Understanding Freedom and Its Costs


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Independence Day has passed, and that saying, 'Freedom Isn't Free' finally makes sense to me. For the longest time, I didn't get it. I mean, I saw bumper stickers on cars, I heard veterans and national leaders speak of the 'cost' of freedom, and I had read it numerous times in articles and commentaries, but now I finally get it. I understand that 'freedom' comes with enormous costs that all must be made to bear now, so that freedom will continue into the future. Those who display that placard greatly misunderstand our freedom and the costs that make it possible.

For several years, I wondered what was so difficult to understand about the concept of freedom that people would go through so much effort to remind anyone close enough to their cars that 'freedom isn't free.' How could anyone misconstrue freedom and its cost? Wouldn't any sane person accept that the only 'cost' to freedom is the requirement to leave people alone and let them live their lives in their own way? Sounds easy. However, too many people have been conditioned to accept multiple levels of state meddling in private affairs as a normal component of life.

To the bumper sticker-displaying crowd, freedom has always been understood to be a direct consequence of U.S. soldiers killing people in some distant place on the globe. It's a simple concept for very simple minds: the more people killed by our guys somewhere over there, the more freedom we have here at home. This is meddling in other's people's lives on a global scale, also accepted by many Americans.

At its core, 'freedom isn't free' is a simple way for millions of self-deluded nitwits to rationalize government-generated mass murder and destruction. That's it. It ain't any more complicated than that. Surprisingly, the sheep are content, and even proud of what is accomplished with their support, and the state gets a license to kill with no immediate cost. Blowback is a long-term cost, but, in the words of an icon of the state-worshiping crowd, 'in the long run, we are all dead.' There'll be plenty of government spending in the future to perpetuate freedom for them that will pay the piper for the tunes selected by the current audience.

Which gets to the real meaning of 'freedom' and the costs associated with that politically amorphous word. We hear so much about how free we are, but everywhere you look, there's some law, regulation, or tax that takes away freedom. And there are hundreds of government bureaucracies at every level and hundreds of thousands of government workers to make sure that laws and regulations are enforced, and taxes collected.

Our sense of freedom is Orwellian. We are free only because the benevolent state, in its infinite wisdom, enforces laws, creates regulations, and collects taxes to protect us from the uncertainties and potential dangers of life. We are free because we have been relieved of the responsibility of taking care of ourselves. In other words, we are slaves. We are slaves to the belief that freedom must be purchased by proxy, always the government, meddling in the affairs of our fellow Americans, and continuously, unknown strangers around the world. We feel empowered when government harasses and even kills in our name because we convince ourselves that the cause is just and the cost worthy and necessary. In the true paradigm of the relationship between freedom and costs, 'costs' are relative.

To protect everyone from any possible future terrorist attacks, the state must sift through thousands of phone records and thousands of banking transactions. Banking regulations that detect suspicious activity ensure that whenever bad guys move lots of cash, the good guys get the upper hand, at least that's the intent. If we are to be free from these evil, murderous madmen who have no respect for life, not even their own, we must be willing to pay the cost of maintaining these security systems and whatever government intrusions into our lives they incur.

To protect farmers from the uncertain costs of shifting farmland to alternative uses, and indirectly, American consumers from shocks to their food supply, billions of dollars must be paid out to those in farm country, even if they don't farm or have never farmed. Guaranteeing the freedom to try new economic endeavors is not costless. Farmers' and farm country freedom ain't free either.

Educating the young to understand why they are the freest people on earth takes money, too. If it were not for mass public education, millions of children would grow up completely ignorant of how the state protects their freedom through laws and taxes. As all school children are taught, the state uses its vast powers and resources to care for the weak and needy. After all, grandpa is too old to walk across that golf course; he needs his monthly check from the government to pay for his golf cart. That frees up his real savings to buy other stuff. Others are made better off because a portion of grandpa's money was set free to go into different pockets.

And let's not forget those corporate sponsors of big government. Surely, if not for subsidies, quotas, tax breaks, and laws and regulations restricting unfair competition, we would not have the choice of goods and services we have, and, at the best possible prices. Great choices at great prices are certainly a mark of freedom. Without an activist state to protect this freedom, we would all be left to fend for ourselves in the chaos and uncertainty of unregulated markets. Protection against slavery to markets requires sacrifice and cost.

Killing people around the world is not a cost to guarantee freedom here at home. American troops do not protect freedom just because they are engaged in conflict somewhere on the globe. It might be disheartening to the military-protects-our-freedom crowd, but even Ronald Reagan said, 'We must realize that no arsenal, or no weapon in the arsenals of the world, is so formidable as the will and moral courage of free men and women.' Free people don't need heavily armed soldiers, or any other arsenal, killing abroad to protect their freedom at home.

What really protects the freedom of all those people who regularly march in front of the White House is the police who watch over their every move and make sure nothing bad happens to them while they protest. The freedom-protecting police prove that freedom has costs. Taxes are collected to pay their salaries and they enforce laws that regulate what the protestors might say, or write on their signs. The police free the protestors of this burden. I guess 'freedom isn't free' after all.

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Harry Goslin's picture
Columns on STR: 40

Harry Goslin lives in eastern Arizona.