“Nowadays to be intelligible is to be found out.” — Oscar WildeIn the wacky world of American politics, if you as an employer have a religious objection to paying for your employees’ contraceptives, it is you who is contemptuous of religious freedom.As the New York Times editorial board lectured a judge who thinks otherwise, “the […]
Socialism is the big lie of the 20th century. While it promised prosperity, equality, and security, it delivered poverty, misery, and tyranny. Equality was achieved only in the sense that everyone was equal in his or her misery.In the same way that a Ponzi scheme or chain letter initially succeeds but eventually collapses, socialism may […]
Six months ago, I stepped out from the shadows of the United States Government’s National Security Agency to stand in front of a journalist’s camera. I shared with the world evidence proving some governments are building a worldwide surveillance system to secretly track how we live, who we talk to, and what we say. I […]
I opened a new bottle of probiotics this morning, and it had one of those circular seals on the top. You know, the one that reads, “Sealed for your protection.”And that seal got me thinking… how much protection do we need? How much security is enough?How much homogenization, pasteurization, disinfection, national security, etc…. do we […]
Last spring, Barack Obama told the graduating class of Ohio State University:“Unfortunately, you’ve grown up hearing voices that incessantly warn of government as nothing more than some separate, sinister entity that’s at the root of all our problems… They’ll warn that tyranny is always lurking just around the corner. You should reject these voices. Because […]
In the Huffington Post last week, Glenn Greenwald, Slate contributor Ryan Gallagher, and Ryan Grim had an investigative piece reporting that the NSA had been tracking the online porn-viewing habits of several Muslim leaders whom it viewed as radicals. A top-secret document shows that the agency was considering exposing these firebrands’ Internet dalliances as a […]
Americans are still trying to get a handle on the full extent of the government’s domestic spying activities, including the recent revelation that the National Security Agency (NSA) has been collecting and storing the email address books of ordinary Americans using online messaging services. Many users of such services are looking to tech executives for […]
A few months ago at a demonstration against the president of Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway, a Canadian citizen made the following claim: “We don’t have guns, we are not Americans, we are civilized.” A few days before, in early July, a train of the company had run away and exploded in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, killing […]
From the Tongue-In-Cheek Department of Laissez Faire Books…Washington, D.C. — Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, announced that her committee will hold a “major review into all intelligence-collection programs.” This surprising declaration followed the revelation, through documents leaked by government whistle-blower Edward Snowden, that the NSA has been listening to the […]
From the Tongue-in-Cheek Department of Laissez Faire Books…Washington, D.C. – The complex negotiations aimed at bringing a long-term solution to the federal government’s expenditure and debt problem have produced an unconventional proposal. “Although the solution only focuses on a tiny fraction of government expenditures,” declared President Barack Obama, “it is a step in the right […]
I’ve just spent a harrowing weekend reflecting on Thomas Paine’s Common Sense, the pamphlet that came out in January 1776 and turned the public toward seeking independence from Britain. I say harrowing because the distance between the ideals found in this pamphlet and those of today’s America is so vast as to be nearly unrecognizable.The […]
It was a wild ride last week in the world of the Deep Web, that section of the Internet that requires special tools to access. The feds took down the site called Silk Road and claim to have arrested its founder and administrator. The news streams were filled with lurid tales of derring-do in this […]
Want to know just how invasive the state is going to get in the United States?Well, take a look across the pond.In terms of the large, invasive state, we English are way ahead of you guys. We’re a good 50 or more years further down the road to serfdom.Nineteenth-century Britain was about as glorious a […]
A tense drama unfolded this week with the virtual shutdown of vital government agencies: the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the National Labor Relations Board, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, as well as many other such federal agencies. Without them, the Founding Fathers could not have imagined the republic.Even if fewer […]
Three months after Edward Snowden’s leaks began to reveal the extent of the U.S.’ mass surveillance program, “serious people” are beginning to make the case that it’s time for the outrage and indignation to subside and give way to a “national conversation” about the future of surveillance. So has the moment come for us to […]
A sixth-grader has been suspended for drawing an inappropriate picture. The drawing did not include any gun, but showed a checkpoint backed up by a SWAT team carrying flower pots while an unarmed drone hovered above.The suspended girl, whose name is kept secret at the request of her family, said she “just wanted to draw […]
