Americans Feel Less Free—And They're Right!

CryAnders Ljungberg/FoterOver the past eight years, the share of Americans who feel satisfied with the amount of freedom in their lives has plummeted from 91 percent to 79 percent, according to a Gallup survey. That may explain earlier polling that found widespread perception that the government itself is the largest problem facing the United States.

Public dissatisfaction may also reflect the reality that the country's international rankings in areas including economic freedom, Internet freedom, and press freedom have slipped dramatically in recent years. People feel less free because they are less free.

Satisfaction with freedomGallup

According to the Gallup write-up:

Fewer Americans are satisfied with the freedom to choose what they do with their lives compared with seven years ago -- dropping 12 percentage points from 91% in 2006 to 79% in 2013. In that same period, the percentage of Americans dissatisfied with the freedom to choose what they do with their lives more than doubled, from 9% to 21%.

Gallup asks people in more than 120 countries each year whether they are satisfied or dissatisfied with the freedom to choose what they do with their lives. In 2006, the U.S. ranked among the highest in the world for people reporting satisfaction with their level of freedom. After seven years and a 12-point decline, the U.S. no longer makes the top quartile worldwide.

At 94 percent and 93 percent respectively, New Zealand and Australia rank at the top in terms of public satisfaction with the freedom to choose what they do with their lives. Australia also ranks third and New Zealand fifth on the Index of Economic Freedom, while the U.S. comes in at 12.

According to the 2014 entry for the United States at the Index of Economic Freedom, "The U.S. is the only country to have recorded a loss of economic freedom each of the past seven years. The overall U.S. score decline from 1995 to 2014 is 1.2 points, the fourth worst drop among advanced economies."

The Fraser Institute's Economic Freedom of the World: 2013 Annual Report (PDF) is even tougher, noting that the U.S. slid from third to 19th from 2000 to 2011. While there was widespread slippage, the biggest problem, noted the report, was with eroding government respect for legal systems and property rights.

Largely because of revelations of U.S. government surveillance of the world at large and Americans at home, Freedom House's Freedom on the Net 2013 dropped this country's ranking on Internet freedom from 12 to 17 last year.

Press freedom has also taken a hit. Last year, the Committee to Protect Journalists cautioned:

U.S. President Barack Obama came into office pledging open government, but he has fallen short of his promise. Journalists and transparency advocates say the White House curbs routine disclosure of information and deploys its own media to evade scrutiny by the press. Aggressive prosecution of leakers of classified information and broad electronic surveillance programs deter government sources from speaking to journalists.

Then, early in 2014, the U.S. slipped 13 places on the World Press Freedom Index, compiled by Reporters Without Borders. The group cautioned that "increased efforts to track down whistleblowers and the sources of leaks...were warnings to all those thinking of assisting in the disclosure of sensitive information that would clearly be in the public interest."

If Americans are increasingly dissatisfied with the freedom in their lives, it may well be because, in many ways, government respect for freedom is slipping away.

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  • Rich||

    But they feel *safer*, right? RIGHT?!

  • Rob||

    Speaking only for myself, no.

  • Heroic Mulatto||

    Yes, but do all define "freedom" in the same way? For all too many, "freedom" means freedom from consequences of one's actions. For others it means the that risable notion of FDR's, "freedom from want".

  • Free Society||

    A freedom to violate the rights of others, isn't freedom at all. Positive freedom/liberties/rights implies the right of everyone to enslave everyone else. It's so logically inconsistent only a progressive could think of it as valid morality and then call it 'freedom'.

  • sarcasmic||

    The other day Tony said he loves liberty. But he has a much more enlightened understanding of liberty than we do. You see, things like illnesses and death at childbirth can affect our liberty. Government can use coercion to save us from those things, and enhance our liberty in the process. Thus government coercion is liberty. So liberty is freedom from coercion as well as freedom to coerce! Just as not taking is giving and not giving is taking! Anything can mean what it means as well as the opposite of what it means! Doublethink for the win!

  • Free Society||

    These people don't understand that the concept of 'freedom' is entirely about people's interactions with other people. It has nothing to do with people's interactions with the laws of nature or their individual circumstances in life.

  • sarcasmic||

    Sometimes I wonder if they do understand, but don't like it. I mean, force can be an effective tool. It can get things done. That's why they twist around the meanings of things like liberty and justice, because it allows them to justify initiating force to get what they like. Then it all becomes a matter of personal preference (principal), not principle.

