‘It’s a free country’ is commonplace but is it? Yes, you say, you can do whatever you want. However, on second thought, how true is that expression in reality? As far back as the 17th century, the Huron Indian chief Kondiaronk perceptively observed that we (not he and his people) live under the tyranny of money.
He was right, of course. We are chained to it, ruled by it; he rules our lives every day, every week as long as we live. It is in the nature of our capitalist society, and yet as we enslave ourselves and leave something behind, we become the beneficiaries of an economic freedom that our ancestors, tied to a plow on someone else’s land, could have. envied.
However, since the rate of return on capital is almost always greater than the rate of economic growth, resulting in increasing inequality, it can definitely be said that the capitalist system has embedded persistent inequality into it. The poor put up with this inequality until it becomes unbearable, and then the politicians respond. Sometimes they can be deaf and we have revolutions: the French revolution best known for the guillotine, the Mexican revolution(s), even the American revolution.
Wars and such revolutions have gripped most of the world from time to time: Russia, China, countries from Latin America to Africa and the Middle East. Chained by money, that is, its lack, to poverty, the only way out when hunger eats away is to fight to free themselves from the system.
Savvy economists at the World Bank and various think tanks have developed measures to quantify freedom and then rank countries.
If you live in the United States, where your freedoms often compare favorably to the adversary of the day the United States is on a military adventure, which is remarkably described as a mission to free the people there. Few take notice of the fact that US success often leads to the installation of a worse dictator than the last…but now he is “our dictator”.
Fighting for freedom around the world, where would you expect the US to rank? Surely the number 1, in particular for the freedom of the press; in fact, by the last measure according to Reporters Without Borders, it ranks 42nd out of 180 countries. If it’s any consolation, China ranks 175th.
When it comes to incarceration rates, the World Prison Brief ranks the US at #1, the UK at #115, and China beating both at #124. Is that a surprise? The measure used is the number of prisoners per 100,000 people.
Finally, for overall freedom, the Freedom House rankings put the US at #61 and China, if it’s any consolation, at #184. Our neighbor to the north ranks #5, leaving us in the dust. . If Japan conveys the impression of a closed and restricted society, apparently it is not because her 13th place ranking belies it. All US allies in Western Europe are also clearly ahead of the US Freedom House used 25 indicators derived from the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights to calculate each country’s overall score.
“Irreverence is the champion of liberty and its only sure defence,” Mark Twain noted. If nothing else, it helps to put up with the pesky bureaucratic rulers that we must encounter all too often in our lives.