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Famous quotes

December 16, 2007 Leave a comment Go to comments

Craig sort of has a point on number two, there. The subject is Franklin’s liberty and safety quote. Economic freedom for economic safety is just such a trade-off and liberals don’t have a problem with that. I’ve seen the point made before and it has the benefit of being strictly true.

Of course, Franklin’s quote, taken literally, is obviously wrong. The Founders didn’t set up a system of complete freedom. There are limits set out in the Constitution. For example, police can enter my private property if they have a warrant. Doing so violates my freedom to control my property. That rule is there to allow the authorities to stop dangerous people in timely manner, keeping us safer. It’s a trade-off and I’m pretty sure it’s a good one.

So is Franklin’s quote useless to us? I don’t think so. The point seems to be that trading liberty for security is a dangerous game. It’s a classic tactic of authoritarians everywhere; just give up this little bit of personal freedom, let me into your life just a little more, and you’ll be safe. It doesn’t typically end well. On the other hand, the balance we’ve struck isn’t necessarily the best one. Maybe it’s better that we give up a little more personal freedom for a little more security in these times. I don’t think so, but that’s just me.

What to make of the general tendency of liberals to want to give up more economic freedom for safety nets than conservatives, then? My less than fully thought out sense of it is that giving up economic freedom is less dangerous. When we’re talking about civil liberties, losing a certain right may mean serious punishment. Economically, you’re losing some money. Maybe it all averages out to be the same. I can’t say with certainty.

This isn’t to defend people who use that quote as Craig notes. If you use the assertion of an authority figure in place of an argument, you deserve even the most meaningless gotcha. I just thought there was an interesting difference of opinion underlying its use.

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Categories: Civil liberties
  1. December 17, 2007 at 12:05 pm

    I’m confused at the claim that creating an economic safety net inhibits economic freedom. Er, examples? IMHO, a safety net creates economic freedom.

  2. December 17, 2007 at 7:35 pm

    To pay for it you’re taking away other people’s money, whether they consent or not.

  3. December 18, 2007 at 10:07 am

    Er…but that happens anyways. Taxation is part of government. You’re not introducing any new restriction of freedom. It’s one that already exists. And a restriction of freedom that’s actually written into the Constitution.

    You’re also assuming that providing a social system means additional taxation, correct? That’s the conservative rhetoric anyway, an additional burden that throttles innovation or economic incentives to self-betterment. Not only are government budgets a matter of priority (e.g., we could have fixed Social Security into the next two centuries with the money we spent on Iraq), there’s no evidence that proves the latter claims. End corporate welfare, and fund the systems (like schooling) that promote economic egalitarianism. That promotes economic freedom without unduly threatening the goodie bags of the upper classes.

    In short, Craig’s comparison is simplistic and inaccurate.

  4. December 18, 2007 at 6:40 pm

    Er…but that happens anyways. Taxation is part of government. You’re not introducing any new restriction of freedom. It’s one that already exists. And a restriction of freedom that’s actually written into the Constitution.

    That’s not really relevant to my point. Taxation is a limitation on your freedom (which doesn’t automatically mean it’s bad). Its constitutionality isn’t what’s being discussed here. Note that I said warrants allow violations of my freedom, but they’re in the Constitution as well.

    You’re also assuming that providing a social system means additional taxation, correct? That’s the conservative rhetoric anyway, an additional burden that throttles innovation or economic incentives to self-betterment. Not only are government budgets a matter of priority (e.g., we could have fixed Social Security into the next two centuries with the money we spent on Iraq), there’s no evidence that proves the latter claims. End corporate welfare, and fund the systems (like schooling) that promote economic egalitarianism. That promotes economic freedom without unduly threatening the goodie bags of the upper classes.

    You’re assuming (for some reason) that I don’t think social programs are practically justified. That’s not the argument I’m making. I’m saying that to pay for social programs you will have to take people’s property, which is a restriction on how they use it. I do realize that the phrase “economic freedom” is somewhat ambiguous. You can say that we’re all better off with this restriction and that it actually increases a person’s ability to do what they want in life, which is a form of freedom. I’m inclined to agree with that, but that’s not the conception of economic freedom I’m using. I’m talking more about the freedom to do what you wish with your property, which is more closely related to civil liberties. In that sense, if two people are proportionally taxed, and allowed to spend their money otherwise, they’re equally free economically, even if one has more money after that taxation. The other conception is useful in other arguments, but the one I just described is more relevant here.

    I’m right there with you in believing that social safety net programs can have practical benefits that outweigh the negatives. That’s why I’m a liberal and I support those programs if the net result is positive. However, they do restrict what I can do with my property because they’re funded with taxes that I have to pay and because of that are a restriction on my freedom. That’s not conservative rhetoric, that’s just the truth. Conservatives have to make the argument that such restrictions are illegitimate or have adverse consequences. That’s where the disagreement comes in.

  5. Jay Stevens
    December 20, 2007 at 12:42 am

    I understand. I guess I just question the original analogy. Craig seems to equate the loss of an actual liberty with one that…well…we never had. I guess I also don’t think that taxes collected directly correlate to taxes spent. That is, there’s a legislative process in between that determines what to do with the revenue; the expenditure isn’t directly associated with the collection, or something.

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