All Commentary
Thursday, November 1, 1962

Lost Freedom–Illusion or Fact?

Mr. Sparks is a business executive and past president of the Canton, Ohio, Chamber of Commerce.

Some years ago, one of the network telecasting companies origi­nated a special program to depict a current issue of importance to the nation. Its announced objec­tive was to seek out the truth for the edification and better under­standing of the American public, at least those viewing the pro­gram. Unfortunately, the method of approach was similar to that used in debates—trying to con­found the opposition rather than enlighten the audience. A promi­nent conservative was inter­viewed. Each question was posed so as to prevent or cloud a logical, coherent answer, starting with the opening question by the in­terviewer, “Do you really know someone who has lost his freedom in America?”

Under the circumstances, the conservative gentleman did a com­mendable job, but the cause of freedom was scarcely advanced. The interviewer could have served the useful purpose his employers, the telecasting company, had held out to the television public—ex­ploration of conservative ideals. Instead, he put on a “clever,” en­tertaining, but uninformative show.

The debater tactic is used in many situations, with the same purpose in mind—to shut out the opposition! Do not be dismayed if someone has tossed the “who has lost his freedom” question your way, and you fumbled it. The same kind of cunning question can cause the most articulate and well-informed exponent of any cause to fumble. It is not so much that answers are unavailable, but that the explanation of any serious subject cannot be undertaken suc­cessfully in an atmosphere of closed minds, and particularly within the time limits required for TV programs. To allow your­self to be harassed before the public in a panel or personal in­terview, where one side is armed with emotion and clever retort, while you seek to explain a seri­ous, thoughtful subject, hardly affords the proper portrayal the freedom philosophy deserves.

To Throw Off-Balance

The purpose of the question, “Who has lost his freedom?” is to momentarily unbalance the ad­vocates of a free society who have spoken, written, or read millions of words about, and personally discerned the danger of swollen powers of government. It implies that there is no problem at all and makes those concerned about free­dom appear shallow and misdi­rected in their efforts. It is an attempt to end an argument or discussion by refusing to recog­nize that an issue exists.

Let us reflect on this question that has been posed. Unless items of value are inventoried regularly, they evaporate or erode without our becoming aware of their re­duction, or even their complete disappearance. An ancient Greek writer observed that freedom has its best recognition among the generations of people who had thrown off authoritarian rule; however, he also noted that later generations, neither prizing nor comprehending the blessings of freedom, would likely enslave themselves.

The early days of our country bear out his point, for the under­standing and love of freedom and the abhorrence of its opposite, government tyranny, were clearly in the minds and hearts of the citizens of this new nation. They so jealously guarded their inalien­able rights that the first central government was given practically no governing powers. Later revi­sion brought the Constitution, with stronger powers placed in the hands of the central govern­ment. But the chief area of con­tention—how to keep government in check—was of consuming in­terest to the citizens, for they dis­trusted power in the hands of government! And any government was suspect—kingdoms, despots, or those managed by elected rep­resentatives of the people!

History records repeated ex­amples of people who forcibly removed the yoke of oppressive government, only to gradually lose their liberty as they ceased to un­derstand and appreciate it.

The nature of freedom demands exceedingly great understanding, sacrifice, and valor to win it, and almost always such effort occurs only after the people experience the miseries concurrent with its absence. The nature of freedom also demands continued under­standing and vigilance to keep it. As yet, no people in history have successfully retained their free­dom. By nature, it is elusive, diffi­cult to win, and easy to neglect while it slips away. It is little wonder that a person can be mo­mentarily stunned when asked to identify lost freedoms or to point out some person who is no longer free in the United States.

So Many Ways To Be Wrong

To specifically detail the lost freedoms of any one person is as time consuming and as difficult as trying to prove the earth is spherical by proving it is not the shape of a string, stick, hoop, box, tube, ad infinitum. It is sufficient to know that each person has na­tural rights—from God—to de­fend his person, his liberty, and his property. The only moral pur­pose of a collective organization is to efficiently provide this de­fense. And testimony abounds in the mountainous volumes of laws recorded in our various levels of government that the collective or­ganizations have not confined their activities to the defensive function. Personal freedom means to have the right to direct one’s life as he chooses while conceding everyone else the same right.

Freedom is the absence of coer­cion. Continued effective coercion can come only from government, the collective group, as it goes be­yond its proper defensive function of being a policeman and a soldier.

