atlas Shrugged, whereas the benefits of interdependence in cities have been under-appreciated by previous writers on liberty. It is suggested that Galt's Gulch wouldn't actually work in real life because it would lack the division of labour of a big city that is necessary to support the kind of advanced and specialised roles of it's inhabitants. In contrast, living in a city can provide many opportunities for greater work and personal freedom because of the benefits of the division of labour in cities.

Show Notes
Origin of the phrase City Air Makes You Free
The Death and Life of Great American Cities by Jane Jacobs
Previous episode of The Voluntary Life about Walden by Henry David Thoreau
Previous episode of The Voluntary Life about Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand

Podcast Episode


  1. Another great episode :) Thx for sharing Jake

  2. This episode stood out for me. The insight about the benefits of interdependence was not completely new for me, since I study Austrian economics, but in context with the other, contrasting ideas about self-sufficiency, the importance of your insight was highlighted for me. I wholeheartedly agree, and I do live close to a big city.

    1. Thanks Heiko, I really appreciate the feedback!

  3. Very interesting stuff Jake. I'm 21 and currently living in a small-town and want to move to a big city and it's nice to hear of more reasons why that would be a good thing, because it will be a scary thing to take that leap of faith.



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