Wednesday, January 27, 2016

A Rich Man's Freedom

Freedom in capitalist society always remains about the same as it was in ancient Greek republics: Freedom for slave owners. -Vladimir Lenin

     Freedom for a rich man means something different than it does for the rest of us. Because to the truly wealthy freedom means not having to rely on anyone else for their happiness. This is an enviable kind of freedom to have, one that I’m sure we’d all enjoy if it was available to us. The only problem with that kind of freedom is that it costs a whole lot of money. In fact, if you want to be sure you have enough wealth that you’ll never have to rely on anyone else for your happiness, were talking tens of millions of dollars.
     Nevertheless, it is a freedom that is available to anyone. Potentially, at least. I mean, there is no law stating that certain people are not allowed to acquire that kind of money. Black, brown, white, man or woman, nobody is banned from being in that club once they have acquired the money. And the U.S. does provide the opportunity for advancement for anyone willing to put in the effort, there is no doubt about it. But even the most hard-working and shrewdest of us have little more than a lottery winner’s chance of acquiring the kind of money that would give us that kind of freedom. Realistically, only an elite few of us will ever get to experience that kind of freedom, I’m guessing somewhere near the one percent mark, a cutoff point that has been getting a fair degree of attention lately. And overwhelmingly, the most likely way one will gain that much money is by inheriting it. In that respect we have not moved far from the royalty we rebelled against in 1776.
     What I’m talking about with that kind of freedom—or more importantly, what the one percent are talking about when they talk about freedom—is the opportunity to make enough that you will be able to do whatever you want with your life. You won’t have to worry if there will be Medicare, welfare, or unemployment insurance. You won’t have to rely on scholarships for your children to attend college (though you’ll probably still take advantage of any opportunity to save a few bucks, after all the rich don’t get rich by letting opportunities to reduce costs slip by). You won’t have to worry about any of the social programs that are available to the rest of us. Therefore, you’re not likely to care about maintaining such programs: after all, programs like those cost money and they cost the rich more than they cost the poor.
     Even for those of us who don’t have that kind of money, it is a beautiful thing to dream about as we work hard to get ahead. But the problem is that it IS only a dream for the vast majority of us. And a dream is not freedom, it is not even the potential for freedom, it is a substitute for it. We are all free in our dreams, but we all have to wake up and go to work in the morning.
     Freedom can and does mean a lot of things. You can be free to do something or free from having to do something. You can have your freedom and still you can starve from a lack of food. Nelson Mandela was freer than most of us even when imprisoned because he refused to bow down to the powers that be. Freedom is quite a nebulous concept. But I’m not concerned with defining what freedom actually is or means, I’m only speaking to the rich man’s freedom.
     And when a capitalist—which is what most rich men are—talks about freedom, he means the freedom to make money. That’s what capitalists like to do, make money. That’s what makes them capitalists. So freedom for them is the pursuit of happiness (i.e. money). To them the sound the Liberty Bell makes is cha-ching.
     They want no limitations on what money can do. Kill them all and let the market sort them out is the philosophy. To impose any regulations on the market would be an attack on everything our Founding Fathers fought for. You see, because their one interest in life is money, they suppose that freedom to make money is the only thing worth living for. And because the rich are still prone to seeing things from their own point of view—just like the rest of us, only more so because their wealth validates their opinions—they assume that is what everyone else wants as well. That’s why they are willing to give what they love so much (money) to politicians, in order to preserve the freedom of the rich.
     The politicians who cater to the rich are quite fond of talking about freedom. They are always there to trumpet the value of liberty. Perhaps they were not the ones fighting for it on the battlefield, but they are quite eager to battle for your freedom in Washington D.C., that evil place where the enemy (government) resides.
     When a politician talks about your freedom, what he is really saying is “I’m not responsible for you.” Reagan talked about freedom and then released the mentally ill from the institutions they were housed in, leaving them homeless. He did it in the name of freedom. He gave them the opportunity to become capitalists.
     Most of us living in a capitalist society are no more capitalists than the average citizen of a communist nation was a communist. Most of us have lives beyond the pursuit of money. We don’t have a clearly defined ideology, we’re mostly just looking to get out of work on Friday afternoon. Most of us work to provide for our family and to be able to afford a few of life’s pleasures. Our needs are simple and we consider our lives worthwhile if we have some time off of work to spend with friends and family, to play a round of golf or do some fishing, play cards or go to the bar for a few, do a little travelling or work in the garden. We want to worship in the church of our choice or not at all if that is what we choose. There are a thousand different interests we all want to pursue, a thousand decisions we wish to make for ourselves, and for most of us that is what freedom means. And to achieve that kind of freedom, the kind of freedom that is available to everyone and not just a tiny minority, we have to work together in order to ensure our ability to attain it. Such freedom will not be won for the majority by each of us acquiring our own hoard of treasure, most of us will never be able to amass that much. We instead will have to trust our neighbors and our fellow citizens in order to guarantee the kind of security only society can provide, knowing that the security and hope for a better life of others is in our hands as well as ours is in theirs. We won’t get rich but we won’t end up homeless.
     That is the only kind of freedom that will ever be available to the vast majority of people. And when we look at it, there is ample material wealth to provide such freedom. It will never provide us all with outlandishly oversized toys, but we are adults after all, not children.

     It is a choice we will have to make, freedom for the rich or freedom for the many. The freedom for the many does impinge somewhat on the freedom of the rich, but so too does the freedom of the rich take from the freedom of the many. It is a freedom based on dominance, based on the notion that the only way we can truly be free is to have enough money to distance ourselves from our fellow man through gated communities, security systems, and armed guards. It is the kind of system that requires locks and bars and security codes to protect the free from those who dream of freedom. And that doesn’t sound like the kind of freedom our Founding Fathers would have wanted. 

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