24th July 2010
Is US still a beacon of liberty in the world? A lot of people believe it is no longer free (or free enough). Since this debate occurs so frequently, I'm extracting from a recent Facebook discussion and an article I recently wrote for Freedom First (to be published on 1 August), to illustrate the position I have formed regarding liberty in USA – even as I believe that India should go well beyond its levels of freedom.
Patriot Act and the 'end of liberty' in USA
A Facebook friend suggested that USA is no longer free, arguing thus: "The reason I signal out "The Patriot Act" is because of many basic violations of civil liberties and norms of democracy. It was passed within 45 days after 9/11 with not an ounce of debate. This act treats all it's citizens as suspects there by creating a new standard "Guilty until proven Innocent". Neither the opposition nor the so called liberal media dare appose it. In theory the US authorities can legally tap conversations of Journalists, Opposition Politicians and even innocent civilians. Some of the measures are so powerful that they will not pass even the Indian parliamentary system. US is no more the land of the free. It has become the land of the paranoid, the recent Arizona law requiring all immigrants to carry documents with them at all times is a good case in point."
In response I suggest that while I agree (in principle) with such concerns, the Patriot Act is nothing. Try living in India where you can be liquidated without trace by the police. 'Encounters' with 'terrorists' are rife. If perfect liberty is 10 then US is at 8 and India is at 2. That's the issue. All relative. Yes, US is not perfect, but where are we!
Note, also, that no believer in liberty can tolerate anyone from within the nation colluding with others to declare war on the nation from within. Under circumstances of war, civil liberty must always rank second. There is no obligation for the USA to give Al Qaeda activists civil liberties on par with those enjoyed by the rest of its citizens. And yes, while theoretically, while "the US authorities can legally tap conversations of Journalists, Opposition Politicians and even innocent civilians", is this law put in practice in that manner? How many innocents have been tapped or arrested? Note that whatever happens in USA is authorised by the delegated of the people under a system of laws. If the people of USA, through their law makers, chose to enact the Patriot Act, and the circumstances were such that at least a case can be made for such action, then I have no reason to dilute my belief that the USA continues to be a free nation.
We must also take a lesson in liberty from the US which has ruled out the criminalisation of flag burning. In 2006, an amendment to the US Constitution was proposed by someone to prohibit flag burning. But the US Senate rejected this amendment. Senator Daniel K. Inouye, who lost an arm in World War II, fighting for USA, said that flag burning ‘is obscene, painful and unpatriotic’, … ‘[b]ut I believe Americans gave their lives in the many wars to make certain that all Americans have a right to express themselves – even those who harbor hateful thoughts.’
Such unequivocal commitment to freedom is what America teaches us. Our heart goes out to America for clarifying the standard of liberty even on such an evocative issue. Hundreds of its own soldiers die in wars to protect the American flag, but these very same soldiers insist on defending the right of their fellowmen to burn that flag. That is why they fight. For freedom. The true flag we must fight for is the flag of freedom.
Yes, liberty in USA is on the decline
There is no doubt that the USA can do better. I have myself criticised its unfair treatment of Vikram Buddhi (see my blog post on the subject). I have also criticised its financial system which is almost nationalised, statist, and badly regulated, as well as its monetary system which includes a central bank that deliberately distorts the price of money (see my blog post here).
I also see the acceleration of the decline in liberty in the USA through the political victories of Keynesians and social democrats who believe in the welfare state and protectionism. It is becoming moribund, uncompetitive, and fretful, unable to lead the world unequivocally to the higher realms of liberty. It has lost its way. Its government, armed forces, and intelligence agencies increasingly display significant incompetence. In choosing philosophies that oppose freedom, the USA is becoming its own enemy. It will, in my view, if it continues down this path and if, simultaneously, countries like India seriously raise their own level of liberty, severely decline in relative terms to the rest of the world. This is a turning point for the USA, and it is not defending liberty as it should.
It is, in consequence, no longer the people magnet it was a few decades ago. The smartest Indians were ALL (or almost all) found in the USA at one time. That rush to migrate to the USA has subsided in India, even as India has increased its own levels of freedom and increased economic opportunities within the nation. Despite all this, the USA still remains, sufficiently free in my view to rank as the largest free nation on earth. Yes, there are other countries similarly free, but none as large, complex, and difficult to govern. So let's learn from the USA and take from it what is good, rejecting the bad.
Those who think US is not good enough are obliged to create something better
Indians who raise concerns about liberty in US can't just pat themselves on the back at the first sign of American shortcomings. They must do better. Note that the US model is NOT what I advocate for India, but a much higher standard of liberty. Read Breaking Free of Nehru. Read The Disovery of Freedom (early draft). I want India to be the world's greatest beacon of liberty, not a cesspool of corruption, misgovernance, and police killings of the innocent.
If you are concerned about liberty then it is time for YOU to do something to increase liberty in India. Are you a Freedom Partner? If not then join up right away! Join the Freedom Team. And write your theses on liberty and publish your books and blogs on liberty. That's the only way out for us, not bothering so much about those who may be imperfect but still remain heaps better than India.