Saturday, October 03, 2009

The Price of Freedom -- It Isn’t Free

Sen. Joe Balyeat

Abraham Lincoln said, “Those who would deny freedom to others, deserve it not for themselves.”

With the passage of another 9/11 anniversary this last week, I figured tonight would be a good time to reflect upon our Freedom as Americans; and the price paid for that Freedom.

When I was asked to give this speech about Freedom, I accepted immediately because Freedom happens to be my favorite topic.­ I even wear these cardboard signs in our local parade: “Will Work For Freedom”.

But of course, while I’m always ready to talk about freedom; I also contemplated potential problems giving this sort of speech -- Am I speaking to hash-pipe hippies who want to legalize marijuana, or soldiers preparing for duty in Iraq? Admittedly, “Freedom” means entirely different things to those two audiences. And each one of you in this audience has your own individual priority as to which particular freedoms you cherish most.

Again, freedom means different things to different people. But my freedom to pursue those things which I enjoy, my freedom to practice those values which I hold dear is only as secure as your freedom to do the things that you enjoy and value dearly. In our pluralistic American society it’s not likely that we’ll all have the same values and enjoy the same pursuits. But we do need to all drink from the common cup of Freedom. If I let your freedom be sacrificed to the politically correct social gods, or the regulation-happy government gods, then my freedoms will no doubt be the next target. And in fact, even before that occurs, my freedom has already been diminished the moment I stood silently by and acquiesced to the quashing of your liberty.

The downhill slide from Freedom is a very slippery slope. ­ I can’t naively think it’s going to magically stop just short of my pet passion. So our values may vary, but we’re in this Freedom ship together. We sink or swim as a society. And especially after 9/11, it’s perhaps a little too easy for us to sacrifice a little freedom for the sake of greater societal security. But Ben Franklin warned us ­ “Those who would trade freedom for security will soon find that they have lost both, and deserve neither.”

Thankfully, I think most of us here today recognize the potential danger of trying to achieve societal safety by sacrificing our constitutional rights barring unwarranted search and seizure --­ the dangerous notion that it’s okay for our own government to treat us all like criminals, so long as they do catch the few who really are criminals.

But, unfortunately, far fewer of us recognize that we are trading freedom for security every day in Helena and Washington DC. How? Why don’t we recognize it? Because the freedoms we are sacrificing are not our own: We willingly sacrifice the rich guy’s freedom to keep and spend his own earnings… so that we can tax and spend it to make ourselves more secure in our government programs. We willingly sacrifice the landowner’s freedom to do what he wants with his own property, in order that we might be more secure in our environment.

Let me be clear –­ I won’t go so far tonight as to say there is no place for government social programs or regulations. But what I am saying is that we at least need to recognize what’s happening; understand the trade-off ­ that increased societal security always comes at the expense of somebody’s freedom. There’s no such thing as a free lunch… because Freedom isn’t free.

Permit me to digress for a few minutes. I wear this sign not as a catchy campaign slogan, but because I believe deeply in individual freedom and responsibility – I believe in the free enterprise system and the free marketplace of ideas as well. Have you ever wondered what the “free” in “free enterprise” is all about? In the private sector, you have transactions where both parties benefit – what we egghead accountants call an “arms length transaction”, where neither party is coerced, each party enters into it of their own free will, to exchange for something which they value more highly than what they gave up. That’s the “free” part of free enterprise- both parties making a free will transaction which mutually benefits both parties. That’s how free enterprise creates wealth. But government does not operate like free enterprise. There can be no freedom to participate or abstain. Government uses threat of law to extract taxes, to diminish property rights, and to coerce compliance with regulations. It can’t function like free enterprise because it can’t permit free choice to participate- the very premise of government is coercion. This is why the whole notion of government creating jobs is ludicrous – If they hadn’t confiscated the tax dollars from the private sector in the first place, that money would’ve created more jobs left in the private sector, where freedom itself and free will transactions guide spending into the most efficient and beneficial economic activities. On the Senate floor I often need to use illustrations, preferably understandable by a third-grader. I’ve argued that government jobs programs are like a gravely sick man, lying in the intensive care ward, trying to make himself better by a blood transfusion from his right arm to his left arm… and using a leaky transfusion tube to boot. Precisely because government does not function based on freedom and freewill transactions, government creates nothing – it only confiscates and reallocates. Government creates nothing, certainly not jobs.

