What Does Liberty Really Mean to You?

For some time now — years actually — I have pondered the nature of liberty. Or more specifically, what liberty actually means to me. And to be extra clear, I am not talking about the meaning in abstract or philosophical terms, but tangibly — in much the same way I might answer if asked what my wife means to me.

The trigger for this entirely personal discourse comes from reading various articles and viewing various YouTube videos and speeches from self-styled champions of liberty (COL). There is even an entire conference, Mark Skousen’s FreedomFest, dedicated to the topic.

Invariably, these well-meaning COL rail against “The Man” (something I do myself), accentuating their public angst by sharing stories of being molested by the TSA or otherwise inconvenienced by minions of the state. It is my contention that most of these individuals, and certainly the majority of “freedom-loving” Americans, don’t actually understand the meaning of liberty, but rather give the matter little more than lip service.

And again, I don’t mean liberty in an abstract way — like, say, “world peace” — but tangibly.

Now, before going on, tripping emotional wires as I do, I feel the need to quickly establish my bona fides on the topic. I start with the simple fact that with age, and 58 years old counts, comes perspective. In addition, unlike most of today’s COL, I have actually been jailed for rioting against authority — at the naïve age of 14, as the result of actively participating in the toe-to-toe anti-war confrontations during the Oakland Induction Center Riots of the late 1960s.

In addition, as over-the-top as it now sounds, along with my now-departed friend and colleague of many years, Jim Blanchard, I spent many months assisting the RENAMO-led freedom fighters raise awareness in their fight against Mozambique’s vicious dictatorship. The adventure ultimately ended up with us in a very tight spot under house arrest in neighboring Malawi, followed by a high-speed car chase with the Malawian secret police in hot pursuit.

I have been directly involved with prominent members of the freedom movement in the US as part and parcel of my business career since a very young age, including running the 1980 Libertarian Presidential Nominating Convention in Los Angeles at the request of my friend Ed Crane, the founder of the Cato Institute. Furthermore, I have been friends, business associates, or acquaintances with too many well-known COL to recount here, starting with my business partner of many years Doug Casey, but also Harry Browne, Milton Friedman, and even Ayn Rand (I arranged for and hosted her at her last public appearance before she died).

And finally, I would mention my involvement in helping to create La Estancia de Cafayate in a remote wine-growing region of Argentina, without question the largest and most successful community of largely libertarian-minded individuals on the planet.

All of which is to say that I’m not arriving to this discussion fresh off the back of a turnip truck.

So, what does liberty mean to me?

In the simplest and purest terms, it means being free to come and go as I please.

Of course it would be my strong preference to come and go without the charade and indignity of transportation security instituted by most nations these days (ironically, the “Land of the Free” being the worst of the lot). But, unlike some prominent COL, I don’t make the mistake of conflating transiting airports with protesting against the inanity of transport security.

That’s because if I wanted to mount a protest against TSA, I would do it in an organized fashion. Say, by arranging for a large and loud demonstration at whatever passes for TSA’s headquarters, making sure that the media was there to provide coverage. I certainly wouldn’t do it ad hoc without media present, on a day when I actually needed to travel from point A to point B.

After all, like trees falling in remote woods, if a protest happens and there’s no media to record it, was there a protest?

The polar opposite to being free to come and go as one pleases, the essential tenet to my personal definition of liberty, is to be trapped in a jail cell. Been there, done that — and very much have no interest in doing it again.

Thus, I avoid engaging in activities where one of the possible outcomes is being arrested and jailed. For example, making angry displays when a TSA minion asks me to take off my shoes.

Now, I realize that the degradation of principles and justice in countries such as the US means that pretty much everyone breaks a law or three every day, but miscarriages of justice resulting in an innocent person being sentenced to jail (or gunned down) are statistically very rare. Yes, they happen — but so does getting struck by lightning. Thus, when I talk about acting in a fashion unlikely to lead to being locked up in a cage, I’m talking about playing simple odds.

And no, I don’t need to be a cowering sheep to keep the odds of my being jailed near zero. Rather, I just need to take note of the laws of whatever land my feet are currently planted on and avoid tripping over the big stuff.

In the US, for example, walking around with a bag of pot in your pocket could lead to jail time. In Uruguay or Amsterdam or dozens of other countries, it’s legal. So, when in the US — again, ironically still called “the Land of the Free” — I can manage without the pot. (Actually, I’ve done without pot for many decades; I’m just using this as an illustration.)

Failing to pay the legally proscribed amount of taxes is another easy way to end up in jail. As a US citizen, there’s no denying I’m trapped in a tax regime I find abhorrent and counterproductive to the building of capital. That’s a big disadvantage compared to many countries.

But am I willing to trade my liberty for the money I might be able to hide from the IRS? Hardly. That would be the equivalent of choosing the latter when confronted by a gun-wielding thug demanding my money or my life.

Does this mean I’m powerless against the institutionalized theft of taxation? Not at all.

It just means I have to work harder to uncover legal ways to minimize the tax bite, starting by hiring good counsel. And let’s not forget, for the citizens of most countries, minimizing the tax burden is as simple as getting on a plane, as — unlike the Land of the Free — they don’t tax non-resident citizens on worldwide income.

As for US citizens, if the issue is important enough to you, there are specific steps you can take to legally avoid the taxes altogether, by replacing the passport you carry in your pocket. It’s not particularly quick or easy, but if paying less (no?) taxes is that important to you, then there are clear paths to accomplishing just that objective without risking the loss of your liberty.

I’m not making these comments cavalierly, but rather to point out hard facts about the world we live in.

So, freedom to come and go is the core principle of my personal liberty. What else?

Tune in tomorrow…


David Galland
for The Daily Reckoning