Threats to Individual Autonomy: ObamaCare, Salt and Sugar

April 22, 2010

by Mario Rizzo  

I love-hate the word “progressive.” Its political uses derive from the so-called Progressive Era and the less-than-socialist reforms that were enacted during that early twentieth-century period.  

Today, of course, few people who use the term think about its historical origins. They think it is simply a word that means “advanced,” “better,” – well, “progressive.”  

For a long time in the nineteenth-century, “progress” meant the gradual liberation of human beings from the control of the state. For some thinkers, like Herbert Spencer, it was tied to a particular view of evolution. For others, like Benjamin Constant, it was based on certain historical changes that involved increasing complexity of life spurred on the process of “globalization.” Increasing division of labor, specialization and trade were critical in this view. Others, like Sir Henry Maine, emphasized the legal changes: from status (serf/nobility) to contract – each of us now decides how to relate to others in commerce.  

Constant reminded us that the “liberty of the ancients” was a collective liberty. The citizens of Athens could do whatever they liked. The “liberty of the moderns” is an individual liberty. The individual is sovereign. It is a liberty against the state.  

Now this progress has become reversed. The new “progress” is back to the “liberty” of the collective. We are the state. We are in the process, in many areas of political life, of merging ourselves with the state – of conceiving of ourselves, not as individuals, but as part of a collective that somehow commands itself. The master appears to be us, but it is not: It is “them” disguised as “us.” It is the paternalists, the special interest seekers, the crony capitalists, politicians seeking glory, and the ignorant.  

As government becomes more and more involved with healthcare, the expenses associated with it become increasingly socialized. Taxpayers now have a stake in the health of everyone. My irresponsibility is no longer my problem alone; now it becomes your problem too. 

What of individual autonomy?  We can see the handwriting on the wall. All sorts of clever proposals to turn us into wards of the state are coming forward. There are proposals to tax sugar in soft drinks In New York and other “progressive” states, and now the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) is planning to “slowly” reduce the salt content of food.  

I am not arguing for people to increase their consumption of sugar or salt or even not to reduce it. I am simply saying that if we wish to be individuals and not automatons, we need to make our own decisions about health and much else. There are few decisions more personal or more intimate than deciding what to eat.  

But when we look to the state to pay for our healthcare we unleash social and political processes that have a life of their own. Step by step we give up the control of the decisions that makes us human. We become playthings of state. This is not progressive. It is reactionary.  

Where are the civil libertarians in all of this?

42 Responses to “Threats to Individual Autonomy: ObamaCare, Salt and Sugar”

  1. Richard Ebeling Says:

    Where all of this is leading is also indicated by what one finds to be the “views” of students on public policy issues, if one is a classroom professor.

    There is an almost kneejerk atttiude that, after all, we are a “democracy,” and the group decision has an almost “divine” superiority to the mundane individual decisions of actual persons in the marketplace and in the arena of private civil society.

    There is virtually no understanding of the meaning of “rights,” or the conception of the meaning and difference between “law” and “legislation” (in the Hayekian distinction of these).

    “Rights,” I often find students to believe, has something (and nothing deeper) to do with feelings about “fairness” and social consensus.

    And this is world-wide. I was recently lecturing at a private university in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia for two weeks. The students were full of the same notions (and in the same words practically) as too many Americans about “corporate social responsibility” over the market-oriented profit motive; or redistributive justice; or the need for global environmental controls and oversight. And government responsibility for health care and old age.

    Here is the “downside” of globalization: bad ideas spread, as well as good ones.

    Richard Ebeling

  2. Dave Pullin Says:

    Aren’t you confusing ‘definition’ with ‘example’?

    Many people might agree that ‘liberation of human beings from the control of the state’ in progress, but that doesn’t mean the only form of progress is ‘liberation of human beings from the control of the state’.

    I’m sure many would agree that ‘liberation of human beings from starvation’ or ‘… from disease’ or ‘… from slavery’ or ‘… from feudal lords’ is progress.

    Which is why you have a love-hate relationship with the word: some changes that you consider progress, others no not, and vice versa. But we should debate the ‘changes’ not the ‘word’!

    It seems to me that “freedom of the individual” is something that every American would agree to — indeed every human individual would agree to. Why is it that they appear not to?

  3. Thomas Says:

    I think that, coming from Scandinavia, the discussion surrounding the Obama’s health care reform has sometimes been, to say, absurd. The fundamental problem in the health care system in US has been that corporations have run the system. This has, naturally, led to a situation where corporations, not people, have decided about health care policies of individuals. Surely, some people have not wanted a health coverage which is now “forced upon them”, but in the current system many people who have wanted a coverage could not have obtained such due to “pre-existing conditions”. Which is a bigger problem?

    The salt etc. content changes controlled by government are a violation of individual rights per se. In health care, there is no freedom. Only corporate or government dominance. The question thus is, which is the more efficient system?

