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Why Our Freedoms Are So Precious & Rare

By Gary D. Halbert
July 4, 2006


Given that this week’s issue of Forecasts & Trends E-Letter coincides with the Independence Day holiday, and since I am out of the office most of this week, I asked Spencer Wright of my staff (who is also our resident historian) to write a piece on the freedoms we are blessed to enjoy in America. 

We tend to take our freedom for granted all too often, as you will see when you read Spencer’s excellent article which follows.  Did you know, for example, that out of the 271 nations on this planet, less than a dozen have true democracies and free societies?  In America we enjoy more freedoms than any country on earth.

More importantly, do you know why America enjoys more freedoms than any country on earth?  And why other nations around the world have sought to emmulate our form of freedom and democracy for the last two centuries?  These are good questions to ponder on Independence Day.  So I invite you to read on as Spencer gives us some good historical perspective on our freedoms.  This is an article you may want to share with your children or grandchildren, since the subject of our freedoms is now so seldom taught in our schools.

by Spencer Wright

‘Give me Liberty or give me Death!’ 
- Patrick Henry

‘Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains.’
- Jean-Jaques Rousseau

‘All mankind… being all equal and independent, no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty or possessions.’
- John Locke

These are profound words from equally profound and important men. The writings, conviction and resolve of these men helped perpetuate a political philosophy which held that each and every person was born into freedom. They, among others, held that freedom, the greatest and most sacred of gifts, is bestowed at birth and is inalienable. These men believed that freedom was the natural state of existence for humanity, and that to live any other way, typically through the oppression of others, was completely counter to the existence of humanity and utterly unnatural.

We, as Americans, are fortunate that the likes of Rousseau and Locke were heavy influences on Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, and John Adams to name but a few of the Framers of the Constitution. The Framers knew that freedom was, above all others, the single most important element in creating a new beginning.

The concept and philosophy of freedom has existed for literally thousands of years. It is a difficult concept that is not at all easily defined. Think of it as a question with no one right answer. Freedom takes many, many forms. The types of freedom generally considered are Assembly, Association, Education, Movement, the Press, Religion, Speech, and the absence of government sanctioned discrimination.

I find it amazing that in this modern era a mere handful of the Earth’s 271 nations actually enjoy across-the-board freedoms. And by across the board I mean the freedoms mentioned earlier. The only countries to be so fortunate are the European Union, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, India, and of course the United States. Each of these nations has official documents that identify, define and guarantee freedom. But, naturally, freedom is more than a document. The freedoms in these countries are recognized and upheld vigorously by the government on all its various levels and by the courts. As it happens these countries are among the most economically and politically powerful on the planet. A coincidence? Not a chance!

Still, the total population of these countries is apprx. 2,000,000,000 people. That is less then one third of the 6,500,000,000 person global population. That means that two-thirds of the planet runs the governmental gamut from semi-free to iron-fisted oppression. The United Sates remains without question the pinnacle of freedom and liberty in the world. All of the freedoms noted above are alive and well here. Let’s take a look at each of them, how they are alive and well here at home, and how they are abused, ignored and or non-existent around the world.

A Look At Some Of Our Freedoms

The Freedom of Assembly represents our ability as Americans to join any group or organization that we see fit without discrimination or ramifications. These groups include political parties, worker unions, special interest based organizations, etc. You can see this freedom in practice during national political conventions, at a statewide meeting of a by and large offensive narrow-minded group, or your local book club. Cindy Sheehan exercised her Freedom of Assembly when she and like-minded persons camped outside President Bush’s ranch in Crawford, Texas.

To see this freedom turned on its head, we have to look no further than Cuba. Under Fidel Castro, in his 46th year as dictator/president, Cuba has no Freedom of Assembly whatsoever. There are no political parties, there are no labor organizations, no protests of any kind, and certainly no dissent toward the state or the person of Castro is tolerated. In fact the only forms of assembly that you see from Cuba are organized political propaganda events coordinated by the state, such as the Elian Gonzales rallies urging him to return home. Any organized or spontaneous protests are broken up quickly with grim consequences for the participants.

The Freedom of Association represents our ability as Americans to decide with whom we associate and for what purpose. We are not restricted or constrained in any way with regard to which people we see socially, who we do business with, what community we live in, or who we marry to name just a few. In fact in America it is not unusual for people of very different viewpoints or beliefs or religions or social strata to work or associate together. As a recent example, we have seen former presidents and political rivals George HW Bush and Bill Clinton working together to promote disaster relief.

Other people are not at all so fortunate. Iran, for example, had been moving toward a widespread secularization under the Shah. Yet after the 1979 Islamic revolution, virtually all reforms have been rescinded as the country reverted to a fundamentalist Shia state. This had a negative impact on all freedoms, including the Freedom of Association. In Iran, if you are deemed to have, or even suspected to have, associated with a subversive group, you will likely be detained and then tried in secret before a military court with no access to due process.