  • DenverJay||

    The other day Tony said he loves liberty. But he has a much more enlightened understanding of liberty than we do. You see, things like illnesses and death at childbirth can affect our liberty. Government can use coercion to save us from those things, and enhance our liberty in the process. Thus government coercion is liberty. So liberty is freedom from coercion as well as freedom to coerce! Just as not taking is giving and not giving is taking! Anything can mean what it means as well as the opposite of what it means! Doublethink for the win!

    Of course! For did not the prophet tell us that in those days men will know "War is peace. Freedom is slavery. Ignorance is strength."?

  • Rob||

    Not all positive rights are bad. Public safety is the obvious one. That terrible things are done in the name of public safety doesn't make it less of a "good" positive right.

    I know you weren't arguing against public safety; I just wanted to put the distinction out there before someone ran with your loosely defined criticism.

  • sarcasmic||

    Define public safety.

  • Ken Shultz||

    I define public safety as a qualitative preference for low numbers over a qualitative preference for freedom.

  • Rob||

    This might be a first for these boards, but I don't know.

    I could provide you with some sophomoric interpretation of Robert Nozick's Anarchy, State, and Utopia but I think his work deserves better than that.

  • Free Society||

    I think Robert Nozick is kind of sophomoric himself. He equates income taxes to slavery instead of theft. Which may seem a trivial distinction, but since his books are ones assigned to Harvard undergrads to get their exposure to libertarianism/anarchy, I must say it muddies the waters. Progressives and socialists hoist his less than superdooper arguments up as the archetypal libertarian positions which basically forces me to refute an unending slew of strawman arguments.

  • Free Society||

    Not all positive rights are bad. Public safety is the obvious one. That terrible things are done in the name of public safety doesn't make it less of a "good" positive right.

    So you have a right to "public safety"? Ergo you have a right to force others to provide you with a desirable good or service. Aside from things like parenting, which is a result of individual choices for which they alone are responsible, no one has a right to the labor, resources or skills of other people.

  • sarcasmic||

    If every person has the right to defend even by force — his person, his liberty, and his property, then it follows that a group of men have the right to organize and support a common force to protect these rights constantly. Thus the principle of collective right — its reason for existing, its lawfulness — is based on individual right. And the common force that protects this collective right cannot logically have any other purpose or any other mission than that for which it acts as a substitute. Thus, since an individual cannot lawfully use force against the person, liberty, or property of another individual, then the common force — for the same reason — cannot lawfully be used to destroy the person, liberty, or property of individuals or groups.
    -Bastiat

    That's the theory anyway. In practice it never works out that way.

  • Free Society||

    That's all well and good but described above is a voluntary association, a mutual aid society. An institution for organized defense does not necessarily assume compulsory membership or a 'right' to it's protection aside from any rights conferred by contractual obligation.

  • Free Society||

    Thus, since an individual cannot lawfully use force against the person, liberty, or property of another individual, then the common force — for the same reason — cannot lawfully be used to destroy the person, liberty, or property of individuals or groups.

    This bit here is something I'm harping on all the time. If it's illegitimate for an individual to rob, kidnap, maim or kill you without just cause, then it's illegitimate when a group of individuals supposedly representing some 'common good', commits these acts without just cause. This is the logical inconsistency that invalidates statism as a moral institution.

  • sarcasmic||

    This is the logical inconsistency that invalidates statism as a moral institution.

    Not really. If the law was limited, and the government actually followed it, then it wouldn't be invalid. The problem is that the law is not limited and the government ignores it. Just like economics, it comes down to incentives. There is no incentive to repeal bad legislation and regulation. The result of this accumulation of rules is some rule backed by force for every minutiae of daily life. That's the path to totalitarianism. Now if only we had something like a Supreme Court that would judge legislation based upon some charter document like a constitution...

  • Free Society||

    Not really. If the law was limited, and the government actually followed it, then it wouldn't be invalid.

    If I don't have a right to extort money from you on pain of imprisonment, property theft and death then neither does a group claiming to do so on the basis of a fictitious social contract.

  • Free Society||

    Or would my behavior be permissible if I declare my own statutes regulating my own behavior and enforced against me by my own self?

  • sarcasmic||

    If I don't have a right to extort money from you on pain of imprisonment, property theft and death then neither does a group claiming to do so on the basis of a fictitious social contract.

    In principle I agree, but like Ben Franklin said “Nothing is certain except for death and taxes.” Meaning that a gang of men using organized violence as a license to steal is as unavoidable as death. So it's best to focus on limiting their power if possible. Because you can't make them go away. Sorry, but reality is non-negotiable.

