Monday, February 23, 2009

Freedom & Responsibility

Viktor E. Frankl, an Austrian holocaust survivor, once said: "I recommend that the Statue of Liberty be supplemented by a Statue of Responsibility on the west coast." I've come to realize that with much freedom comes much responsibility. An environment in which one exists without equal parts of the other is not a wholesome environment, and is destined for failure.

Consider the stereotypical teenage rich girl whose parents lavish upon her every luxury. She has it all, wants for nothing, yet works for none of it. You know one of them, I'm sure (and maybe one of them was your sister growing up; not mine--because my sister reads this blog). They are generally wasteful, ungrateful and disrespectful. Responsibility doesn't enter into their vocabulary (remember Paris Hilton's DUI convinction--while driving her 3/4 million dollar Mercedes SLR McLaren--and subsequent citation for driving without a license?).

We see an excellent example of this in post-Katrina New Orleans. Thousands of homeowners who'd been unable to secure flood insurance on their property (with good reason; what insurance company would choose to insure a property situated on the coast, but below sea level?), were suddenly faces with demolished homes, and no means to rebuild. They chose to exercise their freedom--their right to own property--and purchased a home with no protection from what almost certain to be impending disaster. Yet, in steps the government, and absolves them of all responsibility. They've provided funding atop funding in the form of program after ineffective program to rebuild the homes of poor New Orleans homeowners. And what do we end up with? A bunch of rebuilt, un-insurable homes, in an area destined for disaster.

Innefficient by all accounts. Why? Because weve allowed freedom, but we've not required those with the freedom to take responsibility for how they exercise that freedom. We've allowed--in some cases even asked--the government to step in and be our insurance, often to protect us from our own stupidity. And in doing so, we have enabled further future stupid, and overwhelmingly irrational decisions--all of which detract from the overall value created in our economy.

Freedom without responsibility simply will not work.

Neither, though, will resposibility without freedom. Consider an environment in which you and are I forced to pay taxes, yet have no meaningful (and I mean meaningful) input into how those taxes are used. We bear the responsibility in that we pay, but we have no freedom (in that we have no say into the use of the funds).

Consider, then, the political climate today. It's widely acknowledged that we are in the midst of a severe economic decline. For all intents and purposes, we're in a recession. Some would indicate it has all the makings of a depression. We look around and see examples of individuals and businesses taking their personal freedoms to the extremes. Foreclosures due to borrowers buying beyond their means are rampant. Big businesses who lost sight of efficiency are in dire straights, and begging for help. Banks across the nation are broke--some literally going out of business.

Look across every front of this crisis, and a familiar face keeps popping up: personal freedoms used foolishly. In every case we can see someone who took advantage of their freedom without adequately weighing the cost in terms of their responsibilities. And when circumstances align, and the bottom drops out of so many different things at once, and responsibility rears it's ugly head calling for its due, what is our collective response?

In part, it's been an $800 billion bailout of big business and another nearly $800 billion in "economic stimulus" spending--including a great deal of money to help people who are losing their homes keep them.

And I read today that something like 60 percent of Americans favor this stimulus plan. It's proof positive that we Americans want all the freedom that comes with being American, but don't want to bear the responsibility that great freedom brings.

This, dear readers, is a dangerous place. The moment we ask to relinquish any measure of our great responsibility is the moment we are forced to hand over some of that precious freedom. It's appalling to me how short-sighted we Americans can be. Is our freedom really that valueless?

I, for one, am not content to relinquish any of my freedom. If that means that I'll have to bear the responsibility for each and every one of my decisions, so be it. Freedom is that precious, that important, and I'm ashamed that America is choosing time and again, the meager insurance that our pathetic government offers over the freedom that our forefathers envisioned as our birthright.

Yet we remain, as always, apathetic, sitting like the proverbial frog in the water as they ever so slowly turn up the heat.

It's time, I say, to leap. I leave you with this:

"...whenever any form of government becomes destructive to these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness."

-The United States Declaration of Independence

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