Thoughts on personal freedom
Today I had a really interesting conversation with a Chinese student. (Whose name has been changed to Him to protect Him). It opened like this: (paraphrasing).
Me what do you do for a job in China
Him: I’m studying
Me: what are you studying to be?
Him: Accountant. Boring.
Surprised that someone would study something they actually think is boring, I pushed on?
Me: why do something if it’s boring?
Me: do you think you will make enough money so that you don’t need money any more?
Me: so why do something just for money if you know you will never have enough of it to break free of it?
Him: (after consideration) also immigration
Me: why would you want to emigrate?
Him: to be more free…
me: what does that mean to you
Him: don’t know yet…
Such an interesting statement. “To be more free”? In trying to express what Freedom meant, we went on to have a really good chat about a number of different things including immigration, where we were from respectively, the nature of our different countries, individual freedom vs what’s best for society, and why people feel the need to move away from where they are from. Some ideas that got thrown around included:
Socialist countries like China place a stronger emphasis on what is best for the group while capitalist countries place stronger emphasis on the individual.
A greater emphasis on the individual definitely makes us feel “more free” but we agreed that a balance is required for a society to function optimally. We agreed that America is at the other end of this spectrum, and while America is extremely “free” in terms of acquiring individual wealth, their system is obviously flawed (As anyone who has travelled can attest) and we discussed why.
We often hear about how 1% of America controls 99% of the wealth. That this is the result of unbalanced emphasis on the freedom of the individual to amass as much wealth as they can without limit seems obvious. It’s a Nice idea in theory. But then so is everyone else doing everything for the good of everyone else. (Socialism) Neither extreme seems to work that well in practice. In America It’s great to celebrate individual freedom and success. And no one does that better than the US. But In the American system, to put a cap on individual financial success is sacrilegious. An American is free to make all the money in the world. End of storey. But what happens if we play it this Idea out to its hypothetical ultimate conclusion:
Hypothetically: In America if 1 person (not 1%) had (through genuine merit in a genuine meritocracy) acquired all the wealth, all the real estate and even all the food, and everyone else owned literally nothing and was starving to death. Technically that would NOT be strictly illegal or illegitimate under the American system.
On the flip side, my friend from China expressed his concern about living in China as bearing a great burden of responsibility for his fellow man which he mimed by literally pushing down on his shoulders.
While American style capitalism has to date been a more successful model in terms of creating absolute wealth over the last few decades, it happened at a point in history that was operating under the economics of scarcity. That paradigm is changing. Under the economics of abundance, the new paradigm, it remains to be seen which economic model will prosper…
We agreed that more freedom for the individual was a good thing. But so is taking care of the group. We both felt that we had made a real connection and perhaps discovered some common ground with this conversation. Until I told him that I was going to share our conversation on FB, tag him and send his government a link, joking that then would never get out of China again. ;-/
Freedom does not guarantee by default that you will fulfil your potential and be happy. But being as free as possible to explore yourself and the world around you is a good place to start.
We had a great jump! Afterwards I felt that I had to remind him that Just because other people feel that accounting is “boring” and skydiving is “cool” that does not make it so. If you enjoy accounting then it’s not boring. And if you don’t enjoy skydiving then it is. If he enjoys what he does then that is the most important factor in choosing a career.