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Hippies from the 1960s ask today’s progressives, ‘What happened to freedom?’

In the mid to late 1960s and into the early 1970s, large numbers of mostly college students were called hippies. The Encyclopedia Brittanica defines hippies as being a “member, during the 1960s and 1970s, of a countercultural movement that rejected the mores of mainstream American life.” Above all else, hippies demanded freedom. But today, while many of those original hippies morphed into “progressives,” what’s left of the hippie culture must wonder, “Whatever happened to the ‘freedom’ part?” Let’s briefly examine what happened to men and women over the intervening years.

1960s women wanted to be liberated.

In many ways, women received the most benefit from this movement. Prior to this, women had much less freedom than men. Women were expected to marry, bear children, take care of the household and continue in that role. Historically, very few women had other options and possessed little freedom to pursue other interests.

Then women realized that their right to freedom was protected by the constitution. Women wanted to exercise that freedom by choosing to marry, or not and bear children, or not. They wanted to have a career if they so chose, and thus make more significant contributions to the economy and to their personal development. They also wanted the same freedom in relationships that men had. And suddenly they could, as birth control gave them the freedom to seek intimacy, without the fear of pregnancy.

Large numbers of women exercised their newly discovered freedom by putting off marriage, delaying childbearing, going to college and entering the workforce. Over the next fifty years, women became successful in nearly all fields including politics. Women embraced the freedom to choose what they wanted rather than simply following the traditional path.

1960s Men just wanted more freedom.

Men also benefited. Dress codes changed, so men were free to express themselves. Similarly, styles changed so men had the freedom to grow their hair if desired. Men could also take non-traditional career paths. This even meant entering some fields, like nursing, that were traditionally female-dominated.

Hippies also wanted to be free to consume products that they felt they would enjoy. They accepted any risk to do so. Fifty years later the use of cannabis is now legal to varying degrees in most states.

People with non-traditional sexual preferences wanted to be free to express themselves and live their lives openly and freely. That too eventually happened.

Hippies: Now they’re senior citizens.

Today those 1960s hippies are senior citizens. They now see a world very different from the one that launched their movement and their belief system. Because of advancements in medicine, people are not retiring at 65 and leaving the workforce. Many people remain active contributors to the system well into their 70s and 80s. Even the President of the United States is well into his 70s.

As the world turned, most hippies became mainstream. For most, their views have changed somewhat to become more practical given the realities of everyday life. The one thing that always remained constant was the strong desire to ensure that there would be as much individual freedom as possible.

Of course with individual freedom comes individual responsibility. Most people accepted that notion. This helped the US grow rapidly, vastly improving the standard of living for all Americans.

It was the freedom to pursue one’s own self-interest that was most important to those first idealistic hippies. As noted, however, some of those original hippies transformed themselves into today’s progressives. But along the way, the progressive — i.e., socialist — movement lost its love of individual freedom and wanted to replace it entirely with what they regarded as “security.” This security was imposed by an ever more intrusive and coercive government.

Benjamin Franklin’s warning.

As Benjamin Franklin noted, “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.”

Today’s progressives favor free healthcare for all Americans, free college for all Americans, above market value wages, high taxes on the greatest achievers along with free money to those who don’t achieve anything. And today’s progressives want to replace individual responsibility with more social responsibility. Or, in progressive terminology, “social justice.” We can see the regressive results of this in the 21st century.

Yet with today’s vaunted social programs and social justice directives, progressives believe that Americans will be more secure. They seem unconcerned with the loss of freedom that all these laws and directives impose. Their programs create the appearance of more security. But in reality, they reduce individual freedom.

Is increasing government control of our lives worth the price?

If the government runs the healthcare system — which Washington seems intent to do — then the government will decide how much benefit each citizen receives. The same is true with higher education. If the government pays, then the government essentially decides who goes to college and who doesn’t.

And how will our increasingly “progressive” government pay for all these “free” perks?

By over-taxing high-income earners and transferring the income they earned to citizens who didn’t earn anything, the economy will slow. This kind of income redistribution means fewer opportunities and fewer choices for American workers. Worse, higher minimum wages they demand eventually and inevitably reduce the number of opportunities for unskilled workers, thus limiting their freedom.

Today’s progressives have lost the love of freedom that triggered the counter-culture hippie movement almost sixty years ago. That portends a terrible vision for the future of America. Remember, the US transformed itself from its humble birth to the largest most prosperous economy in the world in the course of roughly 150 years. That happened because we all embraced individual freedom, individual responsibility, low rates of taxation and a limited role for government.

What did progressives do to America’s individual freedom?

Today’s “progressive” policies run counter to each of those principles. And, most importantly, those policies reduce individual freedom. And without individual freedom, the nation that our forbears built and that increasing waves of immigrants grew ever larger may enter a prolonged period of decline.

Hey progressives, what happened? As for those hippies who remain, “Where are the protests over the loss of your freedoms?” Good questions. Which we all should be asking in 2021.

Michael Busler

Michael Busler, Ph.D. is a public policy analyst and a Professor of Finance at Stockton University where he teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in Finance and Economics. He has written Op-ed columns in major newspapers for more than 35 years.

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