  4. Richard Ebeling Says:

    In response to Dave Pullin and Thomas,

    There is no “liberation” in the context of these issues other than liberation from state control, domination, and dictate.

    Liberation from starvation can come by one of two methods: work or enslavement of others. I can work alone or collaborate with others in various exchange relationships in the division of labor to raise myself (and others) out of poverty.

    Or . . . I can force others to work for me and live off (by coercion) part of what those others have produced, which was part of the nature of that feudal system.

    Today, some want others to pay for their health care, their food, their housing, etc., through the compulsory taking of the State. That is, the modern redistributive state.

    I know that one response is that I’m being “extreme” in expressing it this way. After all, we live and participate in a “democracy.” Enslavement is no less slavery because a majority (or a coalition of special interest groups that, then, make up a majority) have imposed it upon others in society.

    Think of what such a system, logically, must imply. If I try not to pay the taxes that such redistributive programs require, I risk having my income and property seized by the government as payment for back taxes.

    If I attempt to resist having my income and property taken for these purposes, the government can threaten to arrest me. If I resist arrest, the police authorities have the right to use force, including, in the limit, lethal force to subdue me.

    So, do you believe that it is “right,” “just,” or “moral,” for the state to — if it came to that extreme — to kill one citizen so their income and property is available to pay for another citizen’s food stamps, or public housing, or check up with a doctor?

    Richard Ebeling

  5. Mario Rizzo Says:

    “In health care, there is no freedom. Only corporate or government dominance.”

    When people do not understand the difference between conditions placed upon them by insurance companies and those by the state, we know that things are quite bad indeed.

  6. Seth Says:

    Kansas wants to enact a sugar tax as well.

  7. Troy Camplin Says:

    We have seen a general trend over the course of history of the shackles of state being dropped from the necks of men. This has been the history of progress. When new shackles are placed on people’s necks, that is not progress, but a return to a more primitive state. Socialism is and has always been reactionary — it has just been clothed with Modernity. But those clothes for many of us have always been the Emperor’s new clothes — transparent to those who wish to see. Welfare statism, nationalization, socialism, etc. — whatever you want to call it — is atavistic. It is a return of the primitive. Liberation from government is what has given us liberation from starvation; statist governments starve their people. Liberation from government is what has given us liberation from disease. Liberation from government is what has given us liberation from slavery; indeed, to argue that we need to be more enslaved to be liberated from slave is at best naive, at worst anywhere from cynical to outright evil.

  8. Richard Ebeling Says:

    The threat from this trend has been understood by many, as Mario’s original post emphasized.

    There is also a paradox in all this, in a sense, in that the very revolutionary change in ideas that began the liberation of man from earlier tyranny has served as the vehicle for the new road to serfdom.

    This was explained by William E. Rappard, founder and co-director of the Graduate Institute of International Studies in Geneva, Switzerland (the institution where Ludwig von Mises, Wilhelm Ropke, and Hans Kelsen taught in the 1930s).

    In a 1937 article entitled, “The Relation of the Individual to the State,” Rappard explained:

    “The revolutions at the end of the eighteenth century . . . were essentially revolts of the individual against the traditional state – expressions of his desire to emancipate himself from the ties and inhibitions which the traditional state had imposed on him . . .

    “After the rise of individualism, which one may define as the emancipation of the individual from the state, we had the rise of democracy, which one may define as the subjection of the state to the will of the individual. In the latter half of the nineteenth century and up to the present, the individual, having emancipated himself from the state and having subjected the state to his will, has furthermore demanded of the state that it serve his material needs. Thereby he has complicated the machinery of the state to such a degree that he has again fallen under the subjection of it and he has been threatened with losing control over it . . .

    “The individual has increasingly demanded of the state services which the state is willing to render. Thereby, however, he has been led to return to the state an authority over himself which it was the main purpose of the revolutions in the beginning of the nineteenth century to shake and break . . .

    “The individual demanding that the state provide him with every security has thereby jeopardized his possession of that freedom for which his ancestors fought and bled.”

    Richard Ebeling

  9. postorm Says:

    The posters and commentators here make a powerful argument against the tyranny of the state.

    But I don’t understand why tyranny by the state is the only form of tyranny that concerns you. Freedom isn’t the absence of coercion by the state, it is the absence of coercion, period.

    The framers of the constitution lived at a time when power was obtain, held and exercised by virtue of controlling a country. Threats by foreign countries against the freedom of the early Americans was driver for creating a federal government. They created a power to balance the power of other countries – and the framers recognized that that power can threaten their freedom. They wrote the constitution with checks and balances to attempt to defend themselves from the power they created.

    While I suspect the framers were successful beyond their wildest dreams, they were not totally successful, otherwise these posts wouldn’t being written.

    But individual freedom isn’t threatened just by the power of the state. It’s threatened by any power. The framers also recognized other threats: they attempted to protect the state from the power of religions.