The Freedom of Education prevents the state from holding a monopoly on the education of its citizens. It is also intended to prevent the abridgement, censorship and undue influence on subject matter and curriculum by a federal authority. In short, the government cannot dictate how our children are educated. It is the separation of school and state. As parents you can send your children to any school you see fit, public or private, without government intervention. Unfortunately, in many other countries, there is no Freedom of Education whatsoever.

In Turkey, for example, the military junta that replaced the government in 1980 shut down several universities and expelled thousands of students and professors as it found their curriculum and teachings objectionable and subversive. Since then, some universities have reopened but the military-influenced government decreed that the wearing of a headscarf was forbidden in its institutions of higher learning. This edict effectively prevented women from receiving a university education.

As Americans, we give virtually no thought to the Freedom of Movement. It is utterly ingrained in our society and in our psyche. This freedom basically states that an individual has the right to leave the state or country and travel wherever they are welcome and stay (assuming the proper documents) for as long as they like. Also it allows for an individual to travel, live and work anywhere within the state or country. To us this seems very basic, it is a given. Americans travel all over the country and all over the world every day in the course of their lives and in pursuit of their business.

Sadly in many regions of the world this simply isn’t so. Movement in some countries is highly restricted, and perhaps no more so than in North Korea. It is no secret that North Korea boasts perhaps the worst human rights record on the planet. It is an utterly oppressed nation wilting beneath the iron boot of dictator Kim Jong-Il. There are virtually no basic rights in North Korea, and it could have been used as the counter example for any of the freedoms we discuss here.

Because the North Korean regime is so oppressive, we actually do not know just how bad things are in the country. What we do know is that there is no Freedom of Movement. The people of North Korea are restricted as to where they can live, who they associate with, where they can work, and they are not allowed to travel abroad. That right is reserved only for the political elite.

The average citizen is not allowed to own a vehicle and have access to fuel, and mass travel is highly restricted. Forced resettlement of families and communities is common. The standard of living in the capital of Pyongyang is perhaps the best in the country (this is not saying much), and only the most trusted citizens are allowed to live there. Life in North Korea is a horror that we in America can barely understand.

The unregulated flow of information is vital in a free society, such as the Freedom of the Press we enjoy in America. The Freedom of the Press is essentially a guarantee by the government not to regulate or interfere with the gathering and dissemination of information to the public in various forms. We enjoy this guarantee as a result of the First Amendment. In fact, the US has an absolutely dizzying array of news outlets, thousands of newspapers and magazines, 24-hour all news networks and totally unrestricted access to the Internet. Chances are, no matter what your opinion or point of view, you can find a publication or program to support it.

Unfortunately, in Myanmar (formerly Burma), the media is severely restricted. This is yet another country where the government was replaced by a military junta, and statements that threaten or undermine national stability are strictly forbidden. The government owns and controls all of the daily newspapers and broadcast outlets. It is rare for any dissident view to be expressed, as penalties are swift and brutal, resulting in hefty jail sentences or execution. All telecommunications equipment must be registered with the state, this includes cell phones and computers.

What few private publications there are must apply for a state-issued license and submit all copy for state approval prior to publication. Internet access is highly restricted and heavily censored. Foreign journalists are rarely granted access to the country, and even then they are under constant scrutiny.  Similarly totalitarian regimes exist in many foreign countries, and especially in the lesser-developed parts of the world.

For Americans, the Freedom of Religion is so fundamental that it is taken for granted. Here we are free to worship, or not, as we see fit. Regardless of our faith, we cannot be discriminated against and the state is expressly forbidden from forming or propagating a state/national religion or assailing a faith it may find disagreeable.

However, religious oppression and intolerance is rampant across the globe, as exemplified by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia is an Islamic Theocratic Monarchy, which by itself does not bode well for religious tolerance. As a result, Islam is the official state religion, and the only legal and publicly practiced religion allowed under Saudi law. All citizens must be Muslims. The Mutaween, or religious police, strictly enforce Islamic law. The penalties for breaking the law are harsh, usually resulting in execution.

The Saudi government declared the Qu’ran to be the country’s constitution, so absolutely no separation of church and state exists. Since the state and the religion of Islam are one in the same, Saudi Arabia actively and aggressively attacks other ‘non-believer’ and infidel faiths like the Christians and the Jews. Though the Saudi’s claim to be reforming their stance on non-Muslims a recent report from Freedom House presented to President Bush detailed that the Islam infused education system is as anti-Semitic and anti-Christian as ever.

Among all of the freedoms that we as Americans enjoy, none is as prized as the Freedom of Speech. This freedom is in many ways the cornerstone of not just our democracy here at home but also of several democracies around the world. It is a guarantee to speak freely without censorship or oppression from our fellow citizens or the government. We allow all points of view to be heard, even those that may cut against the grain of society’s generally accepted views or that many find distasteful. A member of the KKK spouting racial hatred through a megaphone in the town square is offensive to the vast majority of Americans; however, he is guaranteed the right and the freedom to express his views and to be heard.