A direct result of government’s overstepping these proper bounds is that individuals have lost many of their rights of decision. One could fill pages without completely covering the millions of interfer­ences in the market place every day. Few, if any, items exchanged are entirely free of government manipulation. Note the far-reach­ing effect on manufacturing costs by federal and state laws govern­ing employer-employee relation­ships in the matter of wages, overtime pay, minimum rates, un­employment taxes, industrial in­surance, and compulsory bargain­ing. Note the effect on costs of processing foods when the govern­ment artificially buoys up prices of certain agricultural products and pays to keep farm land idle.

These are but a few of the mar­ket-place shackles. Before the in­dividual ever reaches the market place, however, he has been de­prived of much of his property. He no longer has the right to de­cide how to spend a large portion of the income he earns. Federal income tax removes a greater per­centage of choice than the tax percentage would seem to indicate. For example, if the federal income tax takes “only” 20 per cent of one’s income, it might appear that an 80 per cent freedom of choice remains, apparently ample.

But this is not a true picture! Much of this remainder is re­quired for food, clothing, housing, medicine, basic insurance protec­tion, and transportation, nearly all of which are considered by most people, in one degree or an­other, as basic economic essen­tials. After acquiring these items and paying taxes, little is left, as many persons will sadly attest. This latter small percentage may be more truly indicative of the small amount of economic choice remaining to a person.

The Cream Skimmed off

And it is that all-important area of decision, lying beyond the effort expended for the acquisi­tion of basic economic essentials, in which a person is often dis­tinguished from another. This has been the target area of the ad­vocates of progressive income tax, removing choice by removing the economic companion of choice—savings. For instance, investment choice becomes possible only when capital for risk purposes can be saved. The traditionally American decision to go into business for oneself is often delayed or post­poned permanently due to poten­tial savings being drained off via taxation. The desire of a person to support religious, education­al, and cultural institutions is severely curtailed for the same reason: that portion of his income available after first paying taxes and supplying his personal and family needs is too small to effec­tively support charitable projects.

Of course, there are some areas of choice not subject to shrinkage from taxation for they involve little or no economic prerequisite. But many worthwhile material and nonmaterial goals can be achieved only after adequate fi­nancing has been supplied through savings by the individual.

Has he lost his freedom? He has! If anyone doubts this, let him try to spend 100 per cent of his income as he pleases (except that required for proper government defense functions). Let him dis­regard the laws on employment, farm prices, education, compul­sory old-age “saving,” and gov­ernment charity. Let him refuse to give financial support to those activities of government beyond the scope of policeman and soldier. His doubts about his loss of free­dom will quickly vanish.

While it is saddening to witness the gradual removal of the free­dom of choice from the individual, it is even more tragic to see that many persons have not taken the time to understand and to realize that it is taking place. They have not learned that progress stems from a great many individual achievements occurring only when men are free from the coercive ac­tions of their fellow men.

When the real meaning of free­dom is understood by enough thought leaders, nothing will deter its progress—not even the tactics of those “liberals” who seek to firm up their weakening position by the pretext that no one has lost his freedom.              



Ideas on Liberty

Democracy and Mob-Ruler

So when they begin to lust for power and cannot attain it through themselves or their own good qualities, they ruin their estates, tempting and corrupting the people in every possible way. And hence when by their foolish thirst for reputation they have created among the masses an appetite for gifts and the habit of receiving them, democracy in its turn is abolished and changes into a rule of force and violence. For the people, having grown accustomed to feed at the expense of others, and to de­pend for their livelihood on the property of others, as soon as they find a leader who is enterprising but is excluded from the honors of office by his penury, institute the rule of violence; and now uniting their forces massacre, banish, and plunder, until they degenerate again into perfect savages and find once more a master and monarch….

And for this change [for the worse] the populace will be responsible when on the one hand they think they have a griev­ance against certain people who have shown themselves grasp­ing, and when, on the other hand, they are puffed up by the flattery of others who aspire to office. For now, stirred to fury and swayed by passion in all their counsels, they will no longer consent to obey or even to be the equals of the ruling caste, but will demand the lion’s share for themselves. When this happens, the state will change its name to the finest sounding of all, free­dom and democracy, but will change its nature to the worst thing of all, mob-rule.

Polybius (205?-?125 B.C.) The Histories

  • John C. Sparks, who died on March 27, 2005, served on the board of trustees of the Foundation for Economic Education for many years. In the mid-1980s, following his retirement from business, Mr. Sparks served a term as FEE’s president.