How Do You Know You Are Free?
It's a good question, because unless you know by what standard you should measure freedom, you cannot know if you really ARE free.
Let's get personal. How do YOU rate your own freedom? And what is it that defines the freedom you think you have? How would you answer the following?
Are you able to start a business without bureaucratic overload? Are you able to cut down a tree in your own back yard? Are you able to keep the money you earn? Are you able to smoke marijuana?Are you able to read any book, or see any movie? Are you able to express your opinion without fear? Are you able to gamble at offshore online casinos? Are you able to travel without undue harassment? Are you able to buy, sell or trade whatever you like? Are you able to keep your personal information private?
The list could go on, but you get the drift.
Freedom, when it comes down to the wire, is the ability to make choices about your own life and property. Freedom is NOT about negating the same choices for other people. So, I cannot claim the freedom to steal another's property. Freedom can only be related to actions which do not impinge on someone else's freedom.
It's often said that the hallmark of a free society is when freedom of speech is sacrosanct - meaning that one has the freedom to express opinions or disagreements with regards to the existing political or social order.
Having the freedom to talk aloud to yourself, or to engage in heated debates with your neighbours, is not normally considered a definition of "freedom of speech".
But is this true? Is freedom of speech the primary measure of freedom? Is it not possible to have freedom of speech in a prison camp, for example? Certainly it is possible. But such a freedom would not compensate for the fact that you were locked up!
I think that freedom is best evaluated and defined by comparison to its complete opposite - slavery.
The word "slavery" immediately conjures up images of blacks in early America (and elsewhere), who were literally bundled up in their home country, Africa, and shipped to foreign lands as "forced labourers without pay". And that is the essence of slavery - a state of being where your life and labour have been expropriated in favour of a third party.
As a slave, you have no control over your life or your property. Your life belongs entirely to someone else. Of course, the slave owner has to at least feed and house his slaves, otherwise his "investment" would be lost. So you could say that the slave owner takes 100% of the labour value of the slave - while handing back perhaps 10%-20% in goods and services (food and lodging).
To take 100% of a man's effort is the same as a death sentence. If you take 100%, then there is literally nothing left.
This brings me to the conclusion that freedom is best measured by reference to how much of one's life remains in one's control. If a slave is not free, because 80%-90% of his life and life's effort is taken from him, then it's only a matter of determining exactly how much of your life you need, to consider yourself free. My answer is that you need 100% of your life, and the results of your life's effort, to consider yourself 100% free.
Using that definition, no one is truly free - not completely, not 100%. It's all a matter of comparison and relativity. You may be freer than me, your neighbour freer than you, or everyone in "my" country may be freer than everyone in "your" country.
The benefit of this "accounting" method of measuring freedom is that you can define what level of actual freedom exists by looking at what level of "freedom theft" is going on.
The slave society is "taxed" at least 80%-90%. The tax, in this case, represents the amount of "freedom" stolen. And so an ideal mechanism for measuring the amount of freedom an individual or society enjoys is the level of taxes that exist. The more tax, the less free, and vice versa.
Consider this: Income tax first appeared in the United States in 1862, during the Civil War, and about 1% of the population was required to pay it. A flat-rate income tax was imposed in 1867. The income tax was repealed in its entirety in 1872. It made a comeback when Congress passed the Income Tax Act of 1894. The tax at that time was 2% on individual incomes in excess of $4,000. And remember, $4,000 was a lot of money in those days! By that tax rate regime, the USA was indeed a very free country, and most citizens did not even pay it.
Income tax was first levied in England by Pitt as a Wartime measure in 1798 - with a tax of 2 shillings in the pound on total income. (The pound had 20 shillings.) This tax was repealed when the war ended in 1802. In 1842, Peel reintroduced the tax as a temporary measure, with the hope that it would be abolished in a few years' time. However, it wasn't and Britain has had income tax ever since. On the eve of the outbreak of the First World War in 1914, the standard rate of income tax was 1s 2d in the pound - or around 5%.
What about tax rates today? Don’t be fooled into thinking the tax rate is just what is taken out of your pay packet. There are all the other taxes too! Sales taxes, payroll taxes and corporate taxes - not to mention all the extra taxes like levies, duties, tariffs, and of course, the hidden tax of inflation.
Remember, every dollar that every business pays in tax can only be paid for from the income they earn from the prices they charge for their goods and services. In other words, consumers are paying all business taxes via the prices they pay for what they buy (additional to any VAT, GST or other sales tax).
