Today I am thankful for living in the future.
I’m virtually blind. Without my contact lenses I can’t see, can’t drive my car, can’t play sports with my daughter, can’t appreciate our mountains or any of the other wonders that vision grants us.
We take these little pieces of glass and plastic for granted but they are as much a miracle for me as in any biblical story where the blind were made to see and I am thankful whenever I remember that this gift of sight was not always so easily gained.
200 years ago “lenses” (barely qualifying compared to today’s) cost people twice what they do today, and at the lower incomes of the time that would be as much as 1/20 of their annual wages (more than most of us pay today for two months of rent).
But today I can purchases glasses, can purchase my eyesight, for little more than an average American’s wage for 2 day’s work… perfectly fitted, shatterproof, scratch resistant, UV filtering, auto tinting, etc. All because of the advances and economic progress of US over that time. Progress which has put this life changing marvel within my and every American’s reach.
But there are places in the present that don’t live in that future. Countries that are in the same place they were 200 years ago (or worse). Places where you can go to live in the past if the inclination grabs you. If that is your idea of a fun holiday countries like North Korea, Zimbabwe, Cuba, Republic of Congo and others are primed for your vacation dollars, Nations where you can see what life in 1800 (or 800) CE was like.
What puts them on that list? (1) Is it lack wealth, or technological progress? Nope, it’s the lack of free market / economic liberty in those nations.
What turns out to be highly correlated to economic freedom? Lower regulatory burdens, low tax obligations, stable money policy, freedom of contract, low levels of government interventionism, etc?
Countries with high levels of economic freedom also have high current standards of living, high levels of social mobility, low levels of corruption, strong protections for civil rights and (most important) consistently high levels of sustained economic progress over time.
Thus when we look at those countries with the highest levels of economic freedom we find examples such as Australia, Hong Kong, Canada, the United States, Germany and others with wealthy, modern standards of living.
Freedom is demonstrably a universal good… What makes it so hard to come by for billions upon this planet?
Well there are some hard sticky problems with freedom and liberty.
Freedom means self-reliance…
“I predict future happiness for Americans, if they can prevent the government from wasting the labors of the people under the pretense of taking care of them.” Thomas Jefferson
Freedom means freedom to fail…
“Freedom is not worth having if it does not include the freedom to make mistakes.” Mahatma Gandhi
Freedom means absolute equality before the law regardless of some desired outcome…
“Those who deny freedom to others deserve it not for themselves.” Abraham Lincoln
Freedom means each man and woman taking responsibility for themselves, in the good and the bad…
“Freedom makes a huge requirement of every human being. With freedom comes responsibility. For the person who is unwilling to grow up, the person who does not want to carry his own weight, this is a frightening prospect.” Eleanor Roosevelt
“Liberty means responsibility. That is why most men dread it.” George Bernard Shaw
Freedom is virtuous, and our liberty has value beyond measure (just look at those countries that live without personal economic freedom and political liberty), but it also has a cost. And that cost is so much more than old sayings about soldiers standing at walls paying the price for our free lives. It is in the every day actions of each citizen, taking responsibility for themselves and demanding no sacrifice of his fellow man. It is each person bringing value to the table and exchanging voluntarily for value in return.
It is a society built on “anything peaceful”, with no request for coercion or services forcefully appropriated.
The advances of centuries (allowed by the economic freedom our country has enjoyed) have given me sight. I thank God today for the advances this freedom has provided and hope that our country will face up to the difficulties of freedom, of liberty, in order to protect that which we can’t see yet. Those miracles that are just over the horizon waiting to be found by unfettered entrepreneurs, scientists and citizens.
(1) The Heritage Institute Index of Economic Freedom 2012