Why America is in Trouble


OK, America is in trouble for a lot of reasons, but I recently had an on-line discussion that made clear a fundamental flaw in the way many Americans think. The flaw is so profound that it may be impossible to restore freedom in the country without a major program of reeducation.

Anyone who has read my author bio knows I’m a distance runner, thus I frequent websites related to the sport. One of these sites, Letsrun.com (LRC), has a very active message board, one of the busiest on the net. Obviously many of the posts are about running, but half are on other subjects, often politics. The board allows anonymous posting, thus civility and discretion go right out the window. The posts at LRC are blatantly and rawly honest, allowing some insight into how people think.

The week before Festivus (or if you prefer, Christmas) a poster who calls himself “Mundus” started a thread griping because he is not allowed to buy catastrophic insurance under Obamacare. Now, Mundus voted for Obama (twice!) and likes the Affordable Care Act, especially the individual mandate, but he’s not happy with how it affects him personally. Usually I’d just laugh at his self-inflicted problem, but he made a statement that I couldn’t let go – “I support the individual mandate for health insurance but would prefer a free market solution” (meaning he wants to be able to buy a catastrophic plan, NOT get rid of the mandate).

So I replied (Blowing Rock Master is my name on LRC) leading to the following exchange:

Blowing Rock Master: “Mandate” means force, “free market” means NO force. Your statement contradicts itself.

Mundus: I really feel sorry for folks like you. You have let the facts of day and night prevent you from ever enjoying the dusk.

Blowing Rock Master: So facts are meaningless?

Mundus: Not at all. But, I am just sorry that you can’t see the grey.

Blowing Rock Master: There wasn’t any gray in your statement. It was nonsensical. If I’m forced to buy something then freedom has been removed from the equation, thus it’s not a free market.

Mundus: Wow. I dont (sic) what to say. You live in a world where free markets are that black and white? Is the market free if there is any regulation? Because there is no such thing. Free markets have always had controls. Why am I arguing with someone who refuses to see anything but black and white.

(Another poster attempted to educate Mundus before I could respond, but I couldn’t hold back at this point …. OK, I was enjoying getting under his skin)

Blowing Rock Master: This has already been answered for you but I’ll reiterate – a free market does NOT have regulation. And your statement that “free markets have always had controls” is not only untrue, but illogical. Free is a word with an absolute meaning, you don’t have varying degrees of freedom. Either you’re free or you aren’t. When you compel someone to engage in an economic exchange, as with the insurance mandate, you’ve taken away his freedom, thus you can’t have a free market with a mandate.

Mundus: I am trying to ignore you but you are making it hard.Freedom doesn’t exist outside of control just like “there ain’t no dark til somethin’ shines.”You seriously have no idea what you are talking about. Just stop please.

Blowing Rock Master: Freedom doesn’t exist outside of control? So slaves are free? Prisoners are free? North Koreans are free? Here’s how Merriam Webster defines the word – “the quality or state of being free: as the absence of necessity, coercion, or constraint in choice or action.” Where in the definition do you find the word “regulate”? Are you truly so blinded by your ideology that you will insist a word means the opposite of its definition?

Mundus: This is my last reply to you. You have no idea what you are talking about. I have never insisted that a word meant the opposite of its defintion. I implied that opposites work synergistically. This is a well proven maxim in serveral disciplines (philosophy, linguistics, economics) which you are obviously not familiar. By the way, why don’t you read the other definitions provided by Merriam as in “liberation from restraint.” Notice that in this usage, there can be no freedom without the restraint. Once again, you have no idea what you are talking about.

Blowing Rock Master: So I’m free if I’m restrained? Am I alive if I’m dead? Am I in the dark when a light shines on me? Am I a winner if I lose?

Mundus refused to respond to me after this. I realize that by the end of the exchange he he was trying to say something cannot exist without comparing it to its opposite, but I ignored that, both because it’s not true (what’s the opposite of a giraffe?) and because he was originally arguing that something can only exist in conjunction with its opposite. He implied, and then explicitly stated that “free” markets must be regulated.

What does this say about America? If Mundus was a lone wolf making this ridiculous claim the answer would be, “not much.” But multiple posters jumped in to support his assertion, one even told me it is impossible for a “free” market to exist as I define it. On the other hand, hardly anyone backed my position that you can’t be “free” if you are being told what to do. LRC is a site that attracts highly motivated, self-disciplined, intelligent people, the kind of people who eventually end up running things. The majority of these people think like Mundus – you can only be free if you are restrained.

Letsrun.com is a microcosm of America. The prevailing opinion among its users seems to be that true freedom, i.e. the absence of restraint, is bad or impossible. You can’t be a free person unless the government is telling you what you can and can’t do. Another LRC poster summed it up when he sarcastically chimed in with, “Obama is forcing you to be free.”

We are in big trouble.

About Author

Wayne Middlesteadt is a 1986 graduate of Georgia Tech and has an MBA from Georgia State University. Currently working as a financial writer and track and field historian, his latest book is Five Ways To Beat The Market.