Monday, July 04, 2005

Yay independence!

Happy 4th of July, ya’ll. In addition to the barbecuing and excessive drinking today, let’s remember the patriots who fought from our country’s independence and for those service men and women fighting for us right now*. Also, let’s remember that the promise of American liberty, though incomplete and tarnished has been a positive example to the world.

My parents did not come to America to escape political oppression. Though I enjoy participating in a government relatively free of corruption (when compared to Palermo Sicily in the 70’s) they were not political people. Nor did they come to escape simple economic oppression; though I think Sicily has some bad labor laws it’s no Communist state. Instead, they came to the United States for economic opportunity: for better options, not just additional crappy ones.

To me, these positive freedoms: freedom from want, freedom from fear, aside the negative ones: freedom of speech, freedom of religion, set the promise of America apart. People aren’t happy to just act independently – the freedom of Robison Crusoe alone on his island – they want meaningful opportunities to act. They don’t just want to eliminate the corruption of government funds; they want their taxes to make their community and their selves better off. In short, people the world over want a government for the people, of the people, and by the people. That’s why the come to our country and it’s what makes America great.

* I don’t recommend thanking their civilian politician leadership however.


Hi TS. I have to respectfully disagree with you. Negative liberty is the sole promise of America, at least it should be. Take a look at our Constitution and Bill of Rights. These were some of the first documents that enshrined negative liberty as the governing principle of a nation. Moreso than saying what government should do, it stated what government cannot do. It can't infringe on our right to speech, our right to bear arms, etc. Nowhere in these documents were citizens promised a job, an education, health care, a welfare check, or other such entitlements. Our government acknowledges our natural right to a "pursuit of happiness." Government will not provide you happiness, but it will try not to impede your pursuit.

The American version of positive liberty came during FDR's reign. It had already been the ideal of governments all around the world, especially Western Europe. So, in essence, these immigrants were trying to escape the failure of positive liberty only to encounter it arising in a country where it had never existed before. And so began America's transition from a country of negative liberty to one of a bastardized negative/positive form. Say what you want about positive liberty, but realize that it has only been around for about a third of America's total existence. The vast waves of immigrants who made this country didn't come for an entitlement, they came to exercise their natural rights to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." They had had enough of the big governments on their backs.

Nevertheless, hope you had a wonderful 4th of July holiday.
Thank you, my 4th went rather well.

Most people came to the United States, not because they had political issues with the economy of their home countries but because of the economic opportunity. America would not have drawn immigrants if its economy was crappy compared to the rest of the world. If people really just wanted complete negative freedoms they could easily find it on various uninhabited pacific islands or in a hermit hole half-way up the Andes.

You and I may disagree as to whether social insurance, the Federal Reserve, and anti-trust legislation help or hurt the overall well-being of our citizens, but we shouldn’t confuse the means with the ends. People want a good livelihood, not an abstract set of laws. You think we can increase our wellbeing without the social safety-net like Medicare, Social Security, and public institutions like Freddie Mac. I disagree. As do the vast majority of Americans and the leadership of both political parties (That’s why they keep talking about “Making Social Security stronger,” right?).

The point is that people are coming to America for our shared ends (opportunity), not your singular means (letting the market take over all aspects of distribution including those like social insurance and government health inspections that have been shown to work better when centrally administered).

Positive freedoms, as you envision them, are some kind of welfare-type government assurance of well-being without any personal effort. Surely, such a concept is clearly doomed to fail even quicker than plain old communism (if there is even a difference in your formulation). But that’s not what FDR meant at all. Positive freedoms, like negative ones, come with responsibility. You will be free from want if you are willing to work hard and smart. You will be free from fear if you are willing to support the war effort and die for your country.

Well now. Let’s hit the simple misunderstandings: “If the government guarantees me the right to profit from my labors through handouts, it’ll drive the tax rate so high to do so as to stop others from profiting from theirs!” Oh wow! People’s rights come into conflict sometimes and redistribution isn’t a good way of maximizing well-being. That’s not really a problem.

What else? “The government can’t guarantee those freedoms ‘cause a giant world-wide depression or something is could happen and make it so that no one can profit from their labors.” Well, I suppose you could be hit by a virus that strikes you dumb, too. And then the government wouldn’t be able to protect your freedom of speech from the no-speaky virus.

The question is whether it is legitimate for the government to get involved in improving the well-being of its citizens. Conservatives have already lost this fight. They’re down to their back-up argument: “Yes, we agree the government has that duty. We just believe that there’s nothing left it can do.”

Also, it’s nice to hear a follower of Edmund Burke talk about how American political ideas are preferable to European ones.
There's a lot in your comment I feel I didn't address. But I'm puzzling over this:

"So, in essence, these immigrants were trying to escape the failure of positive liberty only to encounter it arising in a country where it had never existed before."

How is positive liberty being defined here. Are you saying that when government goes out of it's way to respect postive liberty it undermines it, but a government that is indifferent bolsters it? Is this not a weird argument to make? It's like saying "Since we want a government to do what it can to promote positive liberty, it should do nothing, becuase that's the best way." But in that formulation, you're still agreeing with me that the government has a responsibility to protect positive freedoms. You're just arguing that the best way to do that is to ignore it.

It's just kind'a weird. Am I understanidng this correctly?
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