Let me take a minute to clarify for you why left wing ideology is anti-freedom by it’s very nature, and why it fosters over-taxation and over- regulation. Theirs is a worldview which consistently sacrifices the individual for the sake of what is deemed to be societal good. Since government doesn’t operate based on free will transactions where both parties win, they must instead sacrifice individual benefits and rights in favor of alleged larger societal good. The Founding Father’s proclamation of God-ordained rights to life, liberty, and property is rejected in favor of a false notion that society can only succeed at the expense of individual success. Under this ideology, an individual’s hard-earned material goods (his property) are taxed away from him for the sake of funding societal programs and for the sake of “equalizing” everybody. An individual’s freedom of thought and action (his liberty) is regulated away from him for the sake of maintaining a politically correct societal order. And, under this ideology, I would argue with respect to abortion and euthanasia, that an individual’s life is robbed from him for the sake of societal “choice”. Life, liberty, and property – all three violated based on the false notion that government can create something better than what we would’ve done freely if left to decide for ourselves how best to spend our own resources.

It’s an ideology of human sacrifice – sacrificing individual rights to life, liberty, and property for the perceived better good of society at large. And, of course, most all of us here know that this is a false choice, that society succeeds best when it’s individual members have freedom to pursue their own livelihoods and own liberties in the context of free enterprise and free intellectual markets as well. In fact, the danger of this false choice between societal good and individual freedom is that such an ill-conceived philosophy actually backfires and slowly destroys the society as well. A society which has no respect for individual rights – life, liberty, and property rights – is a society which will soon be corrupted from both the top and the bottom – despotism from the top, and lawlessness from the bottom. And we already see the increasing evidence that both are occurring in America today.

Now, after briefly digressing on that tangent, I’ll close by going back to our discussion about the trade off between freedom and security.

Let me see a show of hands – how many military or ex-military folks are in the audience tonight? On my plane flight back from Alaska, I sat next to a young man who just got out of the Marines, after a tour in Afghanistan. He said, “I consider myself very liberal politically, but I fear what is happening in our country right now – we’re trading freedom for security.”

Our military personnel know that ­ they’ve paid a high price in blood and sweat down through the decades so that we might remain free. They know that freedom isn’t free. Both the military and civilian lawmakers such as myself are vital branches of government. But while those in uniform affect Freedom positively; I’m often saddened to see that those in my civilian branch of government almost always impact Freedom negatively.

While fighting forces have bled and died to gain and defend freedom; the politicians trade it off piecemeal daily. We regulate, we legislate, we restrict, we register, we rule, we license, we codify, we certify, we confiscate, reallocate, we permit, we penalize, we subsidize, we tax, we take, we bar, we ban. And a little freedom slips away with every law we pass. You may not notice it of course ­ because it was someone else’s freedom this time; and it’s always for a good cause, to make us more secure… right? We at least need to recognize what’s happening; understand the trade-off ­ that increased societal security always comes at the expense of somebody’s freedom. There’s no such thing as a free lunch.

Walter Judd said Americans are too quick “to trade the freedom of the robin for the freedom of the canary. The canary is free from danger…­ the cat can’t get him. And free from hunger…­ his food is set there every day. But there he sits in his cage; while it is the robin who is truly free.”

Which do we want in Montana -- the secure false “freedom” of the canary; or the true Freedom of the robin? As a lifelong self-reliant Montanan, I suspect it is the latter; and if we truly understood the trade-offs; that “freedom isn’t free”, and that freedom is sacrificed incrementally each time we extract more “security” from government; we would elect leaders in Montana who take us down the path of Freedom. Thank you. God Bless.

Sen. Joe Balyeat is Chairman of the Senate Taxpayer Protection Caucus, serves on the board of the MT Shooting Sports Association, and represents Broadwater and North Gallatin County in the Montana Senate.


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