Sunday, May 17, 2009


A constant refrain on FPR is the idea that socialism inevitably leads to a loss of phreedom. Phrankly, I don't get it.  I look at other industrialized nations that can be considered socialist (although there are no "socialist" nations in the strictest sense of the word) and I see nations whose people seem to be quite free - as free as us Americans, or maybe more so.

I am sure that some of the issue is one of definition. What does freedom mean in their minds? In mine? Freedom, it seems to me, is freedom from something.  Here is what Merriam Webster online says:

"1: the quality or state of being free: as a: the absence of necessity, coercion, or constraint in choice or action b: liberation from slavery or restraint or from the power of another"

Absence of coercion in choice, liberation from the power of another. 

After 9/11, liberals often quoted Franklin, "Those who would give up Essential Liberty to purchase a little Temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety." For the most part, liberals were speaking to specific actions taken by the Bush administration under the authority the Patriot Act. Things like indefinite detention of "enemy combatants", when many of the detainees at Abu Graib or Gitmo or Baghram or all the black sites the CIA denied but shut down later under pressure were neither enemies nor combatants - then. 

When conservatives use the phrase, they seem to be discussing a trade of economic security for freedom.  Freedom from what is an open question, but it appears to largely be freedom from failure. Not failure in the business sense, but failure in the sense of being unable to feed your family.

Now I don't know exactly what they mean, and I haven't read enough conservative screeds to claim any general insight into conservative thinking, but it appears to me that when socialism provides a general limit to the failure a family might have to suffer, conservatives find this problematic. Particularly as their taxes obviously go to support the system providing for that limit. What appears to be a lack of freedom for conservatives can be read as freedom from taxation. They simply don't want to be taxed. I don't know if that means freedom from roads, and airports, and medical research, and primary and secondary education - oh wait, for many conservatives, it DOES mean freedom from taxation for primary and secondary education!! They want to choose who gets that education, that there should be no mandate for education financed with their taxes.

It's as if education for all is a drag on the economy that supports them. The reverse is the case, or so I believe. Education is a source of economic strength for a nation, not a drag.

Anyway, the freedom that conservatives apparently fear losing is simply freedom from paying taxes they don't want to pay. Everyone is more free - more free to try different careers, different businesses, the arts, poorly paid but highly needed occupations (think teachers in low income areas). It is true that social programs do require taxes. It is also true that we here in the US are taxed at a much lower rate than, for example, socialized EU nations.  2008 total gov tax and non-tax receipts for the EU were approx 44.9% of GDP.  The US was approx 33.3% of GDP. But wait!!!! What about health care, something covered by EU nations but mostly not covered by the US? It is included in the EU receipts, but not US receipts. How much, as a % of GDP do US citizens pay? Total health care spending, which does include about 30% of all US citizens, in 2007 is almost 17% of GDP vs 10% for other similar industrialized nations.  So if 1/3 of the spending is already included, then we can say that including healthcare, the US spends about 44% of GDP - almost identical to the EU. When you consider what we spend on wars, we could either get a lot better, or spend a lot less if we eschewed empire.  As it is we spent about $7900 per person in 2007 on health care.  Approximately twice the EU rate. 

The subject was freedom, and yes, I've wandered. No, I am not sorry.

We don't have a shortage of freedom here in America. Mostly we have a shortage of affordable health care. Universal health care could actually cost us much less than what we have now. The most expensive system in the world, a miserable ranking of our overall health sytem, and 40+ million uninsured.

Yeah, that's freedom we can all understand. The freedom to fail. We got that down now.


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