“I Prefer Security to Freedom.”
By Leonard E. Read
Many victims wander unwittingly into socialism, gulled by assumptions they have not tested. One popular but misleading assumption is that security and freedom are mutually exclusive alternatives — that to choose one is to forego the other.
In the United States during the past century more people achieved greater material security than their ancestors had ever known in any previous society. Large numbers of people in this country accumulated a comfortable nest egg, so that “come hell or high water” — depressions, old age, sickness, or whatever — they could rely on the saved fruits of their own labor to carry them through any storm or temporary setback. By reason of unprecedented freedom of choice, unparalleled opportunities, provident living, and the right to the fruits of their own labor — private property — they were able to meet the many exigencies which arise in the course of a lifetime.
We think of these enviable, personal achievements as security. But this type of security is not an alternative to freedom; rather, it is an outgrowth of freedom. This traditional security stems from freedom as the oak from an acorn. It is not a case of either/or; one without the other is impossible. Freedom sets the stage for all the security available in this uncertain world.
Security in its traditional sense, however, is not what the political tradesmen are talking about when they ask, “Wouldn’t you rather have security than freedom?” They have in mind what Maxwell Anderson called “the guaranteed life,” 1 or the arrangement described by Karl Marx, “from each according to ability, to each according to need.” Under this dispensation, the political apparatus, having nothing at its disposal except the police force, uses this force to take the fruits of the more well-to-do in order to dispense the loot among the less well-to-do. In theory, at least, that’s all there is to it — a leveling procedure! 2
Admittedly, this procedure appears to attract millions of our fellow citizens. It relieves them, they assume, of the necessity of looking after themselves; Uncle Sam is standing by with bags of forcibly collected largess.
To the unwary, this looks like a choice between security and freedom. But, in fact, it is the choice between the self-responsibility of a free man or the slave-like security of a ward of the government. 3 Thus, if a person were to say, “I prefer being a ward of the government to exercising the personal practice of freedom,” he would at least be stating the alternatives in correct terms.
One need not be a profound sociologist to realize that the ward-of-the-government type of “security” does preclude freedom for all three parties involved. Those from whom their property is taken obviously are denied the freedom to use the fruits of their own labor. Secondly, people to whom the property is given — who get something for nothing — are forfeiting the most important reason for living: the freedom to be responsible for self. The third party in this setup — the authoritarian who does the taking and the giving — also loses his freedom. 4
Nor need one be a skilled economist to understand how the guaranteed life leads to general insecurity. Whenever government assumes responsibility for the security, welfare, and prosperity of citizens, the costs of government rise beyond the point where it is politically expedient to cover them by direct tax levies. At this point — usually 20-25 per cent of the people’s earned income — the government resorts to deficit financing and inflation. Inflation — increasing the volume of the money to cover deficits — means a dilution of the dollar’s purchasing power. Beginning as the “creeping” inflation which we are now experiencing, it continues into “galloping” inflation which we can observe in Chile, Bolivia — history is filled with examples. All “guarantees” become worthless, and a general insecurity follows. 5
The true and realistic alternatives are insecurity or security. Insecurity must follow the transfer of responsibility from self to others, particularly when transferred to arbitrary and capricious government. Genuine security is a matter of self-responsibility, based on the right to the fruits of one’s own labor and freedom to trade.
1 See “The Guaranteed Life” by Maxwell Anderson. Essays on Liberty, Vol. I, p. 90.
2 In practice, property is also taken from the poor and given to the wealthy. For instance, numerous millionaires are given public funds for not growing tobacco, wheat, and so on.
3 See “Wards of the Government” by Dean Russell. Essays on Liberty, Vol. I, p. 190. 86 CLICHES OF SOCIALISM
4 See “Victims of Social Leveling” by Leonard E. Read. Essays on Liberty, Vol. II, p. 279. 26. I PREFER SECURITY TO FREEDOM 87
5 See pp. 107-113 of Liberty: A Path to Its Recovery by F. A. Harper; What You Should Know About Inflation by Henry Hazlitt (Princeton: Van Nostrand, i960); and Fiat Money Inflation in France by Andrew Dickson White.