    Some would argue that your objection coercion or paternalism by the state is excessive; that the coercion is necessary, or unavoidable, or benevolent or even actually beneficial, or not really coercion. You would, I expect, reject their arguments, and rightly so, because ultimately whether you feel free, patronized or enslaved by the state is up to you, not anyone else.

    Some people are as concerned about other powers that make them feel enslaved as you are about enslavement by the state. The example that is most likely to cause disagreement here is ‘corporations’.

    You would no doubt argue that what corporations do is not enslavement. If someone spends their life working to try to pay off an exponentially increasing credit card bill, or their house and life-savings are taken, through a contract that they didn’t understand, that’s not enslavement, it is ‘caveat emptor’. They had a free choice hire enough lawyers to match the team of corporate lawyers who wrote contract to deliberately entrap them, and they chose not to.

    But they aren’t going to accept those arguments, any more than you accept the arguments for state coercion. They will still think they are enslaved by corporations.

    That’s why this country is being torn apart by a war of “Freedom” — each segment wants to be free, and feels it must impose its definition of freedom on every other segment.

    “I must be free to do want I want; you must be free to do as I tell you.”

    We cannot be free, we can only be at war with each, until each individual recognizes that freedom depends on his allowing other people to be to be free, and free in their eyes.

    Complete freedom is impossible because one person’s exercise of freedom can prevent another exercising their freedom. Someone said “The purpose of government is to arbitrate among freedoms” … but you wouldn’t agree because that would be state coercion, right?

  10. avidavid Says:

    I just have to point out how stupid it is to claim that reducing the salt content of packaged food somehow limits your personal liberties. You can always put more salt, or sugar, on whatever you want. It is much more difficult to take salt out of something that’s made with it. Paranoid, anyone?

    Your reasoning that this example supports your position is ridiculous.

  11. Ben Says:

    Government, as we have defined it in our constitution and laws, is a tool that people use to solve problems. Problems of security, problems of trade, problems however and where ever we, the people, define them. Once there is consensus that a problem exists, we debate the solution and get to work fixing it. In health care reform, we defined the problem as exponentially raising cost. This cost IS REAL and is a measurable burden on society. When someone dials 911 and an ambulance takes them to the emergency room and they run up a $300K bill that they can not pay and claim bankruptcy, the hospital recoups that loss by raising prices. (what are the alternatives? take a credit card over phone before dispatching the ambulance?) So eventually, every member of society ends up sharing the burden anyway (inflation is the hidden tax). So with reform we finally said, ENOUGH. If we are going to take the burden (through inflation), we should have a say in the POLICIES (no taxation without representation – ironically for the tea parties, reform gives us representation in the inflation tax of health care costs).
    When we legislate personal behavior (i.e. wear your seatbelt, send your kids to school) we do so because the aggregate good outweighs the perceived loss of “freedom”.
    On the sugar and salt issue, I think we are seeing that these chemicals are being abused and it is having a cost on society (same as nicotine, alcohol, asbestos, or LCD). If they could, corporations would lace their products with just enough cocaine to make it “taste” better. Why not? Well, the “why not” is because we the people decided that their “freedom” to use chemicals is a problem that could best be solved with legislation. There is a historical reason for every law. Your freedom to decide how to build your house was curtailed after the Chicago fire and the San Francisco earthquakes. You solving your personal problem of building a house on the cheap created a big problem for everyone else. Its what we call the “law of unintended consequences”. No one meant to burn down the entire city when they built their cheap wooden building. No-one means to bankrupt society by driving their car with no insurance. But small decisions of individuals have unintended consequences on the larger scale of society. I think we all agree, the only freedoms take away are those that trespass on others freedoms. But the link is not always clear and direct. Sometimes you have to study an issue before you realize that the freedom to dump raw sewage into a river is trespassing on society rights. That the freedom to drive without a seatbelt has the unintended consequence of burdening society with million of needless deaths and health care costs. That the behavior of the insurance industry is creating a cost crisis in this country. If we think it will solve the problems, I’m willing to give it a shoot with an open mind.

  12. Skeptic In Jerzy Says:

    The fallacy of the core argument presented here against progressive forces and the size of government is the idea that, as individuals, we all have equal opportunity and that through our individual effort we rise or fall. Further, that we are only responsible to ourselves, or perhaps our genes. Compare the success, in terms of well-being, of the person who lives a hermetic lifestyle, totally self-reliant, hunting, gathering, foraging, making all of his/her own clothes, tools, shelter, etc. to an individual who lives in a community where labors are shared and goods and services traded. Who is more likely to prosper, especially in the face of chance misfortune (accident, illness, natural disaster)? Is the trade of total autonomy for community support and protection worthwhile? I submit that most people would say yes.

