Freedom for whom?

“He who does not learn from his history is cursed to repeat it” – or so the saying goes. (“It’s always the men not learning from their history that is messing things up!”)  Actually, if last night’s Newsnight debate on ChartPorn for economists by a respected female panel is anything to go by (it was soundly welcomed by people across Puffles’ TwitterFeed), women need to be a major part of the solution to the mess we’re currently in. [Puffles (*Looks at gender balance in the Cabinet: **Not Impressed**)]

This post kicks off with a short clip about the development of the welfare state:

Food for thought?

Now let’s have a look at what President Franklin Roosevelt said about the four freedoms:

I’m particularly interested in “Freedom from want” and “Freedom from fear” – in part because these two “freedoms” get far less publicity than freedom of speech and freedom of religion/worship.

Expanding on Roosevelt’s idea of freedom from want was the Beveridge Report which included naming the five giants that needed slaying – Want, Disease, Ignorance, Squalor and Idleness. Beveridge defines “want” as people lacking the basic means for a healthy subsistence. (Para 11). I can’t help but think that Beveridge was years ahead of his time when going after ignorance and idleness. Did he have daytime TV in mind? (Touchè!)

What would a Beveridge Report of 2011 look like? What would the principles of that Report look like when placed in the context of today’s world? Ditto President Roosevelt’s speech on the four freedoms in an era of terrorism and religious fundamentalism? Could the concept of “freedom from fear” (in which he puts into a ‘warfare’ framework) translate into freedom from violence? This could then cover issues such as domestic violence, human trafficking, rape, slavery and assault in general.

Justice – or “freedom from injustice” is one of the things that seems to be missing. With this concept I’d like to think that this could be interpreted broadly to cover issues of fairness and accountability. For example has Fred Goodwin been properly held accountable for what happened on his watch? I will be watching the fallout from Lord Turner’s report. Have the people – the big decision-makers as I call them, who were responsible for the prolonged economic crisis been held accountable? Or have they gotten away with their ill-gotten gains? Is that fair?

So when people talk about “freedom”, in my book it’s not just about freedom of speech and not being harassed by the nanny state. It’s about far more. It covers freedom from want – ensuring that people are able to live healthy lives (for which I’d include mental as well as physical health). It covers freedom from injustice – ensuring that the rich and powerful are properly held accountable for their conduct. It also covers freedom from fear – as I have described above.

That for me is ‘freedom.’






2 thoughts on “Freedom for whom?

  1. Well said. Karl Polanyi pointed out that In complex societies the meaning of freedom becomes contradictory and as fraught as its incitements to action as compelling. There are, he noted, two kinds of freedom, one good and the other bad. Among the latter he listed ‘the freedom to exploit one’s fellows, or the freedom to make inordinate gains without commensurable service to the community, the freedom to keep technological inventions from being used for public benefit, or the freedom to profit from public calamities secretly engineered for private advantage.

  2. Good post except one thing. What is idleness and why would we wish to be free from it?

    Be carefull or we’ll be made to work 16 hours a day, seven days a week, no child will have time to stare at the ceiling, swinging their legs and I won’t be able to sit doing absolutely nothing other than admiring a buttercup. Some of the best times I’ve had in my life is when I’ve been idle, and while recovering from illness, there is nothing quiet like being restfully idlle.

    Being idle is when we are admiring the world, just being a part of the world, just being with each other for no other purpose than we are and we like it, idleness is snozzing in the sun, idleness is sitting in a meadow, it is watching the clouds because they are there and so are we.

    If you mean idleness as in unemployment, then simple: cut everyone down to a three day week and there will be enough decently paid work to go around…

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