Playing Freedom Cheap

If eternal vigilance is the price of freedom, incessant distractions are the way that politicians take away our freedoms, in order to enhance their own power and longevity in office. Dire alarms and heady crusades are among the many distractions of our attention from the ever increasing ways that government finds to take away more of our money and more of our freedom.

Magicians have long known that distracting an audience is the key to creating the illusion of magic. It is also the key to political magic.

Alarms ranging from “overpopulation” to “global warming” and crusades ranging from “affordable housing” to “universal health care” have been among the distractions of political magicians. But few distractions have had such a long and impressive political track record as getting people to resent and, if necessary, hate other people.

The most politically effective totalitarian systems have gotten people to give up their own freedom in order to vent their resentment or hatred at other people— under Communism, the capitalists; under Nazis, the Jews.

Under extremist Islamic regimes today, hatred is directed at the infidels in general and the “great Satan,” the United States, in particular. There some people have been induced to give up not only their freedom but even their lives, in order to strike a blow against those they have been taught to hate.

We have not yet reached these levels of hostility, but those who are taking away our freedoms, bit by bit, on the installment plan, have been incessantly supplying us with people to resent.

One of the most audacious attempts to take away our freedom to live our lives as we see fit has been the so-called “health care reform” bills that were being rushed through Congress before either the public or the members of Congress themselves had a chance to discover all that was in it.

For this, we were taught to resent doctors, insurance companies and even people with “Cadillac health insurance plans,” who were to be singled out for special taxes. Meanwhile, our freedom to make our own medical decisions— on which life and death can depend— was to be quietly taken from us and transferred to our betters in Washington.

Only the recent Massachusetts election results have put that on hold.

Another dangerous power toward which we are moving, bit by bit, on the installment plan, is the power of politicians to tell people what their incomes can and cannot be. Here the resentment is being directed against “the rich.”

The distracting phrases here include “obscene” wealth and “unconscionable” profits. But, if we stop and think about it— which politicians don’t expect us to— what is obscene about wealth? Wouldn’t we consider it great if every human being on earth had a billion dollars and lived in a place that could rival the Taj Mahal?

Poverty is obscene. It is poverty that needs to be reduced—and increasing a country’s productivity has done that far more widely than redistributing income by targeting “the rich.”

You can see the agenda behind the rhetoric when profits are called “unconscionable” but taxes never are, even when taxes take more than half of what someone has earned, or add much more to the prices we have to pay than profits do.

The assumption that what A pays B is any business of C is an assumption that means a dangerous power being transferred to politicians to tell us all what incomes we can and cannot receive. It will not apply to everyone all at once. Like the income tax, which at first applied only to the truly rich, and then slowly but steadily moved down the income scale to hit the rest of us, the power to say what incomes people can be allowed to make will inevitably move down the income scale to make us all dependents and supplicants of politicians.

The phrase “public servants” is increasingly misleading. They are well on their way to becoming public masters— like aptly named White House “czars.” The more they can get us all to resent those they designate, the more they can distract us from their increasing control of our own lives— but only if we sell our freedom cheap. We can sell our birthright and not even get the mess of pottage.

  • poptoy

    Mr. Sowell has written another great article and somebody better start listening to this great writer before it is too late.

  • Clay

    I've been a fan of Dr. Sowell for many years but I don't think I've ever read him being so succinct. These lines deserve to be repeated:

    …if we stop and think about it— which politicians don’t expect us to— what is obscene about wealth?…Poverty is obscene. It is poverty that needs to be reduced—and increasing a country’s productivity has done that far more widely than redistributing income by targeting “the rich.”

    • coolrayfruge

      Although being wealthy may not be obscene.
      It is the wealthy elite who control the economy and their greed for more money and their lust for more power and control, that has made it hard for the rest of us to live Freely.
      Therefore creating poverty.
      Which is obscene.
      Do you really think their against communism?
      Hell its the Federal Reserve run by the wealthy elite, which have made the ideas of the ten laws of the communism active in our country today.
      Through agencys like the IRS, HOA., DEA, DOT,SSI.
      Who's laws have stripped us of any Freedom.
      The Nobles want to keep the peasants,poor, in debt and in volentary servitude to them.
      And that is obscene.
      What is more profitable for them than cheap labor.

      • pianoforte54

        The wealthy elite are the ones who HAVE the money to invest so that there ARE jobs and they can only be taxed so much. And how do you define "greed"? How much money is too much for one person? To blame the rich for my being in debit is obscene. People have to live within their means and if they want more then they need to better themselves….but PLEASE quit blaming the rich. This is a perfect example of class envy. My living freely has nothing to do with how much money the wealthy has but I guess Mr. Coolray blames them for him not having what he thinks he's "entitled" to.

      • pianoforte54

        The wealthy elite are the ones who HAVE the money to invest so that there ARE jobs and they can only be taxed so much. And how do you define "greed"? How much money is too much for one person? To blame the rich for my being in debit is obscene. People have to live within their means and if they want more then they need to better themselves….but PLEASE quit blaming the rich. This is a perfect example of class envy. My living freely has nothing to do with how much money the wealthy has but I guess Mr. Coolray blames them for him not having what he thinks he's "entitled" to.

      • ben

        In a free-Market Capitalist system its the Consumer who controls the Economy. Businesses offer a product or service to the conumer who is free to purchase any product or service he/she wants. Consumers purchase for 2 reasons, Necessity (need) and Desire (want), therefore businesses only make money by meeting the needs or wants of the people. Profits are in accordance with the number of people who are helped by the businesses product or service.
        What we currently have is a gov't organized economy in which gov't decides what we want or need. The gov't then takes our money from us and spends it on the products or services of their favored businesses. Then gov't adds regulations and tarifs to protect the compainies they invested our money in by hurting their competitors. Since it's the biggest companies who can afford the "bribes" DC is searching for, and it's the biggest compainies who can mitigate the added costs of regulations, it's the biggest companies that win out in the end. Big gov't = Big business.

      • ligneus

        It's interesting that those who rant against capitalism and who are full of the resentment that Thomas Sowell writes about, can't spell, lack much semblance of correct grammar, can't put a sentence together and lack any logical thought process, think they know all the answers.

  • John C. Davidson

    I believe Doctor Sowell has reached his limit of tolerence with our government officials and rightly so, I must add empatically.

  • Peachey

    The real tragedy is that we cannot bottle Professor Sowell's wisdom. Our society as a whole lacks a sense of purpose and wisdom. The Roman Empire was in a similar state of affairs when it fell.

    • http://www.itecode.com yearOfTheTigerSoup

      Really?

      Has Obama been killed, stuffed purple, and put on display in ancient Baghdad? That is what happened in Rome.

      Leave Obama alone. Outside of the abortion issue, really, he's the friendliest you're gonna get. Really. Do pick up a mop and clean up America if you think it is such a bad place.

      What I want, and what the author of this article wants, is a call to arms. Now here is a political tactic no one has tried in America:

      1. Take the Senate
      2. Take the localities.

      You will have the utmost power. Let the Democratic party wither more on the vine as long as they have their strong executive.

      But what is to be feared is the backlash. In the next election, you loose the senate, keep the localities, and institute your own backlash on your own terms. It is time the Republican party turned UNION as in UNITED WE STAND. Force unions to adopt standards like quarantining of workstations at 9-5.

      • ligneus

        Outside of the abortion issue, really, he's the friendliest you're gonna get. Really.

        Lots of stupid people are friendly so what's your point? How can you say 'outside the abortion issue'? This is someone who voted against banning partial birth abortions and against keeping alive aborted babies born alive. Oh yes, very friendly sort of chap.