    So let’s not pretend that we’re not connected to others, even those we don’t know, and let’s not pretend that their well-being, or lack thereof, doesn’t affect us. Small communities can manage directly the care of the individuals in the community. Large groups employ central agents – the lord of the manor, the church, the village council, the government. At least where the representatives are elected we have some say and control over what takes place. And yes, the collective decisions may go counter to individual preference, but that doesn’t define them as tyranny.

    Of all those who’ve complained bitterly about the growth of communal healthcare, I’ve never seen one put forward a workable alternative, including Mr. Rizzo. I think Ben puts the argument in the right perspective – you’re going to pay either way. Ironically, reducing sugar and salt, two ingredients placed in our diet largely by corporate food industry interests, would contribute to the overall health of the community and probably reduce the need for healthcare, meaning lower costs all around, yet Mr. Rizzo rails against it. Princeton University released a study about the role of high fructose corn syrup in obesity – an additive that was actually outlawed as dangerous until the Reagan administration gave in to corporate pressure. Sure, we can all exercise individual choice in selecting foods that don’t contain it – but do keep in mind that it was us, through our government, that forced the issue of putting ingredients on the label of our foods so we could make more informed decisions.

    In almost all cases, it pays to follow the money. Note that when the money flows from the lower and middle class to the richest in our society, it’s called capitalism and is considered good, and when it flows in the other direction, from the richest to the poor and middle class, it’s socialism and evil. Who’s controlling that argument?

  13. Richard Ebeling Says:

    In reply to “Avidavid,” I think the disagreement to such things as regulating less salt in various products is based on the core idea that this is not the role of the government.

    Why should the government tell consumers or manufacturers how much salt to put into food, etc.

    The presumption is that it is the duty of the State to paternalistically be my nanny. I don’t want a political nanny.

    Why don’t I want such a Nanny? First, I prefer to make these decisions for myself — I view myself as a “big boy” who can and should make these choices for myself.

    Second, on what basis do they claim a right or an authority to dictate this to me or to those from whom I purchase products in the market? (Who appointed them “Food God”?)

    And, third, I consider this a dangerous precedent, because after salt in food, are they going to now tell me what foods I should eat and how much? When I should exercise, and how much? The hours of sleep I should have, and try to supervise it?

    Am I being “extreme,” or “unrealistic”? This is how government has grown in modern times. What do you mean you don’t want the government to establish maximum working hours? Or what do you mean that you don’t want to limit women from working in some physically “demanding” occupations? What do you mean that you don’t want mandatory attendance of children in public school? What do you mean you don’t want government to assure a minimum retirement pension? What do you mean . . . ?

    Each seems so “reasonable” and “humane” on its own merit. But each then sets a new precedent for a new corner in which the State can take an interest in the private and market affairs of the citizenry.

    And when, then, you look backwards over the decades, you realize that the arena of personal freedom and voluntary association have become more and more straitjacketed by the “benevolent” control of a larger and more intrusive State.

    Richard Ebeling

  14. Mark Johnson Says:

    I love how corporations are being compared to the federal government. Last time I checked, MetLife can’t throw me in jail if I don’t buy their insurance. Kraft can’t garnish my wages or get a court order to tap my phone or read my email if I don’t buy their macaroni and cheese. Get real people.

    In regards to health insurance, the big winners here are…drumroll… the insurance companies!! We are forced to buy their product now whether we want to or not. I don’t know about you but I’d love to have a business with that setup! Why do you think the insurance lobby has supported Democrats over Republicans since 2006? They were for this “reform” all along.

    You liberals crack me up.

  15. Seth Says:

    I wonder if this is a repetitive cycle. We want to rid ourselves of the shackles of the state only to find ourselves shackled by consequences, so we move back in favor of the state to remove the shackles of consequences only to find out that we’ve placed ourselves in shackles again.

  16. Brian Says:

    “You liberals crack me up.”

    Indeed.

    One of the core beliefs of the democracy myth is that the state is a megaphone through which the voice of the people majestically bellows, and their word is thence translated into law. Only by believing this aspect of the myth can one believe the further absurdities foundationed upon it, like the idea that “we” sense a “problem” that effects “society” and “we” then “decide” on a “solution” that will “improve” the situation for “all” – whomever that may be.

    As soon as one drops this public-interest fairy tale and sees the state for what it is – namely a crew of buccaneering political adventurers backed by a camarilla of well-heeled thieves – then suddenly rent-seeking, regulatory capture, bootleggers and baptists, and all the rest become the obvious and undeniable truth of the matter.

    But myths are stubborn things.

  17. Ben Says:

    Brian is right about the democratic myth. A myth is defined as “a traditional story accepted as history; a myth serves to explain the world view of a people”. Our mythology in the US began with the words:

    “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men…”

    Thank goodness myths are stubborn things. We need this myth to bind us together. And I think all this conservative vs liberal hate, fear, and ignorance is threatening to destroy this myth. The US only exists as an idea. If you destroy that idea than we are just people who live close to each other. In Houston, I’m closer to Mexico than I am to Oklahoma. But the US-Mexico border means something more because we all agree it means something. I am tied the rest of the US through the mythology and the common story we all share.

