The index delivers the comforting conclusion that the
US is the 10th most free country, far ahead of 155th
However, the index ignores the simple truth that
people who do not own the product of their labor are not
free. People subject to an income tax do not own the
product of their labor.
Founding Fathers understood this. Indeed,
historically the very definition of freedom has been
self-ownership. Serfs and slaves are not free, because
they do not own their labor.
Any American who thinks he owns his labor can test
the proposition by refusing to pay his income tax. He
will quickly discover that he is not a free person.
The Heritage index is ahistorical. It is blind to the
enormous loss of freedom in the 20th century,
especially in the US and the UK. It takes as its
starting point the
re-enserfment of populations and predicates a
“freedom” index on
This extraordinary failing reduces a valuable study
to a propaganda device.
Compare an American taxpayer`s situation today with
that of a 19th century American slave. Not all slaves
worked on cotton plantations. Some with marketable
skills were leased to businesses or released to labor
markets, where they worked for money wages. Just like
the wages of today`s taxpayer, a portion of the slave`s
money wages was withheld. In those days the private
owner, not the government, received the withheld portion
of the slave`s wages.
Slaves in that situation were as free as today`s
American taxpayer to choose their housing from the
available stock, purchase their food and clothing, and
In fact, they were freer than today`s American
taxpayer. By hard work and thrift, they could
save enough to purchase their freedom.
No American today can purchase his freedom from the
Slaves could also run away. Today, Americans who run
away are pursued to the far ends of the earth. Indeed,
the IRS can assert its ownership rights for years after
an American gives up his citizenship and becomes a
citizen of a different country. The IRS need only claim
that the former
American gave up his citizenship for tax reasons.
I challenge Heritage and the Wall St.
Journal to initiate a broader index of freedom, one
that not only includes self-ownership, but also the
Bill of Rights that defines our civil liberties and
14th Amendment that insists on
equality before the law.
Such an index would reveal that the US is a
stunningly unfree country. The lowest federal tax rate
in combination with the Social Security and Medicare tax
confers serf status upon
lower income groups. The top tax rate, federal and
state, converts successful Americans into government`s
The protective principles in law that ensure our
civil liberties—no crime without intent, no bills of
attainder, no retroactive law, the attorney-client
privilege, no self-incrimination—have been
eroded beyond recognition. Wars against the Mafia,
drug dealers, child abusers, and terrorists—accused
whose convictions are thought necessary at all costs—
have eviscerated the Bill of Rights.
Americans believe that they are free until they
encounter the “justice” system, at which time they learn
that they are as helpless as medieval serfs.
“Civil Rights revolution” destroyed equality before
the law. Today rights are
gender-based. We have resurrected the
status-based rights of feudalism. The new privileges
“preferred minorities” rather than noble families.
Neoconservative delusion that America has a
monopoly on virtue and the right to impose American
values on the world prevents a realistic look at the
deplorable state of freedom in America today.
Craig Roberts was Associate Editor of the WSJ editorial
page, 1978-80, and columnist for “Political Economy.”
During 1981-82 he was Assistant Secretary of the
Treasury for Economic Policy. He is the author of
Supply-Side Revolution: An Insider`s Account of
Policymaking in Washington.