  • Free Society||

    In principle I agree, but like Ben Franklin said “Nothing is certain except for death and taxes.” Meaning that a gang of men using organized violence as a license to steal is as unavoidable as death. So it's best to focus on limiting their power if possible. Because you can't make them go away. Sorry, but reality is non-negotiable.

    However accurate that quip may or may not have seemed in the past, it's an unproven assertion and an unnecessary assumption going forward. The open practice of slavery was once thought of as an innately inescapable fact of reality, but in 2014 there's scarcely a man in the civilized world who doesn't recognize the injustice of it.

    I believe people now, are more moral, that is they have a better understanding of universally applicable and logically consistent morality, than was the case historically. If that trend continues, political institutions of aggression will go the way of other formerly 'non-negotiable' facts of reality.

  • Rob||

    As I mentioned above I can't articulately define public safety. I was primarily thinking of community safety - basic police and fire services. I wasn't hinting at a deeper discussion of comprehensive safety and social contracts. That discussion would need to start with a framework of laws protecting individuals, their property, and their negative rights (e.g., a right to free speech, or self defense).

    I agree with a lot of what is above especially limiting the power of those with authority. Force should not be used indiscriminately, but there are times when force is needed to prevent greater harm. I'm specifically referring to cases where violence is happening now, or there is an imminent threat of violence.

    Each person has a fundamental right to not have their property damaged or stolen, or be targets of violence. Public safety means having people ready to be called upon in service of the community should the need arise. And yes, I do believe limited use of force to defend life and property is a legitimate role of government.

    One last comment just in case I was not clear. Public safety is not a paramilitary force, not officer's rolling around in military grade armored vehicles designed to withstand rocket propelled grenades, and sure as fuck not guys in body armor, wielding automatic weapons, kicking in doors during the middle of the night because they saw someone buy a dime-bag earlier in the day.

  • Free Society||

    Public safety means having people ready to be called upon in service of the community should the need arise. And yes, I do believe limited use of force to defend life and property is a legitimate role of government.

    I assure you that forcing others at gun point to contribute to your protection is not the definition of public safety. There is no right or moral obligation to force others to provide you with desirable things, evenly highly desirable things like the protection of law. I think there is enough demand for the protection of rights that a market based solution is possible, the current monopoly system hasn't been all that good about protecting rights.

  • Rob||

    Apparently I failed the libertarian litmus test.

    Public safety is, well, a public good. As such it suffers from a few problems which a free market struggles to deal with. The main problem here is free riders. Do you charge some people to cover all people? If yes, the situation isn't dissimilar to current tax schemes which use property taxes to pay for public services. Wealthier households carry a proportionally larger share of the tax burden. Considering they have larger potential losses this might not be a bad situation. If you say no, how does that work? Non-payers can't call 911? The fire department will hose down neighbors' homes while while the non-payer's home burns? That doesn't strike me as an ideal arrangement. Even if a non-payer can't call 911 police coverage will still benefit the whole community. Free riders are going to rankle people who do pay for the service.

    I think everyone needs to pull some freight when it comes to public services. Even though I loathe taxes it is a convenient way to pay for public goods like police and fire services. I really want there to be a way where the free market could take over these services, but unfortunately a purely free market approach doesn't strike me as reasonable or workable. I want you to change my mind, but you need to show me a system that addresses the free rider problem without simply casting them aside.

  • Free Society||

    Public safety is, well, a public good.

    So public safety is a public good because 'public' is in it's name? Because it's certainly not self-evident. Air is a public good. The ocean is a (mostly) public good. The protection of law and law enforcement is a service by any objective standard. The labor of other people is NOT a public good, it's just that simple.

    Do you charge some people to cover all people?

    No, not unless there were some voluntary association or organization providing the service freely to those who can't afford it.

    The fire department will hose down neighbors' homes while while the non-payer's home burns?

    Does a person have the right to point a gun at their neighbor, or at the fireman to force them to provide for his fire protection?

    That doesn't strike me as an ideal arrangement. Even if a non-payer can't call 911 police coverage will still benefit the whole community.

    So that arrangement isn't preferable to you but alas preferences are not a valid basis to violate the rights of others. And if police protection benefits a whole community, and I agree, then it's perfectly foreseeable that a charity organization or mutual aid society would finance such a thing without coercion. The free rider problem isn't solved with extortion, kidnapping and murder.

  • Free Society||

    Making people bear the cost of their choices is the best way to eliminate the free-rider issue.

