Tuesday, September 16, 2014

What Comes First: Liberty, Equality or Fraternity?

Liberté (freedom: blue), égalité (equality: white),
Fraternité (brotherhood: red)
There has always been a tension in modern western civilizations between the individual liberties of every person and the collective needs of every citizen.

Representative democracy in the form of democratic republican forms of government is a relatively new phenomenon in the history of mankind, isn't it?

It really wasn't that long ago that human beings lived relatively short and brutish lives. In the roughly 3 million years of human development, it has only been in the last 225 years or so that people have tried to govern themselves as opposed to having some dictatorial king, czar or tribal warrior keep them under his or her thumb and tell them what to do, think and believe.

As fate would have it, the United States adopted the US Constitution in the same year as the French Revolution toppled their monarchy, 1789. Much of what inspired the American Revolution in 1776 inspired the French in 1789 when they stormed the Bastille prison; they were sick and tired of callous, indifferent, vainglorious leadership in the form of their king at the time, Louis XVI and his wife, the Queen Marie Antoinette.

Both desired something truly 'revolutionary' and 'radical' in the history of man. Both wanted freedom to control their own destinies.

Perhaps the French said it best with their national motto now embedded in their Constitution:

Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité
 

What does this mean really in today's 21st century France, or America for that matter?

Is it a 'vertical priority list' in which 'Liberty' comes first for everyone; then 'Equality' and then 'Brotherhood' or looking out for each other?

Or is it more of an equally-shared 'horizontal priority list' where each condition is to be honored and respected by everyone in 33.3% shares every day or every year for every person?

We think it is a combination of both for America which we will explain. It entails the extent to which each person in each nation views the proper role of government in their daily lives and how each nation is to be governed by their federal and state governments.

The French?

While France is simply an amazing country when it comes to the freshness of the food (their strawberries and tomatoes taste as vibrant and fresh as farm-fresh American fruits and vegetables used to taste 50 years ago, just to cite one example), their history and their arts and culture, the French clearly have placed 'Fraternité' and 'Égalité' far above 'Liberté' in 2014.

56% of the French GDP goes to government spending versus about 21% of GDP for America. They brag about the richness and thickness of their social welfare system, including health care. Even with exploding health care and Social Security retirement costs associated with Boomers retiring by the hundreds of thousands every month now, the French have got us beat by a country kilometer or two.

Small businesses in France are subject to a 66% tax which clearly discourages new investment. Excessively high tax rates and over-regulation by government authority is nothing more than confiscation of freedom by those in power who like to use the coercive powers of government to make everyone comply with their wishes.

'Coercive confiscation of freedom' is always a dangerous proposition, no matter which political philosophy may prevail at any particular point in time. Thomas Jefferson objected to the concentration of power in Congress in the hands of just a few...even when he agreed with them philosophically and politically for just this reason.

What person in their right mind would say this in their calculation for a new business plan to be implemented in France:
'Sure, France is such a wonderful country and their food, art and culture is so terrific that I am willing to risk every asset I have and borrow as much money as I can and suffer through the indignities and difficulties of starting any small business so I can pay 66% of what profit we earn each year to the French government. On top of the 17% VAT that we will have to pay along the way as well.'
There are proposals in France to cap an individual's ability to earn income over 1 million euros by confiscating or taxing it at 100% once you earn that much in any given year.

How they get soccer stars to come play for French professional teams is a mystery under those conditions. Think LeBron James will ever play for the professional basketball league in Paris? Doubt it.

The French clearly value leisure time far more than Americans do. One French observer says: 'The French work to live. Americans live to work' which may be a bit of an over-stretch but shows clearly the difference in priorities between the two cultures today.

The French value the 'horizontal priority scale' where equality and fraternity enjoy large and equal shares of attention. They must realize this comes at the expense  of the freedom of the entrepreneur to make as much money as possible without any constraints whatsoever. They are actually quite proud and upfront about it.

America was founded in 1789 primarily as a nation dedicated to the proposition that 'all men were created equal' so clearly stated by Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence in 1776. However, it was clearly in the context of allowing a person the individual freedom to determine his or her future as he or she sees fit, not what the government or any other person says how your life should play out.

Many of the Founders understood the inherent contradiction of forming a nation 'dedicated to the proposition that all men were created equal' as Abraham Lincoln so eloquently spoke about in the Gettysburg Address, while they also condoned the perverse institution of slavery, including slave-owner Founders such as Thomas Jefferson, George Washington and James Madison.

They knew slavery had the capacity to tear the nation apart. They were proven correct about 70 years later.

We think the United States falls more in the 'vertical priority list' of 'Liberty' first with equality and brotherhood perhaps equal seconds.

Or at least it used to.

We think the generosity of the American people comes in terms of the voluntary nature of their charitable giving. Check out who sends the most aid to natural disasters whenever they occur around the globe. It is almost always the United States who sends the most aid to help those in need in America and around the globe.

We also always marvel at the sheer magic of how people's lives are transformed whenever they have a good job working with great leaders and other workers. They make money to feed themselves and their families; the company pays for the majority of their benefits, including health care and much of their retirement plans and, to top it off, these people pay taxes that support the social programs to support those who are not as well-off and are in need of assistance.

We need more private sector jobs. Not less of them.

We have not advocated the utter destruction of the federal government or any essential services that it now provides millions of people.  We agree with Ronald Reagan when he said in his First Inaugural Address:

'Now, so there will be no misunderstanding, it's not my intention to do away with government. It is rather to make it work--work with us, not over us; to stand by our side, not ride on our back. Government can and must provide opportunity, not smother it; foster productivity, not stifle it. 
We prefer to think that our government is something that should be used to help us live productive lives rather than be an adversary at every turn which it can be when run by people who love more government and less freedom, especially in the private sector.'

We don't think President Obama or any of his close advisors have ever read these words from President Reagan's First Inaugural Address. They have 2.3 more years to do so and get it right.

What should anyone care if anyone from Bill Gates to Warren Buffett to the Koch brothers to LeBron James makes $100M, $1 billion or $10 billion in any given year in terms of salary, stock bonuses or Nike contracts?

They haven't stolen anything from anyone, have they? They haven't illegally tapped into your bank accounts and frustrated LifeLock or any other security program and stolen all of your money, have they?

In almost all cases of people being wildly successful in American business life such as Bill Gates, they have started a company or provided a service that has made the lives of hundreds of millions, probably billions of people around the globe far less brutish and far more pleasurable and enjoyable than our forefathers in American or the revolutionaries in France could have ever dreamed in 1789.

Even LeBron James can be counted as having created thousands of jobs. What would the guys at ESPN do every winter without LeBron jamming his way through the cold dark winters?

The case can be made that if the next Administration in the White House wants to be truly 'revolutionary' and get back to the roots of the American Republic to allow more freedom to prevail, we can and will leave the rest of the world behind in our dust once again. We can escalate the creation of new jobs with new technologies America always seems to come up, the 3-D printer just being one of the latest in the long line of creations that include mass production of the automobile to the PC.


Let France and England and every other nation become more socialist and tax the entrepreneurial spirit out of their creative citizens much as the bioengineering and food regulations have apparently squeezed that taste out of American strawberries and tomatoes.

Why do we have to let our elective representatives do that in America?


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