A popular rallying cry is that we Americans "enjoy more freedom than any other citizens in the world." However, I argue that freedom is not a test of measurements. Freedom is not merely a political end that is to be measured quantitatively against that which has been achieved historically in the U.S., or by others worldwide. Freedom is not a measurement to determine the amount of success that we gain, in increments, against our aggressors. Rather, freedom is an end gained via an objective moral order, rooted in the ability to entirely eliminate all coercion from the State, our main aggressor.
Freedom means different things in different strands of thought, but to libertarians proper, freedom is a human end with moral means. An indispensable moral premise of any free society is private property ownership and the right to use that property as long as one doesn’t aggress against other persons or their property. And any choice that we as individuals make regarding private property is not moral unless that choice is made while retaining freedom from coercion. And the greatest source of coercion is the State.
Currently, the State that lords it over us dictates that we are not free. After all, each and every component of our lives is dictated by a hierarchy of know-it-alls who bestow upon us a man-made order that defies natural law, the ancient rule of law, and even a man-made Constitution. So how are we free?
We are not free. Not in any sense of the word. We don’t own property that is free of decrees handed down from governments, and in fact, we pay taxes for the "privilege" of such ownership. We need permission to build our own ponds or porches, paint our fences, and install a furnace. Permits of all sorts are necessary to make improvements and changes to property that we allegedly own.
For instance, as the hot summer weather and high humidity creeps upon us here in Michigan, my community dictates to me when I can water my lawn. They dictate on what days I can water and for how long. In fact, threats abound as communities everywhere exhort that not only can we not water our lawns except for when given permission, but they hand out mammoth fines to those that don’t fall in line. Each community exercises its own set of rules for using water, and actively campaigns in the media to gain support for its edicts. I pay for the water that I use, yet I am not free to purchase and use it as an unrestricted consumer.
Also on my property, the police stop by and hassle me for having a small garage sale. Did you get a permit to sell those items out of your garage, they ask. Of course I didn’t. And the county officials stop by every so often to determine whether or not my property is up to the specs of the county’s official policy. My gutter extensions are too short and do not extend far enough away from the house, they tell me. Each year they stop by and leave a handwritten threat in my door telling me to replace the gutter extensions, and each year I ignore it. Over time, too many threats become impossible to enforce, and this is what I count on when watering my lawn or ignoring the tyrannical Rule of Gutters.
I own my property, supposedly, but I pay taxes to use it not at my own discretion, but at the discretion of those whose rules supercede my judgment. And I pay school taxes on the ownership of my property, though I have no children begging off of the public school organism.
I own my phone and pay for the service to access the phone lines, but the government taxes me for the "privilege" of bargaining with a private contractor for these services. In fact, government forces its way into my private contractual agreement and imposes its welfare redistribution scheme upon me by way of my necessity for owning and using a phone. Along with my monthly phone bill comes a 911 fee imposed upon me, instead of that service being paid for by those that actually use it. Also, there are federal access charges, state access charges, assorted local charges, various "other" surcharges (read: taxes), and a federal universal service fee that goes toward providing the do-nots with subsidized internet service that I am forced to pay for. Then finally, there are three-percent federal taxes and six-percent state taxes on top of all the aforementioned taxes. All together, I pay about eighteen dollars per month — approximately 33% of my total bill — in various extortion fees. Neither the service provider nor I have any say-so in the deal. Moreover, the same procedures apply to my cable TV bill, electric bill, water bill, and gas bill. Same taxes, yet merely different conventions and applications. And this is freedom? I call it outright oppression.
We don’t own the rights to our profits made from our intellectual and physical labor, either. We turn over specified amounts to federal, state, and local authorities upon receiving the rewards for our labor. And there’s even the payroll taxes that we pay yet never receive nor have factored in as wages.
And we can’t spend our profits on ourselves as we see fit. Last year, I required necessary major surgery, for a second time, where my shoulder was once again sliced open like a side of beef. My surgeon highly recommended a newer anti-inflammatory drug, Toradol, that could be injected three times daily to provide immense relief from inflammation, and therefore overall pain. For three days post-surgery I felt at least fifty-percent better than after the previous shoulder surgery, due to this glorious drug. I actually felt like I could survive this operation. However, by government decree, my supply was to end at three days. Why? Because the government had not fully decided on the side-effects of long-term usage, and therefore, allowed no further opportunity for lawful usage beyond the hard-and-fast three days. The decision was not to be made by me, or the pharmacist or doctor in charge of my care, or even the supplier of said medication, but rather, the coercive State with its mandates on prescription drugs.