    I want you to change my mind, but you need to show me a system that addresses the free rider problem without simply casting them aside.

    And I'd love to convince you. First and foremost we must differentiate morality from immorality. Using aggression to make the provision of services more convenient, is thoroughly immoral and as such, makes it also thoroughly inefficient.

    give me your email and I'd love to try my hand at convincing you in better detail and I can field your questions more easily.

  • Rob||

    I'm not interested in continuing this discussion much further, and certainly not through email. I think we hold mutually exclusive concepts of government. I'm a minarchist and believe a minimal state organization is both necessary and inevitable. I don't see where we would have any common ground on this issue and further discussion is not likely to be productive.

  • Free Society||

    I was a minarchist too, until I let go of the unnecessary assumptions that go with statism. Logically consistent morality leads to a truly free and wealthy society, and too be logically consistent you have to drop all those moral exemptions we are taught to grant exercisers of state power.

    I know you're a statist and all, but no common ground, seriously? Sounds like you don't know what anarhco-capitalism is if that's your position. You certainly weren't sincere about having an open mind on the subject. Best regards.

  • Rob||

    You certainly are a pretentious and pedantic twit aren't you. I don't tow the An-Cap line... that means I'm a statist. Burn the witch! You're just as tribe oriented as any run-of-the-mill democrat or republican.

    I do have an open mind, but when I gave you the opportunity to try and convince me that public safety could be managed without resorting to taxation. You offered up nothing about how such a system would work.

  • Free Society||

    ou certainly are a pretentious and pedantic twit aren't you...You're just as tribe oriented as any run-of-the-mill democrat or republican.

    At least I don't reflexively rely on ad hominem to make arguments.

    I don't tow the An-Cap line... that means I'm a statist.

    You support the existence of a state, that makes you a statist. It's pretty simple and uncontroversial, unless you've unilaterally redefined the term to your benefit.

    I do have an open mind, but when I gave you the opportunity to try and convince me that public safety could be managed without resorting to taxation. You offered up nothing about how such a system would work.

    We didn't get past the morality arguments because you started name calling and let your emotions cripple your willingness to engage in a meaningful discussion. There's many ways to order a society aside from the statist model you favor. I'd be happy to discuss that with you when you're done being childish.

  • Cdr Lytton||

    If you can't have or do anything, then you don't have to worry about wanting, amirite?

    2Chili- no Iron Eyes Cody for the first picture? I am sad.

  • Ken Shultz||

    "According to the 2014 entry for the United States at the Index of Economic Freedom, "The U.S. is the only country to have recorded a loss of economic freedom each of the past seven years."

    The whole point of progressive politics is to use the government to force people to give up their individual freedom for the sake of the common good.

    The progressives see this trend as a good thing. It means Obama is doing a good job. Economic freedom is an evil to them--and it needs to be stamped out.

    The fastest way to infuriate a progressive with the least amount of effort is to respond to them by looking them in the eye and saying, "I am not here for your benefit".

  • EDG reppin' LBC||

    My body, my choice!

  • Ken Shultz||

    Unless you want to drink sugary soda or smoke.

  • antisocial-ist||

    Or trade the labor of that body for money.

  • Free Society||

    Or to needlessly amputate one's own appendages.

  • Free Society||

    Or is that kosher?

  • DenverJay||

    Well, if you are a pig, and someone eats the amputated part, then I don't think it would be Kosher (or Halal). But I'm not Jewish or Muslim, nor did I sleep at a Red Roof Inn last night.

  • Free Society||

    What if you circumcise the pig?

  • gaoxiaen||

    Not if you have ever sodomized it.

  • Homple||

    The whole point of progressive politics is to use the government to force people to give up their individual freedom for the sake of [what they decide is] the common good.

    It always turns out that for the uncommon folks who run the government, things are quite a bit gooder than for the governed.

  • Ken Shultz||

    Yeah, they're often totally wrong about what's really in our common best interests--and Adam Smith's observations about individuals pursuing their own interests tends to be what's best for the group as a whole is completely lost on them...

    That this idea is central to evolution is completely lost on them, too--you can tell because they'll make fun of creationists out of one side of their mouths even while insisting that economic progress is impossible without a central creator God plan out of the other.

  • sarcasmic||

    I've noticed that as well.

    They are quick to mock anyone who questions evolution, while at the same time openly mocking anyone who questions government's role as the god and creator of society. Emergent order to them is like evolution to a creationist.

    Then again, these are people who generally oppose the death penalty while demanding free abortions for all.

