The Decline of Freedom
By David Henderson
In the January 23, 2010, Los Angeles Times crossword puzzle, one of the clues was “Sassy reply to criticism.” The answer: “It’s a free country.” Why do I find this so striking? For two reasons. First, when I grew up in the 1950s and 1960s, not many people around me considered that a sassy reply. When I used the line, it was shorthand for, “I have rights; maybe this isn’t the best decision, but I have the right to make my own mistakes.” Second, almost no one uses that line any more. Why? I think it’s because, if only subconsciously, most people recognize that in some important ways, freedom in the United States has declined.
This is from “Forgotten Lines,” my latest article in the Freeman. There was recent discussion of the issue of whether freedom has increased or decreased, spurred by a piece by David Boaz. I write further:
But many of life’s daily restrictions on freedom are much more recent. If you go to a restaurant, chances are that it’s one in which a state or local government has banned smoking. In my city of Pacific Grove, California, people can’t buy food at a Taco Bell or a Burger King because the city council decided a few years ago not to let those chains in. The government of New York City banned certain kinds of fats in meals, thus reducing the freedom of producers and consumers who want to produce or consume those fats. If you want to travel by air, the government insists that you get permission from a TSA employee, and to get that permission you must submit to a body search and, maybe soon, an X-ray so that a government employee can see your naked body. And don’t dare make fun of that government employee or you might go to jail.
My bottom line about whether freedom has increased or decreased:
But notice that most of the gain in freedom started in the late 1960s and concluded by the mid-1980s. Since then, most of the changes have been toward less freedom.