In the fall of 1814, the poet Francis Scott Key penned the words of the Star Spangled Banner – including a phrase that would become part of our national identity: “the land of the free, the home of the brave.” Every July, amid the blaze of fireworks and the ringing of those iconic words, we celebrate both ideals: The freedom we won in the fight for independence, and the bravery it took to win it.
Freedom has never been a simple idea for Americans. "In different eras, it has taken on different meanings," said Katrina vanden Heuvel at the Washington Post. "For the founders, it meant freedom from political autocracy, and from royalists with special privileges from the crown." For Roosevelt during the Great Depression, the threatening autocracy was economic, as was the freedom he strove for.
Economic freedom is no trivial thing. It cuts to the heart of the American dream, which is based on a belief in our ability to transcend class barriers. Whether or not social mobility holds true across society (see this essay from the National Review for analysis), as a society, we adore rags to riches stories, in no small part because of what they tell us about our freedom.
The freedom made possible by earning power
In a very real sense, individual freedom can be measured by the range of options that a person has available in any given area. If you’re hungry, what type of food can you eat? If you need new shoes, can you buy them? If you want to pursue an education, which universities are you able to attend?
Roosevelt called economic independence “freedom from want.” Here, again, these concepts of freedom and independence are close-knit. Without financial independence, a person has little freedom. However, with a strong financial standing, they have options.
This week, as we celebrate the many freedoms that we enjoy as Americans, we encourage you not to forget the freedom that comes from your financial standing, and to do what you can to protect it. Your earning power may be one of the most palpable expressions of freedom that you experience in your day-to-day life: the one with the most tangible implications. Don’t allow it to be threatened by disability, which will impact more than one in four of today’s 20-year-olds before they retire with a disability of three months or more.
Here’s wishing you a safe, happy and memorable Independence Day from all of us at DIonDEMAND.