Tibor R. Machan
Some people seem to believe that when they aren’t being directly oppressed, meddled with, intruded upon, interfered with and so on, they are then free. Americans often have this conception of being free because their various governments often leave them be. Only 40 percent of their resources is being taxed! Their bars can be open until 1 AM or even later in some places. Blue laws apply only here and there, on certain days. So, hurray, we are free!
And compared to people in many regions of the globe and to most eras of human history it is understandable that such relatively irregular forms of subjugation are misunderstood as forms of liberty. And maybe one ought to count one’s blessings, given all this. Yet, it is very hazardous to mistake the permissiveness of some governments–of those who hold but may not always exercise legally backed power–for genuine liberty. Such liberty is indivisible. If some slaves got half a day off to do what they felt like doing while others in the neighboring plantation received only a couple of hours from their masters, the former were by no means free individuals, not by a long shot.
Genuine liberty means being in full control of one’s life not being accorded the privilege of not always suffering the intrusions of one’s oppressors. But, of course, oppressors are very likely to try to fool us into thinking we are fully free by not being on our case 24/7. And by always pointing out how much worse off are those in other ages and other lands. A good case in point is when one mentions the tax burdens of Americans. Defenders of heavy taxation in America routinely roll out their statistics about the rest of the world and how much more people are taxed in, say, Germany, France, Sweden and so forth. This is just like telling the slave with more hours to himself that he shouldn’t complain. After all, those others in the neighboring plantations have fewer such hours.
But the point about liberty is that everyone–apart from violent criminals (which does include Bernie Madoff)–is owed every bit of it and no one is authorized to limit it, nohow, ever. It makes no difference that our oppressors are kinder and gentler, that they only nudge instead of bully, that they steal only a half rather than three quarters of what is ours. Sure, in comparable terms most Americans, but by no means all of them throughout American history, have been less subjected to the will of their governments than have people elsewhere and in different times but this only means that they need to be reminded more often that, no, they aren’t really free, that they are being lured into thinking they are by folks who want to rule them with effective enough kids gloves.
Examples of this kind of ruse are all around us. Kids in school may be more or less bullied but even those who experience it in small doses shouldn’t at all. It is no excuse that others are getting it good and hard, all of the time. So what if the German or French government intrudes on the citizenry there far more extensively than does the American on American citizens? It is a dirty trick played on human beings by those who wish to run their lives with little protest from them.
In public finance there is a trick well captured by the famous Laffer Curve. Up to a certain point people will tolerate being taxed and then, after that point, they won’t take it any longer. So governments do well if they identify that point (not an easy thing because our tolerance level is not the same).
The same goes with oppression. Up to a point a great many folks will just sit by while governments run rough shod over them. And government thugs are good enough at gauging that point so they are left alone while they do their dirty business. Perhaps in time folks will learn to prize their liberty to its full value!