Chocolate and Gold Coins

Monday, July 04, 2005

Freedom on the Fourth of July

I want to wish a happy Fourth of July to all Americans and to people around the world who love freedom. After all, the Fourth of July was the starting point for a revolution in democratic government that has spread over much of the world. Freedom anywhere has a lot to do with the decision, made some 229 years ago, to create a new nation that would allow its citizens much more freedom than citizens in other countries had ever known before.

Although Americans talk a lot about the virtues of freedom, I doubt most people in this country really know what that means. Most people think that freedom means the ability to do as you please. That’s only a small part of what it means to live in a free country. Kim Il Jong and Robert Mugabe both enjoy enormous freedom in their countries by that notion of freedom, but their countries are not at all free. A free country is one where other people are free to do things that you don’t agree with and don’t particularly like, as long as they don’t violate your rights.

Freedom for me and not for you is troubling theme with both Republican and Democratic politicians today. Republicans want to ban flag burning and force their concept of Christianity upon the public schools and government. Democrats would like to regulate our society to, in effect, winnow out only “good choices” and throw out the “bad ones.” Both parties seem to be of the opinion that our money would be better spent collectively by the government than spent individually by families: every year the share of the national income spent by the government keeps creeping up an up. And the courts are also restricting our freedom: taking away our property and giving us what “they” think is a fair price and allowing the Federal government to regulate everything, including the laws of the “sovereign states”.

So, on the Fourth of July, I will look at some of the biggest threats to freedom here in the U.S.:
1. The gradual acceptance of torture as a way of fighting our enemies. We saw the pictures from Abu Ghraib but no one seemed too upset that somehow these soldiers were the only ones in the U.S. Army’s long history that did not seem to have a chain of command. We allowed prisoners to be held out of sight out of mind without rights in Guantanamo Bay. Now, in violation of U.S. law, we are sending prisoners to places where we know they will be tortured. This is sick.
2. The gradual acceptance of Christianity as the state religion. The religious right sincerely believes that we must protect our nation from Satan’s influence, and therefore, we should protect our government building and our schools with the word of God (and spelled out in the New Testament). Lately, the Supreme Court upheld some (but not all) public monuments to the Ten Commandments. Intelligent Design is a subterfuge designed to introduce religion into our schools.
3. The erosion of our civil liberties in the name of fighting terrorism. The Patriot Act allows the government much more latitude to detain people for little reason. We agreed to this compromise on our freedom to fight terrorism. However, we may be making the mistake of trusting our government too much.
4. The death of federalism. Federalism is the idea that the states are sovereign and we can deal most of the issues effectively at the state level. The nice idea about having 50 sovereign states is that if one becomes a Taliban state, you can move to another one. But now, issues that should be dealt on a state level are dealt with on a national level. Recently, the Supreme Court of the U.S. decided that it was okay for the Federal government to ban the medically prescribed painkiller marijuana, even though many states specifically allowed it.
5. The erosion of private property rights. Private property can be seized, and does get seized, by local governments that are simply acting on behalf of private developers.
6. The rising level of government spending. Each year, spending goes up and up. Much of the spending is for popular programs like Social Security, Medicare, and National Defense. However, we should realize that we are trading the right to spend our own money for the privilege of having the government spend it on our behalf. As long as we like how the government spends the money we might not mind too much. However, this is exactly like not minding whether a freedom is restricted until it’s a freedom you personally cared about. Sure, we need National Defense and police protection, and some other government services, but we don’t need the government to spend 40%, 45%, even 50% of the national income.
7. The acceptance of date rape. Every other week it seems we hear of a story of some women who claims she was raped by a celebrity. It gets down to her word against his. She cannot prove that she did not willingly accept sex – so he walks. This story repeats itself – without celebrity – hundreds of thousands of times each year in every community. If a thief robs my house, I don’t have to prove that I did not willingly give those goods away and later regretted that gift. But we are not comfortable trusting that a woman would not falsely accuse a man of rape.
8. Regulations. We regulate our society and our economy to try to prevent problems. Not all regulations are bad: we need to prevent people and industry from spoiling our environment. But regulations can go far beyond what is necessary to prevent externalities and prevent the free and natural operation of the markets. There are laws against everything here, including selling liquor chocolates in the candy shops. You know what, kids wouldn’t like them anyway.
9. Voter apathy. This might be the most important threat to freedom on this list. If people don’t care to scrutinize the people we vote for, we run the risk of allowing all of our freedoms to slip away. We might naively assume that our freedoms are guaranteed in some document, but documents can be interpreted and ignored. We must actively participate in the democratic process to make sure that we elect honest people who love freedom to all elected offices.

