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Sunday, March 8, 2009

The freedom to be a serf

Corey Heidelberger at Madville Times takes up some of the specifics of why the study that purports to show that South Dakota ranks among the top states for freedom is an exercise in ideology, not a legitimate "study." Sponsored by the Mercatus Institute at George Mason University in Virginia, the study claims to measure indices that indicate the status of freedoms in the 50 states. What the study really shows is that the news media are not following the criteria established for reporting on studies and polls, and it may show some failures in the academic community in allowing the study to be issued without challenge or criticism of its premise and methods. In consultation with the professional organizations of people who develop and apply analytic methods in polls and studies, journalistic organizations adopted standards for reporting on the results of polls and studies. Those standards require that the sponsors and conductors of studies be fully identified, and that any biases in their background regarding the subject of studies be included.

The journalistic standards also require a summary of the methodology, to put the audience of the report on notice of its procedures and potential areas that might be criticized.
When academics propose a study which will result in publication, they are required to establish the protocol--an explanation of the procedures and their limitations--they will use in conducting the study. Generally, a valid study includes evaluators who issue criticisms and recommendations for refining the protocol in ways that improve the accuracy and reliability of a study. For the Mercatus study on freedoms, none of the media reporting it followed the guidelines.

Corey Heidelberger noted the identities of the authors of the freedom study and how who they are may skew the study or indicate that it is an objective sham.
The authors have a history of pursuing a political agenda. Madville Times asks, who are the people who get all those freedoms in South Dakota? And that question gets at a major defect in this purported study.

The problem is one that a segment of so-called conservatives use time and again. They have their own, idiosyncratic definitions of concepts such as freedom, and apply them as if they are universal criteria. Often the definitions are skewed and just plain wrong. They are definitions based upon exclusions of concepts not favorable to those who offer them.

The authors of the Mecatus study say that their definition of freedom is the right to take any actions which do not harm the freedom of others. Then they endorse a belief statement from Norman Barry as the defining premise of their study:

[A] belief in the efficiency and morality of unhampered markets, the system of private property, and individual rights--and a deep distrust of taxation, egalitarianism, compulsory welfare, and the power of the state.

The huge national irony in that premise for their study is all that all the aspects of the current economic failure are embraced by the values expressed in that statement:

  1. Markets unhampered by any kind of regulation have brought the country to economic failure because of a predatory immorality among the financial ruling class.
  2. Those unhampered markets have been totally inefficient.
  3. The indiviudal rights of the powerful, CEOs and their minions have violated the trust and rights of the huge majority.
  4. The distrust of egalitarianism has produced a ruling class that has brought the nation under a state of economic feudalism and oppression.
  5. Under the guise of corporate private property, huge global corporations literally own the country and have made American working people a new, impoverished serfdom.
When it comes to ranking South Dakota as among the top three states for freedoms, one must ponder that in the context that the state perennially ranks at the bottom for individual wages, ranks in the 20 states with the highest poverty rates, is among the three states with the most regressive tax policies, has among the highest incarceration rates for adults, and has labor laws that regard employees as serfs who work at the whim of their employers with no rights that the employers do not want to grant them.

And when a statement of purpose expresses a distrust of egalitarianism, one must ponder if that statement refutes the premise that all people "are created equal."

This study may purport to measure someone's ideas of freedom, but they certainly aren't the concepts that our documents of history have defined.

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Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States