How Little Freedom Do You Want?

I recommend a simple exercise in assessing policy proposals.

Imagine that the absolute freedom afforded under a government can be measured on a scale from zero to 100.  Here, zero represents total chaos, a complete absence of any controlling authority.  Zero is the pure distillation of the Hobbesian world where it is every man for himself.  The terrifying world depicted in The Road by Cormac McCarthy comes to mind as an example, since even the Lord of the Flies evolved a certain hierarchy of control and command.

Alternately, 100 is a world of total control.  The existence of black markets in North Korea keeps that government hovering around, let’s say, 95 or so.  In Orwell’s 1984 Winston Smith was able to wander out into the countryside for an illicit conversation.  A perfect 100 is almost unimaginable but the concept serves its purpose.

With that construct, here is the test.  Does a particular policy move the society closer to zero or closer to 100?  Moving one way or the other is not necessarily good or bad.  But, as on a scale, anything new will tip the balance one way or the other.  Be honest in your assessment.

Now that you have weighed the policy, here is the real exercise.  If you are a progressive, more correctly understood as a statist, or if you are a conservative, more correctly understood as a liberal (this is a whole other discussion), how far would you like to tip the scales in your favor?  That is, what is the score of your ideal government?

I pose the question because this is the single most mysterious element of Leftist political theory to me.

Most conservatives, I imagine, can articulate an ideal government.  For us, the U.S. Constitution is like manna from heaven – perfect in meeting all of our needs.  For arguments sake let’s say the Constitution represents a 25.  Likewise, most conservatives can articulate a preferred limit on government.  I for instance think no one should be subject to taxation of more than 10 percent of their income, others I know think 25 percent is a good limit.  Of course there are variations among members of the same political camp, but that is beside the point.  By and large, conservatives can provide markers for level of taxation, level of debt, spending as a ratio of GNP, and so forth.

(One caveat.  Folks on the Left often seem confused about the relationship and role of political conservatives and social conservatives.  This probably requires another article, but there is a huge chasm between the two.  The Neo-classical Liberals – political conservatives – and the Theological Conservatives – social conservatives – are able to make common cause because so many political conservatives are temperamentally socially conservative, that is, they personally live the lifestyle but restrain themselves from suggesting their personal mores apply to society.  Social conservatives are usually willing to use government to enact their recommendations, and thus, support some policies that would move the needle toward the statist end.)

Progressives are challenged to name the limit of their ideology.  Over the course of my twenty-year life in and around government, I have talked with many groups and individuals who want the government to do something more.   Raise taxes, raise the minimum wage, provide more funding to schools, hospitals, environmental causes and on and on.  The push is always for more.  I have often asked how much more, what is the limit, but never – not once – have I gotten an answer.  Always more.

This thirst for more is the most alarming aspect of the Left, and I believe, correctly frightens both the Right and the non-political.  Possibly no one wants to push the needle to 100, but there must be a limit.   Is it 60, or 70, or 80?  Progressives (and some social conservatives) must acknowledge that their policy remedies move from less freedom to more state.  Recognizing that the Left values equality more than freedom Leftists should not be ashamed of envisioning a world that is slightly less free.  All I want to know is, how much less free are you willing to accept?

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