Government has long attempted to control what values individual may legally pursue. But outlawing a value, or making it more difficult to obtain, does not make individuals desire that value any less. In response, they find ways around the law.
For example, during Prohibition, bootleggers supplied the alcohol that Americans wanted. Today, drug smugglers supply the marijuana and cocaine that many Americans want. Prohibition did not stop the consumption of alcohol (nor does drug prohibition stop drug consumption), it only made criminals out of those who were engaged in otherwise peaceful and voluntary activities.
Or consider taxation. Government often uses taxation to encourage certain actions and discourage others. It gives tax breaks for actions it wants—such as investments in “green” energy—and raises taxes on activities it wants to discourage—such as drinking and smoking. But using the tax code to control the actions of individuals is seldom effective.
For example, in 2009, Congress increased the federal excise tax on cigarettes. At the same time, they increased the tax on tobacco used to roll-your-own cigarettes from $1.10 a pound to $24.78 a pound. The tax on pipe tobacco was increased much less dramatically—from $1.10 to $2.83 a pound. Guess what happened? Pipe tobacco sales soared from 3.2 million pounds to 30.5 million pounds a year, as smokers used that tobacco for their roll-your-own cigarettes. And numerous businesses opened to cater to those seeking cheaper smokes. These businesses allow customers to select their tobacco and then use a roll-your-own machine to quickly manufacture their cigarettes.
Not to be outsmarted, Obama is expected to soon sign a bill that will increase the taxes on products made with the roll-your-own machines. Which means, businesses will lose their competitive advantage and shut their doors. Which means, jobs are going to be destroyed. Of course, who is going to miss a few jobs in Skokie, Illinois, when Obama is “creating” thousands of “green” jobs?
Increasingly, government is making it harder and harder for individuals to pursue their values. Whether it is Big Gulps or foie gras, whether it is raw milk or trans fats, whether it is employment or health care, government is erecting more and more barriers to the voluntary exchanges between consenting adults.
These barriers treat our lives and our bodies as property of the State. They prohibit us from living as we choose. They prevent us from pursuing our happiness.
While many Americans complain about these rights-violating laws, the dominant morality in our culture—altruism—demands such laws. Altruism holds that you have a moral duty to self-sacrificially serve others, that you must place the welfare and interests of others before your own. If that means sacrificing your life, liberty, and the pursuit of your happiness, so be it.
These rights-violating laws will not stop until Americans reject altruism and proudly proclaim their moral right to their own personal self-interest—the values that bring them satisfaction, joy, and happiness. Until they can declare that they have a right to live for themselves, Americans will be forced to live for others.