The second part of this two-part article reveals an untold part of the story about how they were stopped last time. And shows how, if not again stopped, how it could lead to a fundamental loss of civil rights and freedom on the Internet.The offending legislation was barreling down the track, seemingly — even in […]
Two years ago, Hollywood, no kidding, masterminded a plot to, in effect, steal the Internet (by criminalizing certain conduct, booby trapping the Web in ways that few non-mega-corporations could cope with). There are signs, as perceptively flagged by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, that the perps are back at it. We should care.This two-part article reveals […]
It has now been nearly two centuries since French political scientist Alexis de Tocqueville visited America and compared American democracy to the French variety. The Martian asked his Earth correspondent to redo the comparison.The typical Frenchman thinks that Paris is the center of the universe, life without a baguette is not worth living, France is […]
I was at the Canadian border, headed toward the freedom that exists a few feet beyond the last security check. I was gently waved down a side corridor.Ninety minutes later, I was let go, but not before something truly alarming happened. I’m pretty sure that the Canadian government captured a mirrored version of my smartphone […]
Fort Meade, MD – The United States, the least unfree country on Earth, is fighting a major invasion of the Blueshirts.The most visible Blueshirts constitute a 50,000-plus army that occupies all the airports in America. Recognizable by their blue shirts and their inquisitive eyes and hands, they search and humiliate all Americans trying to leave […]
Sometimes, the news of the day causes me to say, “Huh?” The New York Times revelations last month about NSA programs and activities to enhance the agency’s ability to spy on ordinary citizens prompts today’s “Huh?” Who knew that our every phone call, Internet post and tweet is being recorded by the government?I have operated […]
U.S. and British intelligence agencies have successfully cracked much of the online encryption relied upon by hundreds of millions of people to protect the privacy of their personal data, online transactions and emails, according to top-secret documents revealed by former contractor Edward Snowden.The files show that the National Security Agency and its UK counterpart GCHQ […]
Oh, how the media love a good strike. Look at these fast-food workers and peasants standing up to the owners of capital! They aren’t going to take the oppression anymore. The suits in the boardrooms had better shape up and stop hoarding all that money. They need to give it up to the men and […]
Like all great historical ideas, the project of licensing journalists so that they may benefit from the First Amendment was born in a very modest place. In fact, it began in the most modest of all places: the brain of Dianne Feinstein, U.S. senator from California.The new law, which was just adopted by Congress and […]
The position that there need be a state is too often taken for granted.The main body of Sartwell’s book Against the State is dedicated to destroying the arguments for a state from the likes of Hobbes, Rousseau and Hegel. In fact, one thing that becomes crystal clear in reading Sartwell’s book is how bad the […]
Crispin Sartwell is someone you should know. He is doing important work in recovering forgotten greats in America’s anti-authoritarian tradition. Among other works, he’s put forward a lean and powerful book titled Against the State.In what follows, you’ll see why he’s my favorite living philosopher. Sartwell will take you on an intellectual tour de force […]
The great news for humanity: Economic freedom around the world is on the rise. This means liberation for millions and billions of people. What a change from 20 years ago, when so many lived under despotism and socialist slavery. These people are freer, and getting freer. More people avail themselves to the global division of labor than ever before. Poverty, hunger, and violence are falling. Technology is linking people as never before. The future is bright.
All of this information comes from one of my favorite ongoing projects: Economic Freedom of the World, an annual index that attempts to quantify what really matters in this world. It tries its best to assemble as much of the data available and keep the quantification methods consistent year by year, so we can gain a better picture of the trends.
This index lists countries by most to least free, using every available objective criterion. Are people free to make contracts, keep what they earn, use a sound currency, rely on some degree of legal stability, trade internationally, associate as they please toward their mutual well-being? The more people can do this, the higher their countries rank on the scale. The more that government interferes with their lives, the lower on the scale they rank.
Here is the executive summary of this point from this year’s report:
- “Nations in the top quartile of economic freedom had an average per capita GDP of $37,691 in 2010, compared to $5,188 for bottom quartile nations in 2010 current international dollars
- In the top quartile, the average income of the poorest 10% was $11,382, compared to $1,209 in the bottom in 2010 current international dollars
- Interestingly, the average income of the poorest 10% in the most economically free nations is more than twice the overall average income in the least free nations.
