— Nice overview of Dennett's Freedom Evolves, an excellent book, in Blackburn's review in the American Scientist. Someday–SOMEDAY–this subtle, accurate conception of human nature and human choice is going to get through.

Author: Will Wilkinson

Vice President for Research at the Niskanen Center

23 thoughts

  1. Of course I’m aware. You’ll notice in my commentary I mention that the U.S. does better on free speech and rights to self-defense. And I am also aware of FISA. And the U.S.’s draconian drug laws. And that more Americans are in prison, as a percentage of the population, than any country in the world. And Canada’s superior openness to immigrants, etc. etc.

  2. Don’t kid yourself. The so-called “loss” of freedom in the United States of which you speak is actually variance in the normal curve of the “freedom phenomena”. The United States has the most solidly enshrined freedom-protecting law enshrined as an integral part to its constitution in the whole world. The populace in the countries that you mention have neither the will nor the means to prevent their own government from seriously encroaching on their “liberties(temporary)”, unlike the populace of the United States.
    If you truly believe that those countries are more free, your purported status as a serious libertarian would compel you to move to one or the other in short order. Since you have not backed up those claims with action, you have revealed your assertions to be merely tropes, trinkets to be brought out in your cocktail party(or whatever social events you favor) dalliances.

  3. Jason, I think you badly overestimate constitutionalism. You can point to the strength of 1st amendment protections. But then why have others been completely gutted? Without buy-in from the relevant elites and the general public, constitutional guarantees are just paper. And why isn’t the U.S. in fact the freest country in the world. The inference from freedom-protecting constitution to freedom is a complete non-sequitur.
    As is the idea serious libertarians value only liberty and therefore must live in the freest place. I suppose American libertarians are all hypocrites if they don’t move to Idaho?
    Anyway, I would happily move to Canada, New Zealand, Australia given the right opportunity.

  4. You know the one about the frog in the pot of water: turn up the heat slowly, it doesn’t notice etc. Having jumped into the boiling water of your country’s nascent police state whilst on holiday in July, I was relieved to get back to the freedom of ‘old Europe’.
    I wonder do people in America realise the extraordinary way in which their freedoms have been whittled away in recent years? When you go there on holiday (from Ireland in my case) after a period of years it just hits you in the face. You can’t go 20 minutes in the United States without seeing a policeman – I was back in Dublin nearly 48 hours before seeing my first ‘garda’.
    I wish you luck with the discussion Will – you’re always welcome here in dirigiste Europe if Canada/New Zealand aren’t a option!

      1. By making me think about my activities … 😉
        It’s not just ‘looking in the mirror and seeing a police car’, it’s the pervasive sense surveillance and the self-monitoring of behaviour that goes with that. And the guns of course (they’re for killing people, right?). Our cops don’t carry guns (nor do the security guys in our shopping malls).
        So it’s a state of mind I guess: I feel free when there aren’t any gun bearing policemen around – but others might prefer the security of having a cop on every street corner. America leans way towards the latter, Europe towards the former. I know which I prefer.
        But I will be back I’m sure to holiday in what is still one of the greatest countries in the world 🙂 Just not an especially free one.

    1. I think this is a daft measure.
      But if you are going to use it in this context, it’s worth noting that I usually vacation in Canada (primarily Ontario and Newfoundland) for at least ten days every year, and I’ve never noticed any significant difference in the amount of police presence there compared to the US. (I still fondly remember the time we cleared out just moments before a police cruiser showed up to break up our one AM acoustic jam in the center of a lovely small Canadian town…)

  5. I see where you are going with this, Will. And I have once before suggested that Switzerland has done better with our constitution than we have (give them time, I know). But consider that many of the countries you mention are technically commonwealths of the Crown. While many in the US consider that an archaic formality that bears no real authority, many who live in the UK understand the very real implications of living under a monarchy. I’ve yet to hear you address these concerns that I’ve heard uttered many times in the British press, with grave attention to the threats they pose to liberty.

  6. Also, no discussion on the loss of American freedom is complete without a mention of the deterioration of our ECONOMIC liberties. I hope that crept in somewhere in your Marketplace commentary as well.

  7. The idea that constiutional monarchy is a serious infringement on liberty is very, very, very silly. Whatever the problems with Kerr-Whitlam, it was surely a gain for liberty.
    I do not defend human rights commissions, but I also think it is worth noting that neither Ezra Levant nor Mark Steyn have actually lost their cases. The mere possibility of frivolous lawsuits is undoubtedly a bad thing, but perspective is needed.
    However, I will say that my country’s refusal to allow people to purchase private medical insurance is both a serious infringement of liberty and widely accepted in the political culture. On education, Canada and the US are about equal.

