On September 17th, protesters started to gather outside of Wall Street in order to protest against capitalist oppression, government corruption, and a few other ambiguous ideas. As of now, they are still parked outside of Wall Street, and you can see their live feed if you go to their web site. The biggest question is, are we really oppressed in America? Sure, life can be very difficult, especially in light of the recent American downturn, and some in government and big business are corrupt. If we look at historical oppression, however, our lives seem downright cushy.
Freedom of Movement
One freedom that Americans have today that some historically oppressed people did not have was the freedom of movement. If we live in California and don’t like the laws, we can leave and go somewhere else. While it may be difficult nowadays to go find a spot and form your own country, we’re not stuck in one location. In the Middle Ages and under many governments in ancient times, serfs were not able to choose where they lived. While there were some free men who were allowed to travel, most people were attached to the land where they lived. If a lord decided to sell the land, the peasants on the land came as part of the transaction. Similarly, the Israelites in ancient Egypt were also not free to come and go as they pleased, which was why Moses’s plea to Pharaoh was “let my people go”. Slaves in America’s early history also were not free to roam about as they pleased. While life may not be sunshine and roses, we can at least live where we choose.
Taxed to Death?
In America, we might hate paying taxes, but most of us are not literally being taxed to death. If you’re poor, you’re not going to pay any income taxes, and can even get some assistance to help pay for your meals. If you have more wealth, yes, you will see some taxes, but not so much that you won’t be able to afford to eat if you budget your money wisely. This was not always the case. In the Middle Ages, serfs had to pay their lords a certain amount of food per year, no matter what they actually produced. During good times, there was enough for the lord to get some, and there was enough for the serf as well. Unfortunately, during times of scarcity (like in the Little Ice Age) the peasants grew less, and were not able to produce enough to pay their taxes and feed themselves. People starved as a result. People were literally taxed to death in France before their revolution; the French nobility had enough to eat, while the peasantry starved. Collectivist experiments in the Soviet Union and China, where the government took control of the food supply and doled out food as needed, also led to starvation. Although we may not like being taxed, we’re not being taxed to death.
Today, Americans can’t really honestly say that they are being oppressed. We have the freedom to say what we want, to teach our own children, and to engage in the kinds of hobbies that we like. A life of freedom doesn’t mean that our lives are going to be easy. After being freed from slavery, some of the Israelites didn’t like the realities of harsh desert living, and suggested returning to Egypt to become slaves again. Some of us might not be able to find jobs and might have trouble paying the mortgage or putting food on the table. Not only is a life of freedom not easy, freedom is fragile and needs to be protected. We need to speak up whenever we see the government overstepping its bounds. We need to keep ourselves free of corruption so that we don’t treat others unfairly, and we need to do our best to deal with others that act the same way. Finally, we need to try to deal with problems through the free market by avoiding corrupt companies, rather than complain to the government. When we cry out to the government to take care of our problems, their solution is usually to take away our freedoms, not to add more.