Part 2: Liberty

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This excerpt from my book, Individual Rights and Government Wrongs, is the Introduction to Part 2.

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Imagine, for a moment, the response if government announced that it would prohibit manufacturers from making more than one type of toothpaste. Such a prohibition, government officials might argue, would protect consumers from the burden of choosing between paste and gel, between a whitening formula and tartar control. Manufacturers would be protected from the burden of packaging many different types of toothpaste, and they would be more efficient if they only had to make one type. And with choices eliminated, manufacturers would not have to advertise their products, so both businesses and consumers would save money. It would be a perfect win-win situation.

Americans would likely howl in protest. They would likely argue that they should be free to choose the type of toothpaste that they will use, and they don’t need government dictating such details of their lives. Yet, when it comes to far more important issues than toothpaste, Americans accept government controls and prohibitions. When it comes to their occupation, their wages and benefits, the foods they can eat, the medicines they can take, and the support that they can give to political candidates, Americans accept controls and regulations. When it comes to freedom of association and freedom of contract, Americans accept limitations on their freedom to choose.

Liberty means the freedom to choose and pursue your values without interference or coercion from others, including government. It means the freedom to associate with others as you choose. It means the freedom to trade and contract as you judge best. Liberty recognizes your moral right to act on your own judgment, as long as you respect the mutual rights of others. This is true whether the choices involve the type of toothpaste that you will use, your occupation, your wages, or any other issue. Without the freedom to make these choices, you cannot pursue your goals and values. Without the freedom to choose your profession, your spouse, your hobbies, and a myriad of other values, large and small, you cannot pursue your happiness.

We have already seen many ways in which government controls and regulations prevent you from acting as you choose. You are forced to support public education, subsidize mail delivery, and provide “charity” for the poor and needy. These government institutions violate your right to contract—the right to voluntarily enter, or refrain from entering, into an economic exchange. But unfortunately, these are not the only ways in which government violates this fundamental right to make your own choices.

As we will soon see, government regulations and controls can prohibit you from contracting and associating with others in many ways. Occupational licensing laws can prohibit you from entering the profession of your choosing, and they similarly prevent consumers from hiring the professionals of their choice. Labor regulations can prevent employers and employees from negotiating mutually acceptable wages, benefits, and other terms of employment. Anti-discrimination laws can compel individuals to associate with others, regardless of their own views and judgment. Food regulations can prohibit you from eating the foods of your choice. Controls on medicine can prevent you from taking life-saving drugs. Why? Why are there so many regulations prohibiting individuals from acting on their own judgment?

Most of these laws have allegedly been enacted to protect Americans. They are based on the premise that you, and other individuals, are not wise enough or rational enough to make decisions regarding wages, food, medicine, and more. Government will protect you by restricting, or eliminating, your freedom to choose. Doing so will reduce your chances of making a poor decision by reducing the choices available to you by limiting your liberty.

Making matters worse, these controls and regulations never meet the stated goals. Government intervention in the job market does not make the workplace safer or create more jobs; instead, it stifles safety improvements and kills jobs. Government intervention in the pharmaceutical industry does not improve our health and safety; instead, it makes drugs outrageously expensive and leads to the deaths of thousands of Americans each year. By every rational measure, government regulations and controls are destructive.

As we will also see, when individuals are free to act on their own judgment in the pursuit of their own values, every rational and productive individual benefits. When individuals are free of occupational licensing laws, they can offer a variety of prices and quality that meet the needs of all consumers. When businesses are not stifled by labor laws, employers and employees can negotiate wages and benefits that are mutually beneficial. When doctors and patients are free to act on their judgment, suffering can be reduced and lives can be saved. By every rational standard, liberty is beneficial to individual human beings. This is true whether you are choosing a doctor, an employer, a political candidate, a medication, or a toothpaste.

Click here to see the Table of Contents.

Click here to read the Introduction.

Click here to read the Introduction to Part 1.

Click here to read the Introduction to Part 2.

Click here to read the Introduction to Part 3.

Click here to read the Introduction to Part 4.

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