Monday, June 10

In the shower this morning I began pondering the nature of freedom. One of the things that smacks you in the face moving from the US to England is the difference in how we perceive freedom. In my mind, the Brits are far less free where it really matters, and far more free where it doesn't. I could elaborate at great length I suppose, but it ultimately boils down to this: the US still seems to harbour some reverence for private property whereas the UK does not, (this matters), and the average Brit is not subjected to the huge volume of politically correct behaviour restrictions that the the average American has come to accept as normal, (this matters little).

But I digress.

What does it mean to be free?

To be free means I can do whatever I want to do and that I choose to do the right thing. Most folks stop with the first half of that sentence, but without the second half the first half is impossible. To the extent that people choose to do the wrong thing, to that same extent or greater they limit the ability of other people to do what they want. To illustrate, consider the following:

The 8th commandment tells us not to steal and the 10th tells us not to covet. These are the two sides of private property rights and responsibilities.

"Do not steal" is pretty clear, but to help my children understand it a little better, I have explained to them that anytime you use someone else's property without their permission, you are stealing. This includes not only those acts of outright physical theft, but also activities such as graffitti, plagiarism, and claiming that you are acting upon authority you have not been granted. "Do not covet" covers whatever "Do not steal" fails to cover as far as private property is concerned. Whereas stealing involves using someone else's property without their permission, coveting means depriving someone else of the use of their property without their permission, whether you gain use of it or not. In some ways, coveting is more reprehensible than stealing. We can have pity on the thief who takes from someone else to use for himself when he has need, but who is more contemptible than the person who destroys someone else's property just for the sheer thrill of destruction? Is this not the sin that so pricked the heart of St. Augustine? Some commentators have expressed wonder at Augustine's remorse for stealing and destroying his neighbour's fruit, but I think his horror at his actions was entirely justified.

Conduct a little thought experiment with me now and consider how much freer you would be if everyone in your community chose to obey those two commandments - "Do not steal" and "Do not covet".

If everyone in my community chose to obey these two laws, I would have no locks on my doors and no alarm on my house or car. I would therefore be free from worry about accidentally locking myself out of my own house. I would have more money to use as I saw fit rather than paying for expensive alarms and locks. I would have greater use of my own house, since things which I am now forced to store indoors or in the back garden could be safely left in the front garden. I could reduce my monthly insurance costs, since I wouldn't have to protect myself and my property from theft. It is possible that the amount of money saved by some people would enable them to spend more time with family and less time working wage jobs. And that could have a very beneficial ripple-through effect in the community.

Furthermore, my community would be much cleaner and much more attractive, since graffitti are litter and both forms of stealing/coveting. If these no longer existed, then my council tax could be lower as there would be far less need for public monies to be spent on clean-up. The police would be free to pursue other matters. Therefore police protection could be more thorough, if needed at all, or if not, general taxation levels could be reduced. Merchants would no longer have to devote a portion of their profits to security and expect a portion of their profits to be lost to employee theft. In other words, the only losers in such an environment are those who are determined to break the 8th and 10th commandments. Otherwise, everyone wins with such an arrangement.

Question: Am I missing something, or is this really as simple as it sounds?

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