Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Monday, December 17, 2012

On Liberty

It's not exactly a revelation that you get a huge political advantage from attaching a label with positive associations to your cause. Rights, liberty, life, freedom,choice -- who could be against any of those? Respecting the right to bear arms gives us more liberty, more freedom, more choice, and we can defend our lives and our property. If you want to restrict that right, you want to take away my freedom. Obviously.

What's wrong with this picture? I shouldn't even have to point it out, yet somehow our public discourse can't arrive at the obvious.

People walking around with guns on their hips may feel that they have liberty and freedom, but they diminish the freedom of others. Who would dare to offend a belligerent character with a gun in his hand? Are the people of Newtown, and every other school district in this country, freer because their neighbors own high powered rifles with 30 round magazines? Of course not. They are forced to take all sorts of measures that restrict freedom in order to protect themselves. They have to make their schools, libraries, town halls and court houses less accessible. They have to tax themselves more to pay for police and security systems. Even so, sometimes their children get murdered.

I could play this argument out at greater length but others have done so better. The point is, liberty is always a problem of balance. Whatever liberty is granted to one person may take away from the liberty of another. Your liberty to dump your waste in the river deprives me of the liberty to swim in it.

Here's another powerful example. Banning smoking in public places turns out to have a huge effect on the incidence of heart attacks and acute respiratory distress. Huge. A twenty-one percent decrease in hospital admissions for acute myocardial infarction. That means smokers aren't poisoning other people, and the rest of us don't have to pay as much to take care of people who have heart attacks.

Libertarianism is sophomoric nonsense. Rand Paul and Ron Paul and everybody associated with the Cato institute are mindless. We must root this delusional thinking from our political discourse. 

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