Strapping on the safety belt, throwing the key fob onto the passenger seat, pressing the "start" switch, and listening to over six hundred horses wake up, and pull me out of my suburban dwelling and onto the highway . . . what could be a better way to launch a Sunday morning? I might, maybe, have mentioned, ahem, somewhere that I own and love a Corvette. It is more than a car. It is a symbol of American brashness, willingness to live large, and, above all, of freedom. It is a totally impractical car, good for only one thing: speed. Open the windows and drive like hell in the early morning hours . . . nothing else quite like it.
Driving that magnificent beast, my thoughts, when not about the Highway Patrol, turn to freedom. I find it amazing that as we get deeper and deeper into our presidential campaign that's the one topic that does not come up very frequently. We hear, as we should, about the faltering economy and our ballooning debt, and some about China, the Iranian threat, and even, on occasion, about the impending collapse of the mad European neo-imperial experiment. We don't hear about freedom very often. For me that's what's most at stake. It is something the Tea Party touched upon indirectly with its concern over the growing power of the Federal government to tax and spend us into oblivion, but it is not something that is really the core of anybody's message.
Let me pick on our European friends a bit. I love economics and have immersed myself in the minutia of Europe's crisis. I have been reading all the commentaries and studies on the crisis that I can as they spill out from Italian, Portuguese, Spanish, French, and British politicians, pundits, "thinkers," bankers, labor leaders, bureaucrats, academics, and journalists. It is all pretty depressing, especially since the crisis is one that was avoidable and foreseeable. Even a non-genius, e.g., me, could see it coming. My many visits to Europe in recent years always left me thinking, "This ain't real." Except in Germany, I could not see how and what was generating the apparently vast wealth and high living standards of the Continent. What exactly did the French, Italians, Spaniards, Greek, and Portuguese do that could explain the amazing new airports, highways, seaports, train stations, pedestrian zones, and restored town centers? How could they afford six-week vacations, weekend shopping jaunts in New York and Miami, not to mention the fabulous public benefit schemes that allowed prosperous early retirement, free schooling, free medical care, and great unemployment benefits? As I have written before, it was largely a con game run with German money and cooked bookkeeping. It is a con game that has now run its course--but the fake prosperity has produced real bills to pay.
There, however, is a more fundamental issue than just a Ponzi scheme or a three-card monte game that relies on the Germans, in the end, to pay for the party. It was all made possible by citizens surrendering their freedom. They gave away the angst, the worry, the drama, the agony, and the joy and pride of self-reliance. They gave it away to politicians and ideologues who promised, "We will take care of you. Worry about nothing. Relax. Take another week off." Europeans allowed, first, their own governments to grow and absorb the nation's wealth and assume control over their lives, then those governments created the Frankenstein's monster known as the EU with its magic Euro and all-encompassing regulations and edicts that would lead all to an American-free Utopia.
Read, for example, the good piece by British commentator Ambrose Evans-Pritchard (Note: Don't Brits have the best names?) who examines the crisis in Spain. It is a competent and interesting technical analysis. Evans-Pritchard, and most of the other analysts, can dazzle you with mastery of the alphabet soup of agencies that did this or that with interest rates, reserve requirements, bail-outs, etc. The real problem, however, is not that the unelected, unaccountable, and faceless bureaucrats who run those agencies did those things, it is that they had the power to do them. They interfered constantly, repeatedly, and massively in the workings of the market; they sought to determine the shape and outcomes of that market; they had tremendous power over the lives of individuals. They sought to avoid what Alfred Kahn called the "tyranny of small decisions." They would determine the economic lives of individuals; they did not trust individuals to make their own decisions and live with the consequences of those decisions. Now individuals, instead, must live with the adverse consequences of the foolish and destructive decisions taken on "their" behalf by politicians and over-paid bureaucrats who have created an irrational and ultimately unsustainable economic system.
Europeans gave up their individual freedoms, along with the risks and headaches they bring, in exchange for "safety" and "warmth." Now they find themselves chained and leashed and their masters unable to provide that "safety" and "warmth." We see the same threat to freedom underway here in the USA. The power of the government over our lives is growing with no end in sight. Bureaucrats reach into our pockets in uncountable ways, tell us to which schools we can send our children, what we can say and where, how much we can donate to candidates, the interest rates we pay, and on and on. Prosecutors and cops are increasingly out of control; an eager-beaver district attorney can indict almost any of us on just about any spurious charge imaginable, think Duke Lacrosse, and destroy our reputations and our finances. We can even go to jail for "hate" speech. Outrageous.
The core of our freedoms reside in the first two amendments to our Constitution. The right to say and believe what we want, to assemble and seek redress, and to defend ourselves from physical attack are the essence of freedom. Everything else is gravy or icing, depending on which food group you prefer. If we give up those two freedoms, then we risk becoming Europe and allowing the modern-day Frankenstein monsters that have made life in Europe intolerable and threaten to do the same here.
Well, I still have my Corvette . . . for now, anyhow, until they make me trade it in for a Volt, a Prius or some stupid SMART car . . .