    Going back to the post, I would ask Mario if he considered the seat belt law, driver liability insurance, and the banning of controlled substances (illegal drugs) to be greater or lessor threats to individual autonomy? And at want point do we limit individual autonomy for the good of society? After all, a drunk driver has not technically done anyone any harm (yet) he just has a greater than normal potential to.

  18. Troy Camplin Says:

    Let’s take up this last point. Should be punish someone just because they are doing something that might possibly cause harm to someone else if certain other circumstances also occur? A drunk driver who gets from point A to point B hasn’t in fact done anyone any harm. We should punish those who actually cause harm — being drunk as a reason to give the person more time in jail, not as an excuse for his behavior.

    This is aside from the fact that drunk driving laws have the unintended consequence of making those who do drink and drive actually drive more recklessly. Drunk drivers used to mostly drive slower than usual. But people have learned that the police have learned to look for people driving slower than usual as an indication of being drunk. Therefore, drunk drivers will drive the speed limit — which is too fast for them — to avoid being noticed by the police. Thus, when they get into accidents, they get into worse ones.

  19. Troy Camplin Says:

    Let’s take up this last point. Should be punish someone just because they are doing something that might possibly cause harm to someone else if certain other circumstances also occur? A drunk driver who gets from point A to point B hasn’t in fact done anyone any harm. We should punish those who actually cause harm — being drunk as a reason to give the person more time in jail, not as an excuse for his behavior.

    This is aside from the fact that drunk driving laws have the unintended consequence of making those who do drink and drive actually drive more recklessly. Drunk drivers used to mostly drive slower than usual. But people have learned that the police have learned to look for people driving slower than usual as an indication of being drunk. Therefore, drunk drivers will drive the speed limit — which is too fast for them — to avoid being noticed by the police. Thus, when they get into accidents, they get into worse ones.

  20. Ben Says:

    The point that I was making is that we [should] pass laws when the evidence becomes overwhelming that there is a problem and this law is the solution. We invented organizations like the FDA when it became clear that the public had no defense against quacks and frauds selling snake oil as medicine. The FDA now policies all foods and drugs sold to make sure they do what the seller says they do, and contain what the seller says they contain. Legitimate companies benefit from having their products blessed and the public is (for the most part) protected from lies and fraud that would cause harm and steal resources. If we go back to a completely unregulated system, we push the tremendous burden of separating truth from fiction to the individual consumer. I wager that if Ron Paul got everything he wanted, it would not be long before the pendulum swung back and we rebuilt those consumer protections under the federal government- it just makes sense and actually saves money to have those functions consolidated. Many of the things the government does are right and proper and on close examination and after thinking things through to their logical conclusion, we would all agree (and in fact have agreed that’s why they exist and continue to get funding every year). If we cut funding by 1% to an organization like the FDA, there will be hell to pay if lead is found in toothpaste or cyanide in Tylenol (again).
    So..the point about outlawing drunk driving is that we do so when puplic demand became high enough (Mothers against drunk drivers) and the evidence supports an actual drop in deaths and damage. If as you say, the evidence points to a different option, we then have an obligation to change our minds, and be open minded to the new solution – even if it doesn’t pass the “gut test”. The gut tells you that if you punish people enough, they will stop the behavior. If you reward them, with free cab rides, then your encouraging people to drink. But if we say – wait, I don’t care what your gut tells you, this really works and the city saves millions of dollars, then we have to at least consider it. What I can’t stand about the health care debate, is how people are closing their mind to even considering it, or thinking it through, because it doesn’t pass their version of the “gut test”. Their gut tells them that the government is inefficient and corrupt and that the market should be more efficient. But EVIDENCE is telling a different story they don’t want to talk about. They want to talk about the evils of socialism rather than the real life and death, dollars and cents problems we are facing.

  21. The_Orlonater Says:

    In response to Thomas,

    That is a very ambiguous explanation for the souring costs of health care. Do you understand what kind of policy implications that could apply and potentially ignore?

  22. postorm Says:

    Troy Camplin: “Should [w]e punish someone just because they are doing something that might possibly cause harm to someone else if certain other circumstances also occur?”

    Exactly. Should we punish a drunk because he drives the wrong way down a divided highway, just because someone might be driving the right way and get wiped out in a head-on collision. After all if the person who drove the right way had stayed at home there would have been no collision. Interestingly statistically the drunk is more likely to survive the accident, than the family he drives into.

    It is the “Libertarian Party” position that we should not punish the drunk, but instead the person who got killed is free to sue the drunk. The practical problem that he is dead, and that no money would compensate for his lose, and that the drunk probably has no money and no insurance, is not as important as the freedom of the individual.

    The freedom of individual to impose risks on other people shall not be infringed upon.

