Here’s a cheery question for you on this first day after the Fourth of July weekend: Would you rather be a financially independent black man in 1950s America or a barely financially solvent black man today?
I could be wrong, but I think most people would prefer the tyranny of living paycheck-to-paycheck to the tyranny of second-class citizenship.
This blog, of course, is about the quest for financial independence, and politics isn’t a welcomed part of the conversation. After all, what does politics have to do with spending less than you earn and investing the difference?
But wide-spread financial success is impossible without a certain degree of freedom (see the Soviet Union, Maoist China, North Korea, Cuba, and Venezuela), and individual financial success is hollow without it (imagine being a wealthy gay man in Saudi Arabia). If we get the politics wrong and lose our freedom, this financial independence thingy is kind of moot.
In the name of freedom, then, I’m going to annoy you today. There are five essential components to freedom. In all five, we’re slipping. And all I ask is that you think about them for a little bit. That’s it. Give me ten minutes. Because the first step in fixing a problem is recognizing that a problem exists.
The Five Essential Components to Freedom
Competition. I can see needing a license to practice medicine. But to cut hair? I can see passing the bar exam in order to practice law. But why do you have to go to law school and take on a hundred grand in student loan debt before you can take the bar exam? What are they teaching in law school that you can’t learn on your own? And why do public school teachers have to attend education schools in order to teach? Is Bill Gates unfit to teach programming in high school because he doesn’t have an education degree? Credentialism is needed to assure that those who want to enter a particular field or profession have a minimum degree of competency. I get that. But we’ve taken it too far. Credentialism is becoming less and less about protecting the public from incompetents and more and more about protecting incumbents from competition. Remember: You are not free if you need permission from the government to compete for a job. Competition is the lifeblood of freedom. It’s also the lifeblood of opportunity.
Risk taking. Using Uber or investing in the Lending Club is not without risk. Your Uber driver may not have adequate insurance. The loans you back through the Lending Club may go into default and you may lose your investment. And because Uber and the Lending Club represent an element of risk, their expansion is being resisted by many localities. Why? Ride-sharing and peer-to-peer lending is no more risky than smoking, drinking soda, playing football, buying stuff on credit, or starting a business. And if they were, so what? As long as people freely assume these risks, and as long as people pay for the consequences when Lady Luck frowns upon them, then such risk-taking should be allowed to flourish. Remember: You are not free if the government “protects” you from every conceivable risk under the sun. Risk-taking is essential to economic advancement and personal fulfillment.
Keeping what you earn. Are you free if the government has an unlimited right to confiscate your earnings? Suppose for a moment that Congress wants to double our military spending. Do the people who oppose doubling our military spending have any rights? Are they just supposed to shrug and meekly accept their increased servitude to the military-industrial complex? Apparently so. Right now there’s no Constitutional limit on the taxing powers of Congress. If it wants to jack effective tax rates up to one hundred percent for everyone, it can. And until the people can say no to the taxing powers of the state, we are all FINO: free in name only. Remember: You are not free if every dollar you make can be legally confiscated by the government.
Equal protection of the law. Up until very recently, the military discriminated against gays. It contended that in order to maintain morale, it couldn’t have out-of-the-closet gays in its ranks. Now, maintaining morale is a worthy goal, of course, but thankfully the Supreme Court stepped in and said the military could no longer achieve it by discriminating against gay Americans. Why then is it okay for colleges to discriminate against whites and Asians in the name of diversity? Sure, diversity on campus is important. But is it more important than the morale of our warriors? And if we can’t use immoral means to maintain morale in the military, why can we use immoral means to maintain diversity on campus? Remember: You are not free if some animals are more equal than others.
The rule of law. I was in 8th grade when President Nixon resigned. And I remember my teachers proclaiming that no one was above the law, not even the president of the United States. And that’s the way it should be. How is it then that millions of illegal aliens are above the law? And if they can flout the law to improve their lives, what laws can I flout to improve mine? My life would certainly be better if I could ignore those pesky income and property taxes I’m subject to. What if I and millions of other homeowners refused to pay our property taxes? What would the government do? Confiscate all of our homes? Put us all in jail? Remember: The rule of law is critical to freedom. Once you lose it—and the typical citizen comes to believe that obeying the law is for chumps—the distance between a functioning democracy and a ruinous kleptocracy is disturbingly short.
Our Forefathers were far from perfect. Some owned slaves. None believed that women should vote. You know who also owned slaves and withheld the vote from women in the late 18th century? Every civilization on freakin’ earth.
Prior to 1776, we can describe the world as the might-makes-right era. If you didn’t have the physical and cognitive wherewithal to defend your freedom, you didn’t have freedom. The powerful felt no compunction to respect what you couldn’t defend.
After 1776, however, cool people in Western Civilization, especially the cool people in Britain, America, and France, came to the conclusion that the might-makes-right era was bullshit. The weak were not put on this earth to be plundered by the powerful. In fact, it was the moral duty of the powerful to respect and defend the freedom of the weak.
So never forget: Our Forefathers began the fight to end the might-makes-right era. It is our job to end it. That’s the best gift we can give future Americans and the world.
God bless America.
God bless freedom.