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Freedom vs. Liberty

Written By Geoffrey Pike

Posted February 3, 2014

freeeI use the terms freedom and liberty somewhat interchangeably, as do most people. I have seen it pointed out that there is a difference.

Liberty means that you are free from others (including government) encroaching on your person or your property. In this sense, liberty is a political term.

Freedom on the other hand can be more personal. You may have the right to do something, but it doesn’t mean you can do it. You may have the liberty to sail around the world, but you don’t really have the freedom to do it because you lack the money and time.

This all depends upon definitions, but it makes a point for this piece.

Many people are at liberty to do many things in life, but they may not have the means to do them. We do live in a world with scarce resources. In our world today, a mark of wealth is not necessarily to accumulate resources, but to accumulate money, which can be used to buy resources.

This brings me to the topic of accumulating money. There are some people in this world who actually look down on it. They think it is a bad thing to accumulate money.

While many Americans have this attitude, I think Americans tend to have a much better appreciation for wealth accumulation than most other places in the world. There are a lot of cultures that take an attitude that is negative towards accumulating wealth and even just being successful. This is one of the reasons some parts of the world are so poor.

What amazes me though is that many people, including Americans, do not see a point in saving money. They want to live for today. That’s why about half of Americans live paycheck to paycheck, or at least one of the reasons.

It’s funny to me when I hear someone accuse others of being greedy simply because they save money. If anything, wouldn’t it be the opposite? The saver is delaying gratification and is not spending his money on unnecessary things that only bring short-term happiness.

But it is especially strange to me that so many people don’t understand why others would save so much. They don’t understand that it can bring a person security and freedom, all at the same time. Of course, people who tend to be critical of savers tend to be people who don’t have any money themselves, and are also very short-term oriented. They cannot delay gratification for the future.

Having money can give you security for various reasons. Obviously, if you lose your job or main source of income, having money means having a cushion. You aren’t going to starve. You may not even have to cut back on your lifestyle if you have enough in reserves.

There are even more extreme examples where having money provides security. If you get sick and need the best treatment in the world, don’t count on your health insurance to cover it for you. If you have money, you have the means to try an alternative doctor halfway around the world. You have the means to try special therapies that may be expensive.

But the biggest thing that shocks me about those who are critical of savers is that they don’t understand the huge benefit of freedom.

If you ask most people what they would do first if they won the lotto, what is the number one answer you would hear? The first thing most people would do with the money is use it to support themselves so that they can quit their job. That is the number one reason people want to win the lotto. They want to say goodbye to their job.

This is freedom. If you accumulate a lot of money, it allows you to do things that others simply cannot do. Even if you don’t have enough to retire, you can always quit a stressful job and find something easier, even if it means less pay. And having money also means that you can pursue work that is more meaningful to you.

I think the reason that this doesn’t occur to the saving critics is because they can’t fathom the idea. They live paycheck to paycheck and they have absolutely no hope of retiring before the age of 65 (or even later) unless they do win the lottery, especially since big pensions are becoming a thing of the past. They cannot understand someone accumulating enough capital to actually have the freedom to walk away from a job.

In terms of the distinct definitions of freedom and liberty, it is clear that money doesn’t buy you liberty, unless you count hiring good lawyers and accountants to help you legally avoid taxes and other government dictates.

But having money does give you freedom, as long as there is still some degree of liberty. Even if you are not anywhere close to being able to retire, having at least some money gives you a cushion and some peace of mind. It certainly doesn’t make you greedy. It means you can somewhat prepare for an uncertain future and it means you have a little more freedom in reserve for when you may need it.