Freedom? Or Security? Do We Have to Choose?
By Shlomo Maital
A Pew Global Attitudes survey asked this question, a few years ago:
Which is more important?
Freedom to pursue life’s goals without state interference, or
State guarantees that nobody is in need.
The results: 58 % of Americans chose freedom; only 35 % chose security.
In Britain it was the opposite. Some 55% chose state guarantees, and 38 % chose freedom. In Germany, France and Spain, 62 % chose state guarantees.
Here, in a nutshell, we have the reason why America has a great deal of entrepreneurial energy, and enormous social and economic inequality. And why Europe has a terrible dearth of entrepreneurial energy, and strong infrastructure and social safety nets.
In his New York Times column, Roger Cohen even goes so far as to blame America’s obesity on the choice of ‘freedom’. Taxing sugar-laden drinks would never fly in America. Raising gas taxes is a non-starter, even though the U.S. highways are crumbling.
Benjamin Franklin, that creative entrepreneurial American who invented public libraries and many other things, spoke up for freedom, in 1776. At the time, he was right. America’s democracy had just been born. As a new-born baby, it needed strengthening.
But today? My question is — Are “freedom” and “social safety net” really, necessarily, perforce “Either-Or” choices? Must we choose? Are there examples of nations that have both?
Take Denmark, a very well off, prosperous European nation, wisely not part of the Euro block, which has very high taxation, superb social safety net and security, and a great deal of innovation and entrepreneurship. If entrepreneurs truly seek to create value, rather than become billionaires, they will not be deterred by high rates of taxation that generate revenues to support the safety net. If the wealthy earn 8 per cent on their wealth after-tax, park their money in tax havens, while the middle class barely earns 1 or 2 per cent, is it not reasonable to allow the middle class access to the same privileges, the same 8%?
No, “freedom” and “social safety net” are not either/or. They are only if we believe they are. Freedom and social safety net CAN BE both/and. That is how it should be. Now, the question, is, how do Europeans gain more entrepreneurial freedom without ruining their safety net, and how do Americans get a proper safety net without ruining their entrepreneurial energy. It’s NOT that difficult!