Friday, January 03, 2003

The Volokh Conspiracy

Interesting: When was the land of the free doing better than now? 1948, when blacks weren't free to use the same public schools or public restrooms as whites? 1948, when neither whites nor blacks were free to marry the other race? 1948, when one fundamental right of the post-feudalist order -- the right to vote -- was denied to millions of blacks? 1948, when the First Amendment that the column so praises was on balance considerably less protective than it is today? 1948, when state governments were routinely denying basic Bill of Rights protections to blacks (and, to a considerable extent, to whites)? Or, if you want to go before the income tax and the direct election of senators, 1900, when pretty much all the same was done? 1860 or before?

Seems to me that, race preferences, growing federal power, and the occasional excesses of the Left notwithstanding, we are in most important ways more free now than we ever have been in the past. But in any event, it's certainly wrong to say, as the column says, that we're on balance vastly less free now than we have been in some mythical imagined golden age.

One can argue that we're better off than in the past but you can't logically argue that we are freer. It's a simple mathematical calculation. Once one is no longer legally "the poorest chained serf in the field" one is free and if there are few other regulations one is very free. The legal status of the "median American" has to be less free today than 50 or 100 years ago simply because of the higher tax burden and the millions of regulations than exist now but that didn't exist then. In 1948 if you earned a a very solid middle class income of $100 a week, you kept $97 (97%) of that after taxes. In 1900 there were fewer laws and regulations by a factor of 10 or more.

This is not to argue that that was a golden age or that we were happier, healthier, or wealthier then. It is merely to argue that we were feer. [I speak, of course of freedom in the political sense.] And the right to attend government schools and vote is not part of the definition of freedom. Political freedom is the right to act without government restraints We are much more restrained these days than Americans were 50 or 100 years ago. Even "Victims of Color" and "Womyn" were freer in the sense of fewer legal restraints although they may have had a few more than other population groups.

Those who make this argument can only list a few examples of political liberation since 1900 while I can easily list thousands or hundreds of thousands restraints imposed on us since then. In fact, why don't I start a list on this blog and see how many invasions of freedom I can list together with how many increases in freedom I can think of. Political freedom only, of course. Perhaps I could interest someone from the "increased freedom" camp to take up their half of the burden.

I posted a longer version of this argument in response to a similar column by Jonah Goldberg of National Review Online:
Americans Enjoy More Freedom?