    I am entitled to take whatever risks I want. I am entitled to place a bet, that if I win will make me a billionaire and if I lose will make me only a multi-millionaire. If that happens to expose others to risk – such losing everything they have, or throwing the world economy into a tail spin, that’s a risk I am prepared to have you take.

    That’s what freedom is about. My freedom to do what I want; your freedom to live with the consequences.

  23. Troy Camplin Says:

    That is NOT the libertarian position. Anyone who drives the wrong way down the road should be arrested for violating the law, no matter what the reason. If they are drunk, add that to it. But don’t punish the person who isn’t driving the wrong way down the street and who isn’t causing an accident. To me, arresting the drunk driver who hasn’t been involved in an accident or hasn’t otherwise violated traffic laws is like invading a country because that country might invade another country at some point in the future.

  24. postorm Says:

    So it’s OK to drive with seriously impaired judgment. It’s only acceptable to prevent them after they have taken a bad decisions — say during the 0.5 seconds between during the wrong way into traffic and a head-on collision.

    Yesterday’s news told of 6 people being killed by a 16 year old drunk driver with three weeks driving experience driving after midnight on wet roads. The “Libertarian Party” is that she should not have been required to have a license, take a test, restricted from drinking, and the law that inexperienced should not drive after midnight, nor drive a car load of kids, is wrong, and that up until she swerved into the middle of the road – say 0.1 seconds before the head-on collision – she should not have been stopped.

    0.1 seconds might have been how long the 2 people in the other got to think “Thank God I am burning alive a free country”.

    But the only survivor of the accident – the drunk driver – will get the rest of her life to wonder whether it would have been a good idea for someone to have stopped her.

  25. Lulu Says:

    It seems like in these discussions of rights and liberty, something that is missed is a sense of pragmatism instead of dogmatism.

    From an economic perspective, there are things that the government should own, such as air traffic control, the roads, and bodies of water. Deregulation would mean the socially optimal point would never be reached. The presence of negative externalities would mean the free market would fail.

    Yet in other industries, such as agriculture or home care products, there is no need for government interference, and a relatively unconstrained market rules supreme.

    The fundamental idea is that we should not be trying to eternally escape the government, nor should we embrace the state as the sole entity. Turning our eyes from one blinds us to the benefits the other can offer. From the beginning of time, humans were a specialized race. Although we could function as a group, we each had things that made each of us unique. It’s important that at a time when right wing demagogues are stoking the fires of the fear of socialism to keep our wits about us. The solution lies not at either ends of the pole, but at the center, where pragmatism, not dogmatism, reigns supreme.

  26. Dave Pullin Says:

    Putting together several posts and comments, I’d like to ask where Libertarians draw the line, or indeed if there is a line. Road systems seem an adequate, if overused, analogy.

    Does a Libertarian consider the line down the middle of the road a paternalistic suggestion? What would a complete road system be like in the world envisaged by Libertarians? No licenses, no tests, no rules, no compulsory insurance, no compulsory anything? A free choice of driving on the left or the right? Presumably it would run only over land that the land owner consented. It would be paid for only by those who used it. Therefore there would be one rule, and mechanisms to enforce it: only those who paid for it can use it.

    Suppose the road system envisaged by Libertarians existed. Anyone could drive from A to B entirely in compliance with Libertarian ideals. Would libertarians object to the existence of a second road system independent of the first? One that had rules: licenses, tests, mandatory licenses, prohibitions on drunk driving, and driving only on the left (or right, but not a free choice), and prior-restraint. One that is also paid for only by those who used that system. Would libertarians demand that they be able to drive on this “Statist” road system? Would they demand freedom from the Statist rules when using the Statist road system?

    I know that Statist Road system can exist. Apart from the method of payment the US, federal highway system is a Statist Road System. In the UK, the tax on motor fuel covers all the costs of the road system and fuel for use off-road use is tax exempt. Therefore the UK road system is reasonable approximation to the Statist road system I describe.

    I do not understand entirely how a Libertarian road system would come about. I assume it would be a voluntary collaboration among landowners. Each owner would choose whether to allow a road on his property and, if so, what rules and method of payment and enforcement would exist on his road. It’s hard to see that as a ‘system’, but it could be said to exist already. No one is prevented from building a road on his land, charging for usage, and applying any (or no) rules. That the system is more “hole” than “whole” is conclusion of that “market”.

    Do Libertarians object to the Statist Road System on the grounds that it is competition to the Libertarian road system? But competition is a good thing, isn’t it? If both existed, individuals would have a choice – different prices and product (particularly risk, perhaps) – but individual choice is a good thing. Is there some reason why that particular market (albeit imperfect) should be prohibited, while all other markets (all of which are also imperfect) should be mandated?

    If libertarians argue that the Libertarian Road System does not actually exist, and therefore is not a choice, how’s is that different from my lack of choice in Cable Service? All my potential cable providers have been bought by one company who now has a de facto monopoly. I have a choice – I could start my own cable company. It is not a problem to libertarians that the ‘choice’ is entirely impractical.

