Freedom Ain't Free: It's $2.57 Trillion Per Year

Is it just me, or does it sound like many seem to equate freedom with government, and especially government in the act of murdering people?

Freedom isn't free, say the realists, the non-na've grownups who think that the ideas of anarchy or even libertarianism are fantastic utopian dreams and nothing more.

Well, utopian they ain't. My vision of utopia has everyone not ever having to work, never feeling sad or incompetent, always eating what they want and never gaining weight, never growing old or unhealthy, and totally satisfied with everything that life gives them. This, of course, is impossible, because, if for no other reason, some people can't seem to be happy unless other people are unhappy. So utopia is unattainable. Hence its Greek etymology: utopia literally means 'no place' ' as in, no place could exist. That's why it's utopia.

I don't ask for utopia, though it would be nice. I just want to be free.

But freedom isn't free! You have to fight for it, kill for it, pay taxes for it and sometimes die for it!

This doesn't sound like freedom to me. I thought freedom was not having to fight, kill, pay taxes or die at the behest of some one's higher good.

What they really mean is that the government isn't free, though it's apparently easy to mix up the two, very opposite concepts.

Well, how much is 'freedom' going to cost us this year? Well, just for 'freedom' on the federal level, assuming ' incorrectly ' that Bush won't add on some supplemental war spending and Congress won't pile on additional pork like a glutton piles on extraneous bacon on top of a ham-pork chop sandwich, federal freedom will cost the American taxpayers (not including through monetary trickery via the Federal Reserve) $2.57 trillion. Or 2.57 million million dollars.

Wow. That's a whole lotta freedom! You'd think with that much freedom we'd be allowed to own the guns we wanted, watch sleazy half-time shows, smoke marijuana and open a bank without the Fed's permission.

The freedom we're being forced to buy seems to be a different name brand from the kind I'm more familiar with in my thinking. It seems to involve bribery, persecution, kidnapping, torture and murder. (I wonder if the 'freedom' that we bought for Iraq for $200 billion will entail all of these; if so, maybe we can bargain down the price for our own.)


Some of the money just goes to people in the form of handouts. A lot of those on the receiving end would be better off if their money wasn't taken in the first place. It would also save paperwork.

A lot of it goes to people who pay less into the system than they get out, implying that this government freedom is somewhat of a pyramid scheme. Some of these net recipients are poor; many are not.

And a lot of it goes to the people who administer these programs, or work for the state generally.

All in all, it looks like we've got bribery covered. People who receive loot from the state seem happy with state 'freedom,' and are content with the idea that freedom ain't free. After all, for them it's better than free: it's a source of income! (Now, certainly, even most of these people would be better off if the government pyramid schemed were closed down.)


If it weren't for the government, how on earth could the market manage to jail people like Tommy Chong, Martha Stewart, and the hundreds of thousands of others who are not widely known to have committed crimes against anyone other than the state? Yes, the persecution element of freedom isn't free; it costs tens of billions of dollars a year.

There are more subtle, less expensive, less impressive ways that the state brings freedom to its people through persecution. If you don't want to operate your business according to some bureau in Washington , DC , you might end up fined or jailed ' unless you have the means to afford a lobbyist, in which case you will be ignored or even bribed.


Most of the kidnapping is done on a local and state level, by public schools that force children into their buildings and tell them to sit down and shut up, but only for about eight hours a day, 180 days a year. This whole process costs something like $10,000 per inmate. Although most of the funding comes from local sources, we can only guess how much less they would spend on housing their prisoners without federal assistance, or whether they would all do so at all. So far, George W. Bush has generously increased federal education spending by about 50%. A good amount of the $2.57 trillion for our freedom this year will go to kidnapping, though I hear that many liberals don't think it's enough.


Federal freedom has really taken off in the torture department lately, especially in places like Guantanamo Bay , Afghanistan and Iraq . Say what you will about torturing for freedom; we must all admit: it's hardly free.


Well, let's see. The federal government has spent hundreds of billions of dollars a year bringing freedom to Iraq and Afghanistan , and in the process it murdered something like 100,000 people. That's not free. Without our $2.57 trillion freedom budget, how could we manage this? I would bet you this would not happen under laissez faire. Less murder is definitely one of the best examples of market failure.


So there you have it. Freedom ain't free, and certainly not the kind the government provides through its bribery, persecution, kidnapping, torture and murder. Perhaps if the torture and murder become expensive enough, the state will have to resort to slavery, which, as we all know, is the very pinnacle of government freedom.

Man. $2.57 trillion for all this? Impressive, but $2.57 trillion? That's like $10,000 per man, woman and child. If we don't pay this year, do you think the federal government will refuse to deliver all these services? Freedom ain't free, and if there's no demand, there's no supply, right?

Perish the thought. It might seem an expensive price to pay for freedom, but you get what you pay for. I'd say for all the bribery, persecution, kidnapping, torture, and murder we get, $2.57 trillion seems about right.

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Anthony Gregory's picture
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Anthony Gregory is a Research Analyst at The Independent Institute, a Policy Advisor at the Future of Freedom Foundation, and a columnist at His website is