Even when we do earn and spend profits, we have little left over after our government rapes us clean. What is left is a pile of fiat money off the government’s printing presses, bringing with it inflation and endless business cycles.
In simplistic terms, we are controlled by a Federal Reserve System that creates money out of nothing while it plays the role of lender of last resort. The Fed rigs monetary policies to help win elections and it taxes the consumer via its inflation. And the Fed, through its own artificial means, makes it easier to borrow money. Thus it creates false impressions of a booming economy, initiates a bout of malinvestment in business opportunities that would otherwise not be undertaken, and gives us business cycles that end in depressions — the politically correction connotation for that now being "recession." Our economic freedoms are at the mercy of the Fed.
We certainly don’t own our own bodies either. At least a dozen states tell us to "Click It or Ticket," meaning they have the right to legally stop us and fine us for not wearing our seatbelts. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration spends millions upon millions to campaign for states to pass the seatbelt laws, and then spends millions more to employ and coerce the media and various public pressure groups to support the authoritarian enforcement of those laws. It’s utter tyranny and it goes unfettered. Recently, I was traveling through New England, when a local Vermont resident warned me of the exorbitant fines in excess of $150 for not wearing a seatbelt. Vermont is one of the "Click It or Ticket" states.
Beyond seatbelts, I am forced to employ mandatory airbags in my car, or get special permission from government to even stand a chance at skirting the necessity of having the damn things in my car. And even if I get that permission, I must spend outrageous sums to have the airbags disengaged. If I ride my motorcycle, I must wear a helmet because a state law has mandated that, too. In addition, many communities nationwide are rolling out laws that mandate helmets for bike riders and rollerbladers. No child or adult will be left untouched by such despotic laws that invade every aspect of our person.
We don’t own our pets any more than we have self-ownership. I run into all the usual roadblocks trying to obtain heartworm preventative and arthritis medications for my dogs. Since I purchase my dogs’ medicines on the internet, I am sent off to my veterinarian to obtain prescriptions for standard healthcare items that my pets use for chronic or preventative purposes. A truly free market for medicinal drugs, for people or animals, does not exist because a bunch of fat bureaucrats in Washington, or elsewhere, think they can better run my life than I can.
Since September 11, our freedoms of movement and activity have dwindled immensely. We can no longer feel free from intimidation while checking in baggage, parking in airport garages, or boarding a plane. Plastic forks, nail clippers, and shaving kits are out. On a trip to Florida, my friend had her box of tampons pulled out of her luggage and examined. My camera and cell phone were scrutinized piece by piece in the Bushian call to "freedom and democracy for the American people."
Hence, we Americans are not free people. We are captives of the State, its institutions, and its bureaucratic elite. We are denied political and economic freedom, and we are denied the ability to make choices guided by our free will. Anarcho-capitalist Murray Rothbard believed that the coercive State could not be the almighty moral arbiter and guide to individual actions, for the State knows no moral boundaries. He states:
All libertarians whom I have met believe, as all sensible men do, that man is a mixture of good and evil: that he is capable of both types of actions, given his free will to choose. The libertarian wants, simply, to create such institutions in society that will maximize the channels, the inducements, for doing good, and to minimize the opportunities to do bad. We want freedom from the State because the State is the only legal, and by far the most powerful, channel for committing evil in society; and because, having freedom, man can exercise his opportunity to perform good actions. The positive and the negative, the freeing of the good and the checking of the bad, are two sides to the same libertarian coin. The same applies, incidentally, to the much abused “philosophical anarchist” variant of the libertarian creed: no philosophical anarchist worth his salt believes any longer in man’s “natural goodness.” Viewing the State as the legal engine for crime and evil, he wishes to abolish it, and to substitute various other forms of defense of the property rights of the individual. The real question that the anarchist poses, and that no one has really tried to answer, is this: is the State the only, or the most efficient, possible instrument for defending the rights of person and property in society?
I believe that radical decentralization of the federal government is imperative if we are to throw the consolidated federal monkey off our backs. Then, and only then, can we begin to take charge of things closer to home, with our state and local governments. More government is never a solution to any problem. And government interference in day-to-day decision-making is a severe impediment upon the coordination of markets and voluntary agreements between individual actors. Human action is stifled by an insurmountable Leviathan. Libertarians, therefore, must adhere to the end of freedom, and cling to the value of acting man as a moral means to obtaining that end.
Karen De Coster, CPA, [send her mail] is a paleolibertarian freelance writer, graduate student in Austrian Economics, and a business professional from Michigan. She is writing her first book, which is a treatise against all things statist. See her Mises Institute archive for more online articles.