    Do libertarians argue that the existence of the Statist Road System prevents the Libertarian road system being created? But the existence a de facto monopoly cable company, extracting monopoly rents and “earning” extraordinary profits prevents me raising capital to start my own cable company, but that’s not a problem, according to libertarians.

    Obviously the advocates of the Public Option would see an analogy between this road system story and health care. I see analogies with the current health care law. I do not want to drive on a road system that does not attempt to minimize the risk of being killed by a drunk driver. I do not want to buy health insurance that does not attempt to minimize the risk of being dishonestly treated by the insurance provider. (90%+ of rescissions that have been investigated fully have absolutely no justification. The health insurance companies just lie – but that’s ok with Libertarians because I will learn not to use that company in my next life. Except that competition forces all insurance companies to lie so I don’t actually have a choice – but that’s ok with Libertarians).

    Am I misrepresenting where Libertarians draw the line?

    “Everyone carries a part of society on his shoulders,” wrote Ludwig von Mises,
    “no one is relieved of his share of responsibility by others.
    And no one can find a safe way for himself if society is sweeping towards destruction.
    Therefore everyone, in his own interest, must thrust himself vigorously into the intellectual battle.”

    How do I find a safe way (to get health insurance, or get from A to B), if society were to sweep towards the ideals that libertarians promote?

    How does a philosophy that puts Individual Choice at the center support policies that would deny so many people their individual choice?

  27. Phillip Says:

    I just read this post in the Christian Science Monitor online.

    You think that if the government pursues policies that benefit it’s citizens then your rights are being violated? You believe in free markets until you need a bailout. You control nearly everything and yet it’s still not enough.

    You people are crazy, and I’m glad to not be one of you.

  28. Troy Camplin Says:

    Dave,

    You most definitely are misrepresenting the libertarian point of view. One, you’re not differentiating between libertarians and anarchists. There is arguably some room for government-owned roads in a free market system — especially if those roads are paid for using gasoline taxes that are only used for roads (and thus act as a user fee). I’m sure there are anarchocapitalists who could argue for nongovernment roads, but I have yet to be completely convinced, so I’m not in a position to argue that position.

    I would argue, though, that the existence of government roads should not exclude the possibility of private roads.

    In any case, whoever owns the roads should be able to make the rules — no question. Those rules are mostly based on tradition (the right side of the road in the U.S., the left side in the U.K.), which have then been codified. Nothing magical about the government laws there. That tradition emerged before laws were passed to reinforce those rules. One doesn’t in fact need legislation to ensure people drive on one side of the road or the other. Such laws are put in place just to determine who is at fault in an accident.

    Now, I have little doubt that everyone here wants to minimize the number of people killed by drunk drivers. That’s why I propose the rule I propose. I argue that in fact the law against it causes more and worse accidents. The same is true of seatbelt laws. People point to the fact that the death rate has gone down since such laws were passed, which is true, but what people don’t talk about is that there are three ways to lower the death rate from accidents: 1) lower the number of accidents, and the death rates that accompany them, 2) keep accident numbers the same, but lower the number of deaths, or 3) raise the number of accidents, but keep the number of deaths the same (a fourth, which follows from this, is that the number of accidents increases faster than the number of deaths). Once seatbelt laws were passed, the number of accidents increased.

    In other words, there isn’t a choice between good outcomes and liberty — liberty gives us good outcomes!

    I wll also note that every monopoloy in the history of the world has been government-created.

    Further, the current insurance mess was caused by government economic interventions that go back to the 40’s and 50’s — that is, in violations of the free market. Also, Medicare and Medicaide deny coverage far more than the worst private insurance offender. The problem is with third party payers in health care. Get rid of that, and you can shop around and prices will drop. The more the government has interfered in this sector, the worse the problems have gotten. The solution isn’t more of the same.

  29. Frederick Says:

    Not everyone is near as wise as he
    Who your decider decides he should be
    And yet, it rankles some and bothers more
    When petty pieties are soulless core
    Of plans a better world force us to see.

  30. McRibb Says:

    Medicare and Medicaid are both “government run” programs and so is healthcare for the troops, you know the guys and gals you send to die for your freedoms. I would challenge CSM to name one sngle name of any recepient of “government run healthcare” whose salt shaker was seized from then by the FBI.

  31. Troy Camplin Says:

    Medicare and Medicaid are both almost bankrupt. Both deny more than any private insurance. And I have yet to meet a military person who likes his government-run health care. They all opt out of it if they can, because they like to not die. That, at least, is what they all tell me.

  32. Gus Edlund Says:

    I fail to see where any of the proposals prohibit me from adding salt or sugar to my heart’s content. I do see where the reduction of salt in packaged foods allow me to choose the amount of salt I wish to consume.
    Oh, and yes, I am very satisfied with my government health insurance (Medicare).

