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Americans losing concept of freedom

by Ron Wilkins

My buddies from the dorm were headed to Florida on spring break during my freshman year in college, and I was going. I imagined the fun and the freedom, then I called home to ask Mom and Dad for funds.

Sure, I could go, my mom said, but they weren’t paying for it. If I wanted to go, I had to finance the trip, so I stayed home that year — and every other year. That’s either a sign of how cheap I was or it was a realization of balancing freedom with the responsibility of freedom — in this case the financial responsibility.

We Americans are fond of talking about freedom, especially around the time of patriotic holidays, but I fear we’re losing the concept. Maybe that’s because the idea of freedom is so intoxicating that we’ve forgotten to talk about responsibilities.

For example, we have the freedom in the Second Amendment that gives us the right to own firearms, but with that freedom comes a weighty responsibility. If you misuse that freedom, you go to prison.

We have the freedom to work or not to work, but we also have a responsibility to provide food, shelter, clothing and other essentials for ourselves and our family.

We say we live in a free market, but we forget about the responsibilities of influencing that market with our purchases.

I mention the free market because of a conversation City Editor Steve Dick and I had during the Thursday Focus radio show on WHBU, Newstalk 1240 AM. The subject was Wal-Mart and the question at hand was the giant store’s business practices.

To hear some speak about Wal-Mart, you’d think the company was aligned with Darth Vader. I don’t believe that, but I also remember a time when Wal-Mart bragged that it stocked American-made merchandise when possible. Today, Wal-Mart — and many similar stores — sell many items imported from China.

I support the free market, so I like Wal-Mart. They — and other stores like them — provide merchandise at good prices. I’m glad Anderson will have a Wal-Mart Superstore next year.

I also use the free market to express my freedom to choose against those I don’t like or who I believe are irresponsible.

For example, I order contact lenses from Wal-Mart. I’ve always received good care and contacts at a reasonable price.

However, I don’t want to buy merchandise made in China. Why? Because I disagree with the Chinese government and the way it treats its citizens. In fact, I decided in 2001 not to purchase merchandise made in China after that country’s behavior toward the U.S. Navy’s surveillance plane operating over international water.

I also don’t buy merchandise made in France, and it’s not because of France’s refusal to support the invasion of Iraq in 2003. It’s because the French government double-crossed the United States’ government about its support of the Iraq issue.

Wal-Mart, I believe, has taken it tough over the last few years because labor unions have been blocked from organizing Wal-Mart employees. Because of this, I believe that labor has targeted Wal-Mart.

Freedom allows us to discuss these issues. But freedom also means our choices of purchases should correlate with our rhetoric.

If your convictions are pro-labor, then exercise your freedoms and don’t shop at a store you believe is an affront to your values. If enough of the people feel that Wal-Mart employees should be unionized, they’ll get the message because their sales will drop. If you’re concerned that super stores drive out local mom ’n pop businesses, then buy at the local stores.

I’m betting that won’t happen because people want to buy merchandise at the lowest prices available, which is what these stores provide.

The critics should put some responsibility behind their words. If you have a problem with a store, make freedom stand for something more than rhetoric.

For me, I’m going to continue to shop at Wal-Mart, but I’m not buying anything made in France or China.

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