Land Of The Free?

by Steve Mason

We make some of our greatest gains
When we see old things in new ways

In any list of the ten or twelve best presidents, Abe Lincoln's name is sure to come out somewhere near the top. Why this should be so, is a mystery. He got into office and the bloodiest war in our nation's history began. And why it's so commonly thought that the war was about slavery is yet another mystery. It was the concept of a union of states under a central government against that of a confederation of states with stronger local powers. The South failed to take advantage of its early lead, and so the North, woefully inept but able to throw more for longer at the enemy, eventually won. The Mason-Dixon Line no longer divided Free from Slave states, and now they're all free. Or are they?

A visitor from another planet, lacking any high school civics lessons, might sooner decide that we went from half Free and half Slave to all Semi. Just think about it. Fifty percent of what the average man in the street earns today goes to pay various obvious and not so obvious taxes. Of course, he's free to change bosses - or even free to become his own boss - but the taxes remain. This has the effect of working from January through May for someone else.

Seen another way, going in at 8:00 in the morning, the individual's day is done at noon. Sticking around for lunch and then putting in time until 5:00 in the evening is for someone else. This continues for more than half the days and more than half the lives of those gainfully employed. I recall seeing a cartoon of a man talking to a woman with the caption: The house is paid off and the kids are married - can we die now?

Spending more than half a life doing things you don't really want to do for someone else is not a lot of laughs. Certainly it's not anything like normal human behavior. For most of our tens of thousands of years on Earth, we enjoyed the enormous leisure to effort ratio of a hunter-gather's existence. If Modern Man is so smart, how come he works so hard?

Take away the necessities like food and shelter, and what's left to demand half a life? How many souls spend their time working for money they don't need, to buy things they don't want, to impress people they don't like? And, when you come right down to it, what do you really have besides time? Perhaps your most precious commodity, it's the first thing taken away as a means of punishment; from the child's Time Out for naughty behavior, to the felon's years spent behind bars.

Curiously, you can give away a redundant organ, like a kidney, but it's against the law to sell it. That such a sale might earn enough for a couple of years of freedom is never considered. You can work away a part of your life but you can't auction off a part of your body.

And it gets worse. Consider the high cost of working. From the clothes you have to wear to the car you have to drive - it all adds up. Then there's the cost of lost opportunities while on the job, while traveling back and forth, and while just sitting in traffic.

So after all that, wouldn't it be nice to at least keep half your money? Forget it. The insurance industry, like the government, is in for its share. Years ago, the market set the price - a fair value for such things as health care. If a doctor charged $800 for an office visit, guess what? His office would be empty. Then along came the insurance scam. Doc could charge his crazy prices, his office would be full and he would get paid.

It was like a free lunch until everybody got hooked. Suddenly, the patient was paying crazy premiums, and Doc was collecting only $80 of his $800 fee...if he was lucky. Multiply that by the number of different insurance policies with which Joe Six-pack is now saddled, and you see maybe half of his half-remaining cash tapped.

Next come interest payments. Here again, there was a time when the market set the price - a fair value for such things as a place to live. If you didn't have a few thousand dollars saved, you couldn't buy a house. It was simple. Then along came the mortgage scam. You got the money up front, but had to pay twice as much for it over the next twenty years - with the first ten going mostly towards interest. Seeing buyers flush with cash, sellers began asking crazy prices. For a while it worked. Sellers asked ever crazier prices, and buyers moved to twenty-five and thirty year commitments. Once again, everyone got hooked. Then the insanity spread from houses to consumer goods and services, as easy credit became a way of life. The average person now carries a credit card debt of over $7000 at what was only recently considered usury interest rates.

Look At It This Way

Please believe that I didn't start out to ruin your day, but unless the status quo is pointed out, it tends to go unnoticed. In the space of only a few generations, the average man can no longer hope to ever make enough money to buy a significant amount of free time.

The growing interest in health regimens that promise extended youth, and religious doctrines that promise eternal life, may well reflect a growing desire to be free in some future time and place. Slaves of the Confederacy sang of golden chariots that would carry them away. In today's Land of the Free, a popular TV show features a psychic who puts members of the audience in touch with their dear departed. Both suggest a desperate need for something more than this.

Don't sacrifice the time you have to do the things you want to do, to promises of pie in the sky. There's no time like the present to sniff those flowers.

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