    They're not logically consistent in any way.

  • toolkien||

    Being against the death penalty (for some) is against the idea that the government, which is detestable, can decide to take a life. An entity that can't deliver mail shouldn't be the same entity that decides the ultimate punishment. This philosophy certainly can be tested when crimes so shocking are committed, but it stands that I'd rather put a butcher in a cage than kill an innocent person.

    As far as abortion, I don't favor the practice, but I am anti-anti-choice instead of pro-choice (and all the derp that tends to come with it).

    The commonality is the least amount of collective coercive Force in either case. The fetus is the Mother's "property", to be crude in some people's view, but it stands that I don't want to Force another individual to carry a fetus to term if she doesn't want to. I don't want to be Forced to pay for it, not do I wish to have to pay for pre-natal care in another circumstance. Nor do I want children born to capitalize on maximizing welfare. In the end, the moral and economic decision to bring a fetus to term is the mother's choice before birth. If it too much of a "bright line", we have all sorts of bright lines, I just prefer the lines require the least amount of Force to balance out interests and disinterests.

  • EDG reppin' LBC||

    You monster!!! Why do you hate children?!?

  • sarcasmic||

    They oppose the death penalty because *gasp* someone who is innocent might be put to death. Well, every one of those dead fetuses is innocent.

    That said, I too am anti-anti-choice, only because prohibition makes things worse. Just as my opposition to drug prohibition is not an endorsement of drug use, my opposition to abortion prohibition is not an endorsement of the practice.

  • Ken Shultz||

    The primary reason why many progressives oppose the death penalty is because they think the social conservatives are in favor of it.

  • sarcasmic||

    That's dumb. And probably correct.

  • MiloMinderbinder||

    Well of course I am less free. Now my employer can impose their religious beliefs upon me (and others) and prevent access to birth control.

  • Ken Shultz||

    You can still buy birth control.

    You just can't impose your religious beliefs on your employer.

    I know progressives say that corporations aren't people, but I've been the employee of a corporation, I've been management, I've been a customer of a corporation, I've even been the owner of a corporation--and I swear, I felt like a "people" the whole time!

    ...and as a "people", I'm sure I have rights and freedoms just like everybody else. Don't progressives believe in equal protection?

    No, I don't suppose they do.

  • Rob||

    Sarcasm or derp? I can't tell. Can I get a ruling from the judges?

  • Libertarian||

    Sarcasm. My Sarcasm and Irony meters got pegged a long time ago, so I can't blame you for not knowing.

  • CatoTheElder||

    The doublethink of the modern progressive movement makes it impossible to determine whether a patently ridiculous statement is sarcasm or derp.

  • Libertarian||

    I wish I could find the link again but I can't. I read not too long ago about how we Americans are always bragging about our free-wheeling, freedom-loving ways yet our compliance with the income tax is the highest or one of the highest in the world.

  • Ken Shultz||

    And someone should point out that we have the highest incarceration rate in the world--by far.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/L.....12_map.png

    How can "The Land of the Free" have the highest incarceration rate in the world?

    Australia and New Zealand have an incarceration rate that's one-fifth and one-quarter of ours, respectively.

  • Free Society||

    To be fair, we have a totally justifiable drug war to fight and a government that desperately needs more arbitrary power over it's tax cattle, so of course we need to jail more people than Stalin's gulags. Duh.

  • Free Society||

    I assume it's because of a mix of the relatively high levels of nationalism and that our government is more willing than most to use the weight of the political system to crush us over taxation compliance.

  • Free Society||

    If Americans are increasingly dissatisfied with the freedom in their lives, it may well be because, in many ways, government respect for freedom is slipping away.

    The people's respect for freedom is slipping away. The government has seen to that with a few generations of pervasive indoctrination. It's a sociopathic organization financed by mass extortion. The government never respected freedom and only facilitated it insofar as that the people resist it's constant aggression. A statist system of governance is incapable of respecting freedom by it's very nature.

  • Freedom Frog||

    I'd like to have a word with these 79%.

  • Lord Humungus||

    Freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose.

  • toolkien||

    It's alarming that it's still at 79% given the massive amounts of one's labor hauled off in the form of taxes, regulation, and debasements, with several wars going on at once, prisons filled with non-violent offenders, and a mountain of debt and unfunded defined benefit plans. Of course very few people are paying any sort of attention, so their sense of "liberty" is formed from ignorance.

  • gaoxiaen||

    The American people aren't waking up yet, but I think I see an eyelid twitching. It's probably just wishful thinking.

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