EDITORIAL: Land of the free?

How are we doing, safeguarding those “unalienable Rights” with which we are “endowed by our Creator” — in support of which 56 patriots solemnly pledged their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor, 238 years ago?

We remain free by many measures. Americans can still pretty much live where we want, work where we want, drive where we want. For women and racial minorities, those liberties have actually expanded over the past 70 years, and same-sex couples have seen their rights grow rapidly in the past decade. We should all be proud of that.

Likewise, we should be proud that in just the past couple of weeks, the Supreme Court has handed down several rulings in favor of freedom — with regard to speech, religion, privacy and association. The decisions are evidence that our system is working, with courts stepping in and putting their foot down when the legislative and executive branches act to limit our liberties.

But the average Southern Nevadan can be excused for sensing that government now constricts like a boa around many of our remaining freedoms.

The cameras at every major intersection will only be used to spot traffic tie-ups, we’re assured.

Police helicopters fly circles over our homes, shining spotlights into our backyards at night. Now we’re told the very kinds of robot drones used to assassinate terrorists overseas will be used by domestic police agencies, as well, presumably checking to see if junior has some pot planted out back.

And if the past year has taught us anything, it’s that the federal government — very often its unelected officials — have no problem whatsoever separating us from our freedoms. The Internal Revenue Service, in trying to defend itself against charges it targeted conservative nonprofit groups, continues to operate as if laws only apply to taxpayers, not the bloated government agency that collects the taxes. How much freedom would we presume to have against an audit or worse if we told the taxman that we’d lost two years worth of our records? Don’t forget, this is the same IRS responsible for enforcing Obamacare regulations, through which we gain the “right” to see our neighbors taxed to pay for our health care, even if we choose to live on beer and Twinkies.

Instead of us watching our government, our government is watching us. The National Security Agency is far more informed about the U.S. citizenry than anyone could have imagined, as we learn more and more about last year’s revelations from Edward Snowden. All your phone calls, emails, web browsing habits and social media posts have a permanent home at a huge data collection site in Utah.

In the time preceding the Revolutionary War, one of the colonists’ complaints about King George was that he had “erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people, and eat out their substance.” That sounds familiar today, with the president bypassing Congress and instead using federal agencies to impose hugely burdensome regulations on businesses and the public.

Today’s politicians pretend there’s some mystery about why the American economy no longer produces enough jobs. What mystery? Americans are an entrepreneurial people. Many of today’s most successful corporations started as mom-and-pop operations, or with a couple of tinkerers building computers in a garage. As demand for a fledgling product or service grew, it used to be natural to set up a brick-and-mortar workplace and hire employees.

But talk to anyone who’s tried to set up such a business in recent years. It requires a wall full of licenses and permits, none of which come in a Cracker Jack box. The would-be businessman or businesswoman indeed faces “hither swarms” of regulators, inspectors and taxmen. And boatloads more regulations arrive once you dare open your shop and hire an employee. We’ve gone from the land of the free and the home of the brave to the land of nothing is worthwhile unless it can be taxed, regulated and mandated to near oblivion.

In fact, earlier this year, a joint study on economic freedom by The Wall Street Journal and the Heritage Foundation found the United States rates just 12th worldwide. The study ranks countries based on rule of law, limited government, regulatory efficiency and open market; Hong Kong rated No. 1, leading six countries considered “free.” Singapore, Australia, Switzerland, New Zealand and Canada rounded out the top six.

America wasn’t even rated “free,” instead settling for “mostly free,” behind a host of countries with no business batting ahead of us, including Chile, Mauritius, Ireland, Denmark and Estonia, which rated seventh through 11th, respectively. But hey, we beat Bahrain — barely.

In recent years, more freedom has been lost than gained in the United States, a result that surely was never the intention of the Founding Fathers. Yes, on this Fourth of July, there’s still more freedom to celebrate here than in most parts of the world, but to keep it that way — and better still, to expand it — we all should remember the words of Ronald Reagan: “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction.”

A version of this editorial originally appeared in the Las Vegas Review-Journal in 2012.


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