The Maintenance Of FreedomA benefactor once proposed to give a beautiful, early-19th century mansion to a small university for their use. Even though it would be conveyed to the university free and clear, the university trustees knew they had to be prepared to accept the stewardship of this property. Being experienced property owners, they understood that owning such a special asset would require diligent and continual maintenance.
Like that university, Americans are also the beneficiaries of a very special asset. We call it freedom. In The Fortune of the Republic, referring to how fundamental this asset is to who we are, Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, "We began with freedom." Indeed. Bought and paid for with the most precious of currencies, human lives, the freedom we enjoy has been bequeathed to you and me, free and clear. And our only responsibility, like the university trustees, is to maintain what we have been given.
One of the things that can slip up on an inexperienced purchaser of real estate is something called deferred maintenance. A totally intuitive term, deferred maintenance is putting off until a later date repairs and upgrades that ultimately MUST be done.
An unfortunate by-products of peace and prosperity is complacency. The farther away we get from the day when that most precious currency was laid down for freedom, the less we tend to appreciate the cost of our inheritance, and the more we tend to neglect and defer its maintenance.
Unfortunately, we didn't have an adequate maintenance plan for our freedom. In terms of maintaining our inheritance, America had acquired a dangerous level of deferred maintenance, and recently, that deficiency cost us more precious currency.
If we are to be the trustees of the gift of freedom and be responsible for passing it to the next generation, we must also be prepared to provide the proper maintenance, preferably the preventative kind rather than the deferred kind.
Attitude And Capital
Since the utility of almost any asset can be stretched before maintenance occurs, when maintenance is actually performed is subjective, and typically depends on two things:
1. The attitude of the owner toward maintenance: Some owners are more likely to perform maintenance before something breaks, while others will milk an asset for all it's worth, and deal with the repair bill when it breaks. Therefore, the level of deferred maintenance of any asset will be in direct proportion to the owner's attitude about risking a breakdown.
2. The capital condition of the owner: Well-capitalized owners typically have well-maintained assets. Sometimes, even well-capitalized owners will delay maintenance because of their attitude toward it. But regardless of attitude, the properties of undercapitalized owners will typically have lots of deferred maintenance.
The Expense of Maintenance
While the cost of establishing our freedom, as I have said, was paid in the most precious of currencies, the maintenance of freedom, like real estate, also requires capital. It has been reported that El Al, Israel's airline, has never been successfully hijacked. Only once was there even an attempt. But the little nation of Israel spends $60 million a year just on stringent security measures at airports and on their planes.
There is also one more maintenance expense: In real estate, it's the disruption of the property's operation during maintenance. But in the maintenance of freedom, ironically, disruption means the impingement of liberties. My friends who have traveled on El Al tell me that the experience is not without inconvenience.
Perhaps because benevolence is a prime characteristic of freedom, the enemy of freedom is evil. In order to thwart evildoers, limits must also be imposed on good people. And those limits, part of the expense of maintaining freedom, ironically, mean impingement of some of our liberties.
America's Attitude Adjustment
If you are an experienced purchaser of a building, part of your due diligence is to look for the deferred maintenance that can diminish the value of that property. If you are an experienced terrorist, looking to create the most terror with the least exposure, you look for a place that has the most deferred maintenance in protecting freedom. Say what you will about the terrorists who attacked the United States on September 11th, they know maintenance.
If the most valuable liberty is personal safety, America has paid dearly for our deferred maintenance. And since America certainly is not an undercapitalized owner of the asset called freedom, we therefore must challenge our attitude toward its maintenance.
The lesser challenge we must face is how much capital we are willing to spend to maintain our freedom. The reason I say lesser is because, while we like our cash, at the national protection of freedom level, it becomes part of the national overhead. And per capita cost of national issues, like how much milk subsidies or the coast guard budget costs each of us, is lost on the average American. Let's establish what it will take to insure our personal safety, write the check and make it so.
As the heirs of freedom, for which most of us have not paid any precious currency, the greater challenge is this: How much impingement of liberties will we allow in order to ensure the maintenance of freedom? On that point, events often change attitudes. For example:
• Face recognition technology was highly controversial a few weeks ago. Now it looks like a good maintenance tool.
• Racial profiling was considered the practice of the bigot not too long ago. Today, waiting at airport gates and boarding the aircraft, how many heretofore non-bigoted airline travelers have become racial profilers. I'm not saying racial profiling now is okay, but we do look at it differently.
• Until recently, how quickly did we rise to irritation, if not anger, when we were delayed in whisking through airports to our destinations? In the future, allowing enough time for proper inspection of EVERYONE'S baggage - and person - will be seen as good maintenance.
And these are just air travel examples. From now on, preventative maintenance of freedom will touch virtually every aspect of our lives, including our small businesses. Even if you don't expect your business to be physically attacked, you should expect cyber-attacks, and you should be prepared.
The challenge for those in authority will be to use a velvet hand that gently handles the liberties of the good actors, but tightens into a fist around the necks of the bad actors.
The challenge for us will be to get used to any kind of a hand. But we won't meet this challenge unless we view it as the maintenance of our inheritance, freedom.
Write this on a rock... In the song Me and Bobby McGee, Chris Kristopherson wrote, "Freedom's just another word for nothin' left to lose. Freedom ain't worth nothin', but it's free." Only in a song. In real life, freedom is expensive, and its maintenance is not only expensive, it's also complicated.