Goodbye, Liberty! 10 Ways Americans Are No Longer Free
Our most fundamental rights, to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, are under assault. But the adversary is Big Wealth, not Big Government as conservatives like to claim. Consider:
Life? The differences in life expectancy between wealthier and lower-income Americans are increasing, not decreasing.
Liberty? Digital corporations are assaulting our privacy, while banks trap us in indebtedness that approaches indentured servitude. The shrunken ranks of working Americans are being robbed of their essential liberties – including the right to use the bathroom.
The pursuit of happiness? Social mobility in the United States is dead. Career choices are increasingly limited. As for working hard and earning more, consider this: Between 1969 and 2008 the average US income went up by $11,684. How much of that went to the top 10? All of it. Income for the remaining 90 percent actually went down.
These changes didn't just happen. Wealthy individuals and corporations made it happen – and they're still at it. Meanwhile, Corporate America's wholesale theft of your individual liberties has been rebranded as a fight for … the corporation's individual liberty.
Corey Robin notes in the Nation that this conservative appeal to “economic freedom” has been met by Democrats who present themselves as “new Victorians,” standing for “responsibilities over rights, safety over freedom, constraint rather than counterculture.”
Not only is this politically and emotionally unappealing, it's demonstrably wrong. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary's definition of a “right” is “something to which one has a just claim: as the power or privilege to which one is justly entitled.” Definitions of “liberty” include “the power to do as one pleases,” “freedom from arbitrary or despotic control,” “the positive enjoyment of various social, political, or economic rights and privileges,” and “the power of choice.”
Is that how you feel when you're dealing with your bank?
While the Right portrays popularly elected government as a faceless oppressor, large corporations and ultra-wealthy individuals – what we're calling “Big Wealth” -- are trampling on our individual rights and liberties every day. We should be fighting for “economic freedom,” as Corey Robin notes, and explaining how Big Wealth is crushing other fundamental liberties as well.
Here are 10 critical examples, drawn from the headlines and from our everyday lives.
1. Our American liberties end at the workplace door.
If you have a job, the Freedom Train stops at the workplace door. More employees are hired on a part-time or temporary basis to deny them rights and benefits. Many of your privacy rights are gone. Your employer can use your company computer to read your correspondence, and your company cell phone (if you have one) to track your movements.
Free speech? You can be fired for expressing political views online, even when you're not at work. As employment lawyer Mark Trapp told Bloomberg Business Week, the“freedom to speak your mind doesn’t really exist in work spaces.” Or, in some cases, outside it.
The longstanding right of workers to organize and form a union is also under assault. A corporate-funded group called ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council, is coordinating the loss of union rights for public employees. Governors and legislators are using budget shortfalls created by corporate misbehavior and tax cuts for the wealthy to argue that governments can no longer afford to honor union contracts.
Your rights don't even begin where your, er, bathroom breaks begin. As Mary Williams Walsh reported in the New York Times, “employees at lower rungs of the economic ladder can be timed with stopwatches in the bathroom; stonewalled when they ask to go; given disciplinary points for frequent urination; even hunted down by supervisors with walkie-talkies if they tarry in the stalls.”