  8. before you move, seriously consider the difference between on paper freeest and in practice freeest.
    for example, australia is pretty free on paper, but in practice the beauracracy and police are strict rule followers.
    in contrast, germany is a mess of regulation, but much of it seldom enforced. wild parties in berlin suffice as evidence – don’t discount the fun factor of illegal parties. (berlin isn’t exactly the rest of germany either)
    but the largest difference is probably between social and economic. europe is far and away socially freer than anywhere else ive travelled, but its probably a bit harder to start a business.
    enforcement matters, thats also why some developing nations are extremely free in practise. as a brief aside, i parked a rented motorbike (riding around sans helmet) in a no stopping zone overnight in phuket, thailand. in australia this would have resulted in a $300 fine. there, some nice locals simply carried my bike to the other side of the street in the middle of the night, and parked it legally, without me even knowing. great people!

  9. Having moved from Sweden, low on the economic freedom, to coastal b.c, supposedly good with the economic freedom; I am just going to say: bring me back to that socialist haven!
    Canada may be good on paper but truly is a communitarian stronghold where advocacy and standards set the table.

  10. what is important is not just that rights are guaranteed by te constitution but that people have the abiltiy to exercise those rights. Here i think the USA fails. While they may have individual liberties enshrined in law, they also have much lower social mobility than other (less economically free) nations. Surely when one talks about liberty, the abiltiy to transcend ones place in society at birth must be taken into account.

  11. If you do write that piece you might want to consider the following:
    1) It’s not just the HRCs. ‘Hate speech’ is also a criminal code offense in Canada. And despite our written constitution, the judiciary are fine with this (all charter rights are subject to a test of their ‘reasonableness’ that you could drive a truck through.
    2) Speaking of constitutionalism – our charter of rights allows for group rights to be given legal protection (it’s not an accident that Taylor and Kymlicka, despite their differences, are Canucks).
    3) Real lack of checks and balances – for example, a PM with a majority has a near monopoly on legislative and executive power. He also appoints all of the Senators, the Supreme Court justices and the Govenor-General (which negates that latter’s vestigal prerogative rights – so much for constitutional monarchy). Surely constitutionalism matters at some point!
    4) The health care system is a total state monopoly – it’s illegal in most provinces to even open a private clinic. Think Castro not Sweden.
    5) Top marginal tax rate (combined federal and provincial) is 50% or more and kicks in at well under $100,000.
    BTW, Pithlord – I wish they were lawsuits. If they were, truth would be a defense, and Mark and Ezra would be protected by due process. The commissions are a danger to the rule of law.
    I also think that the G-G having some power re when elections are called is not a bad thing in a parliamentary system as it limits the power of the PM.

  12. What about the Wall Street Journal/Heritage study, which I think rates the US higher? Is that inferior? (Perhaps it is older.) I know you are a Cato man, but still.
    Also, if we are relying on studies, what about the freedom house ranking of political freedom? I quickly checked for 2007 and both get a 1 for both political rights and civil liberties.

  13. I have already remarked that the EFW index is highly misleading, because it does not properly account for the housing market. I have also remarked on the “human rights” commissions (glad to see that Will is aware of them). Let me add a few more random remarks.
    * Michael Drake is right: when Will says: “On the account of freedom, and the weighting of various forms of freedom, that I think is most appealing, I guess Canada or New Zealand would take the top spot”, he might as well say: “Canada is better than the USA because I don’t like the USA”.
    * Differences between Canada and the USA are insignificant compared to differences amongst US states and amongst Canadian provinces. I know because I worked there.
    * Will appears to have an anglophile bias: what’s wrong with Switzerland and Chile? what’s wrong with Estonia and Iceland, for that matter? (apart from very cold weather, which in my opinion is good, because it builds character and deters wimps.)
    * The US did not become significantly less free (at least economically), it’s Canada that became significantly more free. Part of the reason is an Albertan prime minister. An Alaskan president would do wonders for the US.
    * There is a case to be made for oversimplification to get the message across, but the Marketplace article oversimplifies to such an extent that it could turn people off.

  14. Both the Heritage Foundation and the Fraser Institute put Hong Kong and Singapore ahead of the U.S. on economic freedom, but political freedom isn’t so great in those places. Heritage and Fraser also both rank Australia ahead of the the U.S. on economic freedom, so it could be the freest country on earth – but as someone who lives there I must admit that I find that hard to believe.
    Other countries ranked ahead of the U.S. on economic freedom are as follows: Heritage gives a higher ranking to Ireland and Fraser gives a higher ranking to New Zealand, Switzerland, U.K., Chile and Canada.
    The results obviously depend a lot on how these indexes are compiled.

Comments are closed.