In this election year you will hear many of the candidates on television talking about liberty. They will sometimes mention freedom along with it. The entire cacophony you will hear from the television and from your parents and our friends at any gathering, will seem confusing and maybe even alarming. You are not likely to understand any of it right now, but what happens this year will echo throughout the next few decades of your life. I want to give you my perspective on this, for the record, so you will know where I stood on this subject as you view the events through the prism of the future.
I believe that Liberty, as the founders of this country meant it, was intended to mean freedom from public and private coercion. The elements of the United States Constitution, and especially its amendments, seek to clarify the importance of what every civilized forward thinking country on Planet Earth now considers a human right. Our Declaration of Independence proclaimed that every citizen of this country should have the right to Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. The founders of this country, and every sage contributor to any change since the original documents, sought to ensure that our government governs with the consent of those it governs, and that its purpose is to protect the Liberty and Freedom of everyone here. We even extend these concepts outside of the geographic and spiritual walls of our country to others when we can.
These concepts are good guidance. The healthiest countries all subscribe to these basic ideas. And that is what all of us want, we want to reside in a healthy country. I call this “ecosystem thinking”. When you think about healthy ecosystems you realize that there are some decisions that can not be made with the selfish goals of any individual or group, because doing so will deprive others of freedom or liberty. Governing is about fairness and ensuring that everyone has the same protections whenever possible.
The confusion arises when you hear people like the Bundy family, who are very fond of taking up arms and squatting on property that isn’t theirs and claiming that their own pursuit of happiness and freedom and liberty demands that the government permit them to exploit the property that doesn’t belong to them. They use the words Liberty and Freedom, but don’t let that throw you off. What they really mean is that they want government to stand aside so that they can exploit a resource that has been set side for the common good.
You will also hear people operating businesses or financial institutions claim that government is over reaching when government seeks to regulate their activity through laws. They will claim that their Liberty and Freedom are being deprived because the government is limiting what they want to do. They will shriek about free markets and capitalism as virtues that over-ride governance. They will wave Ayn Rand books in the air and say those virtues are what made our country the “greatest in the world”.
Don’t be fooled by them Dylan. Just like the Bundys and the Tea Partiers, when they shriek their appeals to Freedom and Liberty and Capitalist virtues, what they really want is for government to stand aside while they unfairly exploit resources over which they have control, whether it is energy, money, food, water or land. Here is the guiding truth I want to give you to navigate all of this false rhetoric.
Liberty is freedom from public or private coercion, and can only be guaranteed by a hopefully benevolent governing body, one with checks and balances to guide its course, and with the consent of a hopefully informed and active citizenry. There are just certain activities that should only be left to such a body, like national defense, interstate commerce, prevention of monopolies in markets, securing the food and water and energy supply, and I think education and healthcare as well.
When we reduce the oversight and governance and allow companies and individuals to exploit resources, we don’t have a democracy. We don’t have liberty and freedom. Deregulation is the recipe for anarchy. (read “Lord of the Flies” or watch Mad Max) Also just look at the news from 2008.
On Inequality and Liberty
It may seem counter intuitive to think about social welfare safety nets for people who are not contributing. We are now hearing about countries like Sweden considering guaranteeing every citizen an annual salary of $33,000 or more. We all balk at that counter incentive. But I think they are on to something. That is ecosystem thinking. Wealthy countries, like wealthy families, should be enlightened enough to realize that helping poor countries and poor people become healthier and wealthier is in everyone’s best interest.
As David Landes once said in “The Wealth and Poverty of Nations”, “Wealth is an irresistible magnet, and poverty is a potentially raging contaminant. It cannot be segregated or contained.” Our peace and prosperity, within this country and without it, relies on the well-being of everyone here, on Planet Earth. It is no accident that European social welfare states are the most peaceful and prosperous on Earth.
Live Long and Prosper Little Dylan, and enjoy your Liberty while it lasts.