If you add up your 25%-40% personal tax rate, add in VAT, GST or sales taxes, plus your property taxes, duties, tariffs, fuel tax and all the other "hidden" taxes - you can see how large the REAL tax take is for many people.
Who knows how large it really is? If you earn a reasonable amount then it's not exaggerating to say you may be paying as much as 60% tax. Zero tax means nothing is taken off you. 60% tax means the state takes 60% of your life's effort. If it gets to 80%, then you could rightfully consider yourself as a slave. So I guess that at the 60% mark you are a little be freer than a slave!
If we use the tax-take as a measurement of the amount of freedom in a society, then it provides for an interesting means of comparison between different countries. And keep in mind most tax is used for income-redistribution, so a high tax-take usually means that money is being siphoned off the owners (the producers) in favour of the non-owners (the non-producers).
However, no true freedom measurement can ignore property other than money. Just as a slave has both his person and his labour stolen from him - so any measurement of freedom must take into account the amount of control one has over one's self and one's property. This includes being able to have effective control over any property you own - i.e. your home, your business etc. - and over your own body, like where you can take your body, what you can put into your body etc.
So now you can measure your level of freedom, by asking yourself how much of the money you earn are you allowed to keep (how much you are taxed); how much control do you have over your own property; and how much control do you have over your own body.
Those are the essential components of freedom - and any society that claims to be free must deliver a high score on all counts. How does your home country rate? How do other countries rate?
To give you some idea, here's a comparison between two large and powerful countries - The USA and China. One is considered free, the other is considered a totalitarian regime - or not free. The list is not exhaustive, but will at least give you something to think about, and perhaps some cause for concern.
THE USA: Lower tax rates than most western developed countries; Less income redistribution than somewhere like Sweden - but still considerable; Freedom to express one's opinion against the existing order, although increasing pressure to self-censor (i.e. to not speak up, for fear of reprisal); Less bureaucratic interference in business than most western developed countries, but still considerable obstacles in place; Severe restrictions on access to new and innovative health treatments, due to the FDA; Draconian anti-drugs legislation in place; Onerous rules regarding banking and the movement of money; Virtually no financial privacy; Freedom of movement within and without the country, but increasingly burdensome due to "Homeland Security" rules. A political democracy, with extensive and burdensome hurdles in place to limit new party participation. A two party state.
CHINA: Very low levels of tax, with most people paying neither income or corporate taxes; No social welfare - and very little income redistribution of any kind; Can't openly speak out against the state; User-pays dominates most activities like health, use of motorways, schooling etc.; Large gap between rich and poor - due to lack of income redistribution; Extensive bureaucratic interference, which can be moderated via graft and payola; Free to leave the country and move around; The cash economy rules, leading to high levels of financial privacy; No apparent rules enforcing such things as seat belt wearing, cycle helmets, or against smoking; No apparent alcohol licensing laws, but strict anti-drug laws; Upward mobility as economic growth creates opportunities; Easy access to all sorts of health remedies, including bogus ones; Little consumer "protection"; Rampant pirating of goods and services, with uneven property rights enforcement. A one party state - which is best described as "authoritarian" rather than "communist".
I could go on to compare such countries as the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, Germany or Italy. And in each case you would find variations on the freedom theme. For example, it is well known that Italy is drowning in various laws and regulations but that Italians generally ignore them - making it a freer country than outward appearances would suggest.
I could compare Germany with France - and note that their extensive tax and redistribution systems, not to mention unions, give them some of the highest unemployment rates in Europe.
I could compare Singapore with Hong Kong, and realise that both have effective one party states. In fact, it is well known that China looks to the experience of a country like Singapore as a model for its own development. It's a so-called democracy, but where only one party actually ever wins - and rules. And it was built on the authoritarian rule of Lee Kuan Yew.
So next time you hear the word "freedom" being bandied about, or that one country wants to lecture another on what constitutes freedom, give a thought to how freedom can be measured. Consider the level of tax or "freedom theft", and how a person's life and property is treated. Look at the facts and make your own judgement.
It could well be worth your while to know where the freest countries are - just in case your own country descends further into slavery mode - and you need to escape! And whatever you do, don't make the mistake of equating the "right to vote" with having freedom, for let me assure you, it's quite possible to have a majority vote itself into slavery!
Yours in freedom