‘It’s a free country’ is a commonplace but is it? Yes, you say, you can do what you want. Yet, on second thoughts how true is that expression in reality? As early as the 17th century, the Huron Indian chief Kondiaronk observed perceptively that we (not he or his people) live under the tyranny of money.
He was right of course. We are chained to it, governed by it; it rules our lives each day, each week for as long as we live. It is in the nature of our capitalist society and yet as we slave away and put something aside, we become the beneficiaries of an economic freedom our ancestors tied to a plough on someone else’s land, might have envied.
However, as the rate of return on capital is almost always greater than the economic growth rate, resulting in a magnifying inequality, one can definitively assert the capitalist system has embedded in it a persistent inequality. The poor put up with this inequity until it becomes unbearable and then politicians respond. Sometimes they might be deaf and we get revolutions — the French revolution best known for the guillotine, the Mexican revolution(s), even the American revolution.
Wars and such revolutions have overtaken most of the world from time to time: Russia, China, countries throughout Latin America to Africa and the Middle East. Chained by money, i.e. its lack of it to poverty the only way out when hunger is gnawing is to fight to be free of the system.
Smart economists at the World Bank and sundry think tanks have developed measures to quantify freedom and then rank countries.
If you live in the United States where its freedoms are often compared favorably with the adversary of the day when the US is on a military adventure — which is notably described as a mission to free the people there. Few note the fact that US success often leads to a worse dictator being installed than the previous one … but then now it’s “our dictator”.
Fighting for freedom across the world, where would you expect the US to be ranked? Surely #1, particularly for press freedom; in fact for the latter measure according to Reporters Without Borders, it is ranked #42 out of 180 countries. If it is any consolation, China ranks 175.
On incarceration rates, the World Prison Brief assigns the US a #1 rank, the UK is #115 and China beating both is #124. Is that a surprise? The measure used is the number of prisoners for every 100,000 people.
Finally, for overall freedom, the Freedom House rankings place the US at #61 and China, if it’s any consolation, at #184. Our neighbor to the north is ranked #5 leaving us in the dust. If Japan conveys the impression of a closed, restricted society, it is apparently not for its rank at #13 belies it. All the US allies in Western Europe are clearly ahead of the US also. Freedom House used 25 indicators derived from the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights to compute each country’s overall score.
“Irreverence is the champion of liberty and its only sure defense,” noted Mark Twain. If nothing else, it helps to endure the niggling rulers of bureaucracy we must encounter far too often in our lives.