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Published: Tuesday, 7/1/2008

U.S. is the land of the free to be spendthrifts

Despite a battered economy and a beaten-up dollar, Americans will celebrate our freedoms Friday on Independence Day.

Nothing is cheap anymore, but it's still a free country. And we love our freedom.

This year, as we make our plans for the Fourth of July, we're free to pay $4 and change for a gallon of gasoline (maybe $5, $6, or $7 a few months down the road), but we're also free to be very angry that we have become slaves to the oil-producing nations.

We're free to use what's left of our economic resources for the good of ourselves and mankind in general, but we're also free to squander, free to make bad economic decisions, free to throw our money away.

Since the United States became an independent nation 232 years ago, we have freed ourselves from the constraints of an 18th-century agrarian economy. We are now mobile, affluent, global.

We are free to live where we want, even if our homes gobble up fertile farmland, and even if they make no economic sense. We are free to drive the vehicles of our choice, even if they are gas hogs and waste irreplaceable fossil fuel.

Americans are free to use their stimulus checks to make down payments on foreign cars, even though our domestic automakers are an endangered species.

During this Fourth of July weekend, many of us will exercise our freedom to pay outrageous prices for tickets to sporting events. Yes, we are free to subsidize the lifestyles of spoiled millionaire athletes who set horrible examples for our children and grandchildren.

As shareholders, we are free to abdicate our right to choose competent corporate leaders and free to relinquish our votes to boards of directors all too willing to perpetuate mediocrity.

(The modern corporation didn't exist in 1776, but it's hard to imagine that shareholders would have been so complacent in those days).

We are free to pick ourselves up by the bootstraps once again to manufacture competitive American-made products, redirect more of our money into savings and investment, and ensure that our heirs will have a better life. But we're also free to continue to be wasteful, and we are free to be enslaved by debt.

This November, we are free to vote - and that's no small freedom. It's the one we should cherish the most. And despite the blunders of 2000 and 2004, perhaps our votes will actually count.

Between now and election time, voters are free to disrespect John McCain for his age or Barack Obama for his color. That won't make anyone a better person, but it's a free person's choice.

On July 4, we are entitled to celebrate our considerable freedom. This is still the land of the free. And, boy, do we need to be brave.

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