English on the Internet - English Magazine


November 28, 1999

There is a basic philosophical decision which voters in any democratic nation must make.  That is to choose how much freedom and how much security is preferred.  By security I mean having one’s safety and material needs guaranteed by government.  More of one always means less of the other. One cannot have complete freedom and complete security at the same time.

Such a compromise is even evident in the animal world!  Consider a wild sheep.  It may wander anywhere it desires.  But it may wander off where there is no grass, and starve. It may wander where there is a wolf, and be eaten.  The sheep has absolute freedom, but no safety or security.

Now consider the sheep tended by a farmer.  This sheep is absolutely safe.  The farmer will shoot any wolf that comes near. If the sheep is ill, the farmer will give it medicine. The farmer will ensure that the sheep has grass and water.  Life is good for the sheep. Except that the sheep has no freedom, and the rancher may take away the sheep’s wool coat whenever it is needed. Or he may even kill the sheep for food when it is old.

Fortunately sheep are not intelligent and do not care about freedom.  To most humans, freedom is important.  Are you not convinced that we cannot have unlimited freedom and unlimited security?  Well consider this example of airports.

We cannot walk on any airplane without being searched, either by a metal detector, x-rays, or by a security guard. We give up some freedom of privacy each time we fly.  Why?  Most of us think it is worth it to have the security of flying without a terrorist destroying the plane.  If we insisted on freedom from search, we would give up some security on the airplane.

There are thousands of less dramatic and less clear-cut decisions we must make in our elected governments. Added to the decision process is the element of responsibility.  More freedom means less security, but it also requires more responsibility.

Consider life under Communism.  There was little freedom, but a lot of security.  Most people were guaranteed a job with some sort of income, even if it was small.  That meant a small pension, also, in old age. It took little responsibility on the citizen’s part. I am told a citizen might miss many days of work or drink alcohol at the factory, and he would still have a job.  The citizen did not have to responsibly save money for old age, because he would get a government pension.

Since its founding, US immigrants were primarily motivated by desire for freedom.  They wanted primarily religious freedom, but also economic freedoms. They moved to our primitive (at the time) nation with no security at all.  As settlers, they risked being killed in the wilderness!  But freedom was worth the price in security to those early Americans.

A person who has always lived in freedom starts not to appreciate it. I wish it were not so, but it always is!  Taking freedoms for granted, such a person begins to worry exclusively about security.  This has happened in the United States. Over time, we have gained security, but only at the expense of sacrificing many, many precious freedoms. Here is an example.

Prior to the 1930s, there was no universal pension system in the US. Some workers had old-age pensions provided by their company; others did not.  Most workers kept all of their pay.  If a worker acted responsibly, spending less money than he earned, and investing the remainder, he could have a comfortable retirement income.  If he was foolish with his money and did not save, he might be very poor when he was old.

This arrangement was accepted by our people. It provided no security, but demanded responsibility in exchange for freedom.

Our famous President Roosevelt took advantage of the Great Depression to change things. He and our Congress began the US “Social Security” system.  It promised economic security in exchange for sacrificing economic freedom.  Sadly, our citizens accepted it.  The government collected money from each worker’s paycheck, and gave it to another, older worker.  Because there were so many young workers and so few old people, this scheme worked great for a while.  People thought it was a miracle!  President Roosevelt was thought a hero.

Now, however, things are different.  There are many retired people in the US, many more than in the Czech Republic. There are fewer young workers.  Now our workers have 15% taken from their pay just for social security!  If each worker could keep this money and invest it, he would eventually be very rich!  But you see, this would require individual responsibility.

The result is a strange parallel to the Czech Republic.  I am told you have older, retired people who support old Communist ways so they can get a pension from the government.  Similarly, here we have older citizens who support Social Security because they want all the government pension money they can get.  The young workers see this large amount of money taken from their pay, and resent it.

So in this case of US Social security, sacrificing economic freedom for security has also resulted in class struggle between old and poor.

There are many compromises citizens are asked to make for security.  I cannot begin to list them all!  Let me help you think about some.

·         In order to have a cleaner environment, we are required to sacrifice property rights.

·         In order to have safer (perhaps) cities, we are required to sacrifice rights of gun ownership.

·         In order to keep our country secure from foreign invasion, we must sacrifice money in the form of taxes to support the military.

·         In order to be safe from crime, we must give up certain freedoms to the police.

Please remember: there is a price in freedom for every security advocated by any politician.  Is the security really worth the loss of freedom?  Politicians will nearly always tell you “yes!”  Why?  Because every precious freedom one sacrifices gives more power to the government.  That makes politicians even more powerful.

My wish for you Czechs is you never forget how precious freedom is.  I like to use this example.  Freedom is like a personal reputation.  It takes a long time to establish a good reputation.  However, one indiscretion and one’s reputation is instantly destroyed.  It is very hard to reclaim a good reputation once lost.

So it is with freedom.  It is tempting to relinquish freedoms for security.  However, once freedom is abandoned to a powerful government for the purpose of security, it is very hard to regain.  It may even require bloodshed!

by Kim Henry - USA, writes a lot of political and social commentary

© November 1999 English on the Internet www.aj.cz