October 19th, 2012 .

Freedom to shop

Max Morden

The United States Federal Reserve recently announced a further round of “quantitative easing.” I don’t know who came up with that term, but it’s brilliant. It means “printing money,” which can lead to bad things like inflation and devaluation of the dollar. But quantitative easing sounds like something nice, a sure help to an ailing economy.

I find it amazing how the use of certain words can shape a debate. For example, the accusation of “political correctness” is enough to scupper just about any liberal idea. And “collateral damage” is often used to defend the killing of innocents.

Some of the best examples come in the area of economics. Recently I read a book by James Galbraith, the son of the great Canadian economist John Kenneth Galbraith, a hero of mine. In his book, The Predator State, he talks about certain myths that go to the heart of our economic beliefs. An example is “economic freedom,” which everyone agrees is one of our most cherished values. Yet the term has been used to oppose ideas like universal health care, free public education, public subsidies to the arts, and social welfare.  Galbraith argues that economic freedom is really nothing more than the “freedom to shop.”

Now that we’re in the thick of an American election we see many examples of how words are freighted with meaning. Some people have accused Obama of being a “socialist,” one of the most damning charges you can make about anyone in the United States. Of course Obama dismisses it.  But what about the government’s bail-out of AIG and the auto companies? Wasn’t that simply “socialism for the rich”? Not at all, says Obama, it was “state capitalism.” Who knew?




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