  33. Mitchell Says:

    I was once told by a former intelligence officer and a sitting Judge, that if you wanted the unvarnished truth in reporting, you could look to the “Monitor” and be reliably served. I am disapointed to find that even the vaunted balance of the “Monitor” has been compromised. By using “Obama Care” in the title of this piece you have indulged in rhetoric that serves to prejudice a readers opinion, pro or con, before they have read the first word of the article. This hyperbolic approach to journalism does active damage to your journalistic integrity, and further divides readers from each other and and the information that they need to make informed decisions based on unbiased information.

    PS …the words Obama Care are not to be found on any government document or legislation regarding health care reform, and as such represents an editorial flourish masquerading as journalism…that was once considered taboo in the journalistic world.

  34. trask768 Says:

    As others have pointed out, your argument is emotionally charged and logically incorrect. I think most everyone agrees that an individual can add as much salt as they like to the food they eat. Therefore, under the proposed rules, no one’s right are trampled.

    Currently, if someone desires (or requires) a very low salt meal, it is extremely difficult to find one. You cannot remove salt from packaged foods once it’s been added. Therefore, under your own criterion, individual rights are currently being trampled.

    Your argument doesn’t hold water. You are obviously in favor of market deregulation. Stick to the economic arguments.

    What’s even worse, if you follow your argument to it’s logical conclusion, you are essentially arguing in favor of companies being able to put anything they want in prepackaged food. After all, any government restriction tramples my right to choose, so why not add the pesticide back into my Coca-Cola? Please add the antifreeze back into my toothpaste. I’m thinking I might also like a little Phen-Phen in my Special K.

    I agree with Mitchell about the Monitor’s increasing bias, both in its official reports and in its selection of blog content.

  35. Sandra Barton MD Says:

    People can choose to do whatever they want in the privacy of their own home/domain, whatever. But from a population/public health standpoint, the information is clear that higher levels of salt causes more death, more illness, and more expenditure of public (and private) health funding. Why continue that practice? If you want to go ahead and add more salt to your food, feel free — but how about we take out the known death-causing hidden salt that no one is aware of? Then if you choose to kill/injure yourself with excessive salt, it’s your own choice. ;o)

  36. Curly Says:

    I love-hate the word “progressive.” Its political uses derive from the so-called Progressive Era and the less-than-socialist reforms that were enacted during that early twentieth-century period.

    Progressive now means the same thing. The only difference is the rate which it enacted. Socialist want it all now and progressive will get all a little at a time. Both think that the masses are not capable of taking care of themselves therefore need someone to take care of them. Step in big government and take care of them. This is why the dems/socialist/progressives use welfare to keep the mass es week and unable to take care of themselves. They will give the masses a fish but they sure don’t want the masses to learn how to fish because the masses would become INDEPENDENT and would no longer need their handouts.

  37. Fillup Says:

    Stolen from Avidavid :

    “I just have to point out how stupid it is to claim that reducing the salt content of packaged food somehow limits your personal liberties. You can always put more salt, or sugar, on whatever you want. It is much more difficult to take salt out of something that’s made with it. Paranoid, anyone?

    Your reasoning that this example supports your position is ridiculous.”

    Well said. Seriously guys, we have tons of freedom in this country, and reducing the salt levels just gives us more freedom. If I want lower salt I can’t very well take it out of my food can I? But I could add more. LOL Think about it you know we’re right.

  38. Subir Says:

    “The citizens of Athens could do whatever they liked.”

    Their slaves on the other hand…

    Let’s be clear-eyed in our take on historic political systems. The lottery of birth could be particularly cruel in ancient Greece, as it remains in most places in the world.

  39. Jake Says:

    Health issues concern? Government spending on health care? Ok, tax the obese! Americans that weighs beyond their normal weight should pay more taxes, but don’t stop people from eating what they want.

  40. Silver Fang Says:

    I believe government has some authority to regulate use of the public roads. I think it’s reasonable to expect people to drive in the proper lanes, at a certain speed and to obey signs and traffic signals because failure to do so can and often does directly impact other drivers, pedestrians, cyclists in a deleterious way. Drunk driving, texting while driving are the same because the drivers are impaired and are an accident waiting to happen.

    On the other hand, the government has no business regulating if the driver wears a seatbelt, the number of passengers they have in their car, if they hang things from their mirror, etc. because none of those is an immediate threat to surrounding motorists and pedestrians.

    As for things such as the use of drugs, junk food, alcohol, etc., no one else is directly harmed by my use or non-use of such substances. If I live an unhealthy life, I have only myself to blame, not the state. Why should the state care what I put into my body?


  41. Cable companies are already offering bundled internet and cable tv services at a cheap price *

  42. Lewis Jordan Says:

    Once the salt is in the food can you remove it? Please let them limit this craziness. You can add as much salt to your own food. Most prepared foods have about 2 times the salt per calorie as needed. Why??????


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