- Life expectancy is 79.5 years in the top quartile compared to 61.6 years in the bottom quartile
- Political and civil liberties are considerably higher in economically free nations than in unfree nations.”
What is the relationship between freedom and prosperity? They are directly related. If this index doesn’t prove it to a person’s satisfaction, nothing on this Earth will prove the point.
We think we live in the age of science. Maybe so. But ideology remains more powerful. Otherwise, we would see a gigantic rush the world over to free the market, and fast. It’s the path to prosperity, peace, and human flourishing. Even if you don’t understand the logic, you can at least look at the numbers. You have to postulate an amazing number of coincidences to come up with any other explanation for why freedom is associated with prosperity and despotism is associated with poverty.
This year’s report contains a real shocker when it comes to the United States. We aren’t just slipping on the index. We are falling off a cliff. In many parts of the world, life is freer. Not in the “land of the free.” Not by a long shot. What this reports says about the United States should be front-page news. Instead, it has received barely any attention at all.
The long and short of it:
“The United States, long considered the standard-bearer for economic freedom among large industrial nations, has experienced a substantial decline in economic freedom during the past decade. From 1980-2000, the United States was generally rated the third-freest economy in the world, ranking behind only Hong Kong and Singapore. After increasing steadily during the period from 1980-2000, the chain-linked EFW rating of the United States fell from 8.65 in 2000 to 8.21 in 2005 and 7.70 in 2010. The chain-linked ranking of the United States has fallen precipitously from second in 2000 to eighth in 2005 and 19th in 2010 (unadjusted ranking of 18th).”
One might think that it would bug people that Canada is now a more economically free nation than the United States. Remember how Finland was supposed to be ruled by muddle-headed socialists? No more. It ranks higher. So do Chile, New Zealand, and Australia. So do Ireland, Denmark, and the United Kingdom. It goes without saying that Hong Kong and Switzerland beat the U.S. But so do Qatar, the UAE, and Bahrain.
The question is why. The U.S. fell in every area. Regulation is more intense. There are more trade barriers. Property rights are less secure. Government is much larger. Money is not sound either, but the report gives a good grade here only because of the method of quantification. They look only at official rates of inflation so that there are accurate data across many countries. If you look under the hood at U.S. monetary policy, you can see that we are headed for a devastating fall in this area too.
What is the main reason for the fall of the U.S.? Property rights are less secure. As the authors say, “While it is difficult to pinpoint the precise reason for this decline, the increased use of eminent domain to transfer property to powerful political interests, the ramifications of the wars on terrorism and drugs, and the violation of the property rights of bondholders in the bailout of automobile companies have all weakened the United States’ tradition of the rule of law and, we believe, contributed to the sharp decline…”
We’ve all sensed this. We see evidence all around us. But even so, it can be difficult to process intellectually. We are born to believe that we live in the land of the free. As much as we regret many of the things we see, we don’t want to make any fundamental adjustments in our outlook for the future. We want to believe that our freedom is somehow divinely protected and, despite all political trends, essentially unalterable.
This report puts us on notice. We have to come to terms with the realities. It is going to get worse before it gets better. We live in a digital age, surrounded by miracles. But those miracles are coming to us not because of anything our government is doing. We are dependent so much on the freedom that exists and grows outside our borders.
A major advantage that formerly poor countries have is that they don’t have to deal with the rotting industrial-age infrastructure that plagues the U.S. and Europe. They don’t have an antique grid and their economies are not saddled with endless and entrenched public-private partnerships and central plans like the federal code. They can leapfrog the industrial age and move right to the digital age. It’s a beautiful thing to behold.
Someone who looked at this report asked me a question. Is it time to start thinking of sending my kids abroad? The answer, I believe, is yes. Going abroad provides an important cultural education. But nowadays, we are really talking about the future itself. They may have to emigrate for economic opportunity. We all might have to.
But where? Looking at the index, Canada is looking better all the time. So is New Zealand. China ranks low overall, but sectors of China like Shanghai are extremely free by any international comparison. There is also Latin America. Nicaragua, for example, ranks very high and is rising year after year. It’s the trend line that matters.
It was my privilege to interview the main number cruncher behind the report, Robert Lawson. Below he provides more detail and some extremely interesting observations about how not being a “developed industrialized nation” can be a gigantic advantage in the digital age.