We thank soldiers for our “freedom” as they travel to foreign lands to keep us free from dangers that are exacerbated by their presence in those foreign lands. Many of them return home facing lifelong battles with physical or mental injuries.
We rightfully give thanks for the many freedoms that are denied the citizens of countries like North Korea, Somalia, and Saudi Arabia. Among our many liberties, having the freedom to criticize our national leaders helps to make us a better people.
The concept of “freedom” is at the very least ambiguous, and, at the most, destructive to those being deceived by false patriotism. The people who benefit from the uncontrolled pursuit of money push the concept of individual freedom on the rest of us, making us feel unpatriotic if we disagree. “Underlying most arguments against the free market is a lack of belief in freedom itself,” once blathered Milton Friedman, whose economic theories made America the most unequal developed nation.
However we interpret the concept, we may not be as “free” as we’re led to believe.
Is Our Nation Really “Free”?
According to the watchdog organization Freedom House, in terms of political and civil liberties the U.S. is tied for 44th freest country, after UK, Chile, Japan, Portugal, and most of the Scandinavian nations. The organization’s 2016 synopsis states: “The United States received a downward trend arrow because of the cumulative impact of flaws in the electoral system, a disturbing increase in the role of private money in election campaigns and the legislative process, legislative gridlock, the failure of the Obama administration to fulfill promises of enhanced government openness, and fresh evidence of racial discrimination and other dysfunctions in the criminal justice system.”
Freedom from Taxes? If We’re Willing to Send the Mentally Ill to Jail
Typical of a taker, Donald Trump claims that the tax collectors “take our tax money and throw it down the drain.” Another taker is libertarian Charles Koch, who said “I believe my business and non-profit investments are much more beneficial to societal well-being than sending more money to Washington.”
One insidious consequence of this self-serving attitude is the dropoff in mental health care and the parallel rise in the incarceration rate. With the majority of American counties lacking psychologists and social workers, almost all U.S. states are putting mentally ill people in jail rather than in treatment centers.
Freedom from Violence? We Don’t Even Have the Freedom to Do Research on Guns
Stunningly, the House of Representatives rejected an amendment that would have allowed the Centers for Disease Control to study the causes of gun violence.
Thousands of Americans are losing their lives to weapons that were never envisioned by the writers of the 2nd Amendment. In response, the feeble minds of Senate Republicans are considering the backwards solution of increased surveillance, as if to say they’ll be carefully monitoring the continuing increase in mass killings.
Freedom from Regulation? If We Accept Fraud and Deceit
A damning example is charter schools, where the push for a business model for our children has resulted in a loss of $1.4 billion in taxpayer money through “financial fraud, waste, abuse, and mismanagement,” and the forging of a “black hole” of non-accountability to the public.
A Free Market? Corporations Are Free to Subjugate Consumers
Corporations assume the freedom to deny their customers the right to fight back against corporate malfeasance. A New York Times report notes that companies have found a way to “circumvent the courts and bar people from joining together in class-action lawsuits,” by inserting individual arbitration clauses in consumer contracts.
Freedom to Innovate? Our Young Adults Aren’t Given the Opportunity
Many of our young would-be entrepreneurs are burdened by student loan debt that can’t be discharged by bankruptcy. According to the Kauffman Foundation, 20- to 34-year-olds made up over a third of all new business startups in 1997, but less than a quarter of them today. As a result of this loss of freedom to take chances, the number of new startups in the U.S. has dropped dramatically.
Sad to say for the United States, on a global scale youth entrepreneurship is on the rise.
Freedom from Want? Poverty Keeps Getting Worse.
It’s shocking to learn that nearly two-thirds of Americans don’t have the savings to pay for a $500 car repair. It brings to mind the poverty of the 1930s, when FDR included “Freedom from Want” as one of the four basic freedoms to which we all have a right. Today, apparently, most of us are deprived of that right.
In “Common Sense,” Thomas Paine spoke of our “common interest [to] mutually and naturally support each other.” Freedom and security, he noted, is the design and end of government.
This means freedom for the greatest number of us, not just for the self-centered individuals who see community as an impediment to their taking of our nation’s wealth.