"Women are the guardians of continuity. If the hearth moves, they move with it. Remember, it is the gypsy women who keep their men on the road."

~"Boomerang Love," Jimmy Buffett

Freedom to Fail: A Global Perspective

Recently, I submitted a video entry to the New Threats to Freedom scholarship competition, in response to Michael Goodwin’s “Freedom to Fail.” He claims that “entitlement mania” will foster dependence and complacency in the United States, a topic of great personal interest, since I recently lived in a leftist country that most Americans would describe as a welfare state.

I have described my campus life in Argentina as “UC Berkeley on amphetamines.” Banners and posters decrying capitalism and demanding revolution adorned the entire building. Classes were regularly canceled for indeterminable strikes and protests. Whenever we did hold class discussions, the students inevitably defaulted to the government’s failures to solve x-problem, whether it be air pollution, traffic accidents, or obesity. A blatant example of this complex was the family that calculated that it would be more profitable to produce more children and receive extra government assistance than to seek actual employment. Nonetheless, it is interesting that for all of the rampant “entitlement mania,” Argentina’s education system did not exhibit the social promotion that Goodwin describes in American schools. Unlike the US, their test culture remains rigorous and demanding. Failure is not only the norm, but expected. These stringent measures ensure that students who successfully complete their programs are not just proficient, but experts at their subjects. On the other hand, having an unlimited fully-subsidized education allows students to fail with relatively few reprisals, aside from the tedium of repeating courses year after year. With little incentives (or alternately, little consequences), it is not uncommon for “chronic students” to spend as many as 10 years completing their education, while producing minimal social output in the meantime.

Obviously, the US will not be adopting that type of mentality any time soon, nor should we. I would suggest, however, that we turn our sights towards burgeoning countries such as Singapore or South Korea whose values may be more in sync with the American Protestant ethic. Unlike your traditional “up-and-comers” China and India whose meteoric growth can be primarily attributed to industrialization, these countries are already developed. Currently, they are experiencing surging entrepreneurship and social enterprise, especially among young people. Whereas the economic crisis in the US has resulted in Goodwin’s alleged “flat earth,” these countries are thriving with new firms and innovation.

My theory is that a major factor is the existence of a robust public healthcare system that balances reasonable price controls with private practices and individual choice of providers. Limited social intervention does not necessarily have to be at odds with individual freedom, it can also reinforce it. This safety net (literal insurance) would grant citizens the freedom to fail at individual pursuits without failing their livelihood.  For this reason (and please take note of the many conditional modifiers to follow), I believe that an intelligent, restricted social infrastructure with a very focused scope could be effective in motivating people to take more risks. Nevertheless, putting these measures in place will by no means guarantee success, thereby keeping the freedom to fail intact.

My full response video can be seen below: 

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