2012-05-03 / Sam Bari

Where did all the freedom go?


In 1938, composer Irving Berlin penned the introductory lyrics to “God Bless America.” Most people don’t know them.

“While the storm clouds gather far across the sea, “Let us swear allegiance to a land that’s free.”

“Swear allegiance to a land that’s free.” Those words are signifi cant. They represent the reasons for our forefathers fighting the Revolutionary War (1774-83), so we could be free from overt oppression by the British that included a long list of inequities.

The men and women who forged this country were insurgents. They put their lives on the line for our freedom.

The Declaration of Independence was signed on July 4, 1776. We have allegedly been “free” for nearly 236 years. But what have we done with that freedom? Are we still free – really?

Let’s take a look.

After the country was established, European immigrants flocked to America seeking adventure and easy wealth. They found adventure, but attaining wealth was not so easy. Nonetheless, those who were clever and persistent made enormous fortunes in the land of opportunity.

Unfortunately, the gap between the successful and the not so successful grew wide and deep. The land of the free turned into the land of the greedy, and “wealth at any cost” became a silent battle cry that is now unwritten American policy.

The hordes of the less successful were not to be denied. They did everything from engaging in illicit businesses to lobbying for a legislative path to a level playing field to give substance to their crusade.

Politicians, in their quest for power, championed the proletariat, promising to protect them from the elite that monopolized commerce and industry in exchange for votes. The battle between the “haves” and the “have-nots” continues to this day, and it has cost the nation the freedom that was so hard won when the nation was founded.

The United States has managed to attain the highest crime rate of any country in the world. We have more people incarcerated than any other nation. To demonstrate the absurdity of these statistics, let’s use India as an example of the dramatic differences between the U.S. and the rest of the planet.

India has a population of 1,170,980,000 at its last census. That’s nearly 1.2 billion people. Yet its crime rate is below average for the world. It has only 424,496 inmates in its prison system.

The U.S. population is slightly more than 308 million. We have 2,632,040 prisoners in our penal system. That is equal to one-quarter of the world’s inmates. The People’s Republic of China comes in second with 1.6 million prisoners, despite its population being over four times that of the United States.

The ratio of police to population in India is 1.3 per thousand. The ratio in the U.S. is 2.4 per thousand – nearly twice as high.

In 1950, the U.S. population was 152 million, less than half of what it is today. During the last 60 years, the crime rate, the number of police and prisoners, and the population, have all doubled.

Crime, and the business of deterring criminal activities, have become two of the nation’s largest and most profitable industries. Our economy would suffer severely if either failed. Those are frightening statistics.

What have we as a nation done to rectify this deplorable situation? We have given the police more power and established more regulatory agencies so criminals have difficulty operating.

The results are not encouraging. Police are now arresting people for loitering when they catch them using cellphones to video aggressive police tactics. The regulation of Wall Street has made the solicitation for investment so diffi cult, that many sound ideas will never see reality. Wall Street has become a more exclusive club for the wealthy because only the rich can afford to participate.

Our quest for equal opportunity and protection from perceived injustice has resulted in building prisons of regulation, incarceration, and legal suppression.

When I was a 12-year-old boy my father asked me if I knew the difference between right and wrong. I said, “Of course.” He said, “Then there won’t be any rules unless you give me reason to make them. If you conduct your life in a responsible manner, I will allow you the freedom to live as you wish.”

That freedom was precious to me. I feared losing it. Consequently, I never got into any trouble.

Maybe it’s because freedom is not as precious as it once was. When the idea of freedom becomes precious again, we might start on a path to getting it back.

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