free freedom restrictions taxes


Freedom is Indeed Free

by Fred E. Foldvary, Senior Editor, 17 June 2013

The saying “freedom is not free” expresses appreciation for the brave services of the military in defending the country from its enemies. The saying is engraved in a wall at the Korean War Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. There is also an organization of that name, dedicated to assisting wounded service members and their families, and the families of the fallen.

Such usage is appropriate, but freedom from invasion does not imply that we live in a totally free society. Moreover, as the entry in Wikipedia states, “The idiom may be used as a rhetorical device.” The USA has inflicted on itself many restrictions and costs on peaceful human action. Ask any small business owner, and he will tell you how government imposes costs and restrictions that often take up more time and money than running the enterprise. The USA makes crimes out of acts having no victims, and imposes taxes on everything that moves.

Such lack of freedom becomes even more pernicious when the tyrants claim they are imposing these costs in the name of freedom. The same government that taxes and restricts inscribes “liberty” on its coins (although, interestingly, federal reserve notes are not so inscribed). Governmental chiefs who impose costs and restrictions on people, in opposition to freedom, often justify these with the slogan, “freedom is not free.”

They say we need a big military force with bases all over the world, to defend the country against enemies, and this protection of freedom is not free. They say we need police to protect society from criminals, and that has a cost too. Perhaps we need the massive gathering of communications data that the government is engaged in, because, after all, freedom is not free.

The slogan. “freedom is not free,” can thus be “weasel speak.” A weasel word or phrase exploits the ordinary meaning of a word for malicious propaganda. For example, “resistance” can be a weasel word for violent attacks. The Wikipedia Manual of Style defines weasel words as “statements which appear to assert something but subtly imply something different, opposite, or stronger in the way they are made.”

Individual freedom is the absence of restrictions on peaceful and honest human action. There is no cost to avoid restrictions. What is costly is the imposition of arbitrary restrictions. I am free right now to move my arm to the side, or upwards, or downwards. I didn’t have to pay for any absence of arm restrictions, as there were none to begin with.

Suppose one is at a party with friends. Nobody there has any intention of hurting anyone else. The freedom the party goers have to speak, to eat and drink, has no cost. Freedom is free.

However, if there are thieves in the neighborhood, one then has to buy locks. Protection from harm has a cost, but the threat of harm, and the harm itself, are violations of freedom. It is not freedom that has a cost, but rather the remedies for violations of freedom. If a country is invaded, a successful defense does preserve freedom, but one is not paying for freedom, as one already has it. One is paying for the defeat of those who seek to destroy freedom.

The slogan “freedom is not free” could be twisted into justifying invasions of privacy, high taxes, and a military draft or other forced service. But being drafted into an army to fight an enemy is itself the destruction of the free choice of the draftee. During the War in Vietnam, there was a slogan, “we have to destroy a village to save it.” Some may mean that a lesser freedom has to be destroyed in order to save a greater freedom, but the destruction of lesser freedoms implies the non-existence of the greater freedom.

In a pure free society, freedom is free. If everyone is cooperating, there is no cost to avoiding restrictions. When this freedom is threatened, there is a cost of protecting freedom, but not a cost of freedom itself. Moreover, no country in the world has complete freedom, so there is nowhere a pure protection of freedom.

It is more accurate, to say, “the protection against invasions that would result in even less freedom, is not free.” That is less snappy, but that statement would be less vulnerable to weasel speak.

-- Fred Foldvary


Copyright 2010 by Fred E. Foldvary. All rights reserved. No part of this material may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, which includes but is not limited to facsimile transmission, photocopying, recording, rekeying, or using any information storage or retrieval system, without giving full credit to Fred Foldvary and The Progress Report.

Also see:

America is 10th on the Heritage Freedom list

How Much Leeway Should Bureaucrats Have to Explore?

If You Own, You're In Business

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