Sadly, the citizens of China are not so lucky. Not unlike other Communist regimes, the central government and the Communist Party control most of China’s internal media in attempt to prevent subversive speech and concepts from influencing the population. Chinese citizens cannot openly criticize the state or challenge the legitimacy of the Communist Party, as the penalties for such speech are severe, usually involving long prison terms and in some cases execution. There is little to no due process in China, by the way. Where the Chinese people seek to freely express themselves is on the Internet. This has become a major issue for the government.

Recently, Internet search titan Google pulled out of China as it was philosophically uncomfortable with restricting the access of Chinese citizens to its search engine. The Chinese government is engaged in a massive project to limit the information its citizens can obtain and the information and ideas that they share on the Internet. While the exact number is unknown, large numbers of Chinese people have been jailed for accessing subversive material or engaging in subversive speech on the Internet.

In America we also have the Freedom From Government Sanctioned Discrimination. The government cannot under any circumstances discriminate or oppress any person on the basis of race, gender, religion, disability, age or ethnicity. We all enjoy equal opportunity and protection under the law. For example, everyone has access to work (assuming the required skills) and has open and unhindered access to the political process at all levels to vote and if desired run for office.

However, this is not at all the case in many parts of the world. Perhaps the worst example of government-sponsored discrimination is occurring in the Darfur region in the Sudan. The Arab government of the Sudan with its Janjaweed (an Arab militia) have been openly and indiscriminately killing non-Arab Sudanese since 2003. It is estimated that at least 80,000 non-Arab Sudanese were killed, including women and children and over 1,000,000 were forcibly displaced. Numerous communities were totally destroyed. In May of this year, a peace accord was signed and only time will tell if the non-Arab Sudanese will be allowed to return to a normal and unmolested existence.


We have taken a brief look at only a few of the freedoms that we as Americans enjoy and how they compare around the world. To me, this reinforces exactly how lucky and blessed we are to live in this wondrous nation. Are we a perfect society? Not by any means, but America is undoubtedly the best place on the planet to exercise one’s freedom.

Let’s not forget that freedom isn’t free. Freedom requires strength of character because with freedom you have opposition of opinion. You must have tolerance for views that may be in diametric opposition to your own, and while you do not have to embrace or support them, they have as much right to be voiced as your own. In other words, while we can accept a person’s freedom to perform and act or express an opinion, we are not compelled to agree with or support it.

Exercising one’s freedoms is also not without consequence. In most cases, your rights and freedoms can be exercised to the point that they infringe on the rights and freedoms of others. A person must exercise their freedom responsibly and with consideration of and for their fellow citizens. While you can shout ‘Fire!’ in a crowded movie theater, it is an act that will likely have grave consequences for everyone involved.

As this is Independence Day, we as Americans need to take some time to be thankful for this great land of ours. We need to be thankful for the wisdom and resolve of our Founders. They risked everything to charter a new beginning, to fulfill a dream of a nation rooted in real freedom. We must also be thankful for the strength of our leaders in times of crisis.

Where would this nation be without the boldness and bravery of George Washington? Would we have remained one nation without the determination of Abraham Lincoln? Would we have helped deliver the world from tyranny without the resolve of FDR? Could we have won the Cold War without the unshakable will of Ronald Reagan? The answer to all of these questions is a resounding NO!

We must also be thankful for the unyielding courage of American soldiers across the generations. Their willingness and ability to defend freedom around the world has secured our freedom at home. And certainly we must be thankful for the limitless capacity of our citizens who through the exercise of their freedoms on a daily basis have made this country and this planet a better place.


Well done, Spencer.  Happy Independence Day to everyone reading this!  God bless America.

Very best regards,

Gary D. Halbert


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Forecasts & Trends E-Letter is published by Halbert Wealth Management, Inc. Gary D. Halbert is the president and CEO of Halbert Wealth Management, Inc. and is the editor of this publication. Information contained herein is taken from sources believed to be reliable but cannot be guaranteed as to its accuracy. Opinions and recommendations herein generally reflect the judgement of Gary D. Halbert (or another named author) and may change at any time without written notice. Market opinions contained herein are intended as general observations and are not intended as specific investment advice. Readers are urged to check with their investment counselors before making any investment decisions. This electronic newsletter does not constitute an offer of sale of any securities. Gary D. Halbert, Halbert Wealth Management, Inc., and its affiliated companies, its officers, directors and/or employees may or may not have investments in markets or programs mentioned herein. Past results are not necessarily indicative of future results. Reprinting for family or friends is allowed with proper credit. However, republishing (written or electronically) in its entirety or through the use of extensive quotes is prohibited without prior written consent.

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