I shouldn’t give the impression that American is not free. We may have some troubling trends but, for the most part, we love freedom in America. I don’t see America going too far down the path of restricting freedom before people will object. I guess I’m an optimist by nature.

In any case, have a very happy Fourth of July, and take a moment to think what freedom really means to you and your family. We do have it good here in America.

Postscript If you have some other threats to freedom that you would like to add, please comment.

8 Comments:

  • Hi Michael,

    Wish you a very Happy Independence Day. An excellent analysis on the erosion of freedom, one of the best I have ever read.

    Do keep it up.

    Thanks,
    Deba

    By Blogger Deba, at 4:05 AM  

  • Hi Michael,

    A very Happy Independence day to you .. I liked what you wrote, and guess what ? The problems with 'freedom' that you expressed, are not unique to the US. They certainly echo my feelings regarding 'independent' India. And Im sure they're universal.

    By the way, are candy shops not allowed to sell liquor chocolates ? Cos I just bought some !
    :)

    By Anonymous Ash, at 12:32 PM  

  • Hi Deba and Ash
    Deba: Thanks for the kind words.

    Ash: Can you get liquor chocolates in the candy store somewhere here in the U.S.? I never seen them. I've only seen them in liquor stores, and you're not likely to go to a liquor store to buy chocolates. And the market here is underdeloped - none of the famous chocolate makers bother with the market.

    When I was in Switzerland, I remember picking up some of those. They were sold everywhere without restriction. I remember thinking, "It's a pity, but these would be outlawed in the U.S. by the do-gooders who would fear that the children would buy these and get intoxicated."

    By Blogger Michael Higgins, at 6:30 AM  

  • What about the threat caused by the dumbing down of news by the mainstream media ?

    In my years in Dallas, I could sense, in my gut, a distinct change in the media, before and post 9/11. Steve Nash, previously of the Dallas Mavericks got ripped for saying that the Iraq war was for oil.

    Not only that, the entire media seems to be out for a walk with the truth. The only thing that is important is the 10-second soundbyte, with which they can twist things around to suit their convenience. Left a really bitter taste in the mouth

    By Blogger Subra, at 10:02 AM  

  • Hi Michael,

    On the opposite side of voter apathy is the disenfranchisement of voters who really want to take part in the electoral process. There have been reports that both Republicans and Democrats have used methods to deny people their vote in elections throughout the years, yet I haven't heard of a single investigation that has looked into these allegations.

    Vikram

    By Blogger Vikram A., at 11:37 AM  

  • Hi Subra and Vikram
    Subra: television news is more entertainment than new. That's why I why we still depend enormously on the print media. And I don't buy the idea that blogs are replacing the MSM. Blogs are replacing the editorial page, but the real news still needs to be done by real reporters.

    Vikram: There is a lot of nasty politics about voting. I don't like the fact that Republicans use bogus felon lists to deny legitamate voters the right to vote and I don't like the fact that Democrats are trying to let all felons vote. Why can't the parties put politics aside on election day and let the voters decide?

    By Blogger Michael Higgins, at 1:56 PM  

  • Hi Michael,

    Politicians putting aside politics? Never. Even for a day? Not happening.

    Vikram

    By Blogger Vikram A., at 10:32 PM  

  • This is a excellent blog. Keep it going.

    This may be of interest to you I have a free online dating service. It pretty much covers dating stuff.

    I'll be sure to come back.

    By Blogger jiri, at 6:49 PM  

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