Friday, March 07, 2008

Yes, the leopard can change his spots!

Here are some excerpts from an editorial writing by a former politician. Who wrote it?

Nearly 16 years ago in these very pages, I wrote that "'one-size-fits all' rules for business ignore the reality of the market place." Today I'm watching some broad rules evolve on individual decisions that are even worse.

Under the guise of protecting us from ourselves, the right and the left are becoming ever more aggressive in regulating behavior.

Health-care paternalism creates another problem that's rarely mentioned: Many people can't afford the gold-plated health plans that are the only options available in their states.

Buying health insurance on the Internet and across state lines, where less expensive plans may be available, is prohibited by many state insurance commissions. Despite being able to buy car or home insurance with a mouse click, some state governments require their approved plans for purchase or none at all. It's as if states dictated that you had to buy a Mercedes or no car at all.

Economic paternalism takes its newest form with the campaign against short-term small loans, commonly known as "payday lending."

Anguished at the fact that payday lending isn't perfect, some people would outlaw the service entirely, or cap fees at such low levels that no lender will provide the service. Anyone who's familiar with the law of unintended consequences should be able to guess what happens next.

Researchers from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York went one step further and laid the data out: Payday lending bans simply push low-income borrowers into less pleasant options, including increased rates of bankruptcy. Net result: After a lending ban, the consumer has the same amount of debt but fewer ways to manage it.

Why do we think we are helping adult consumers by taking away their options? We don't take away cars because we don't like some people speeding. We allow state lotteries despite knowing some people are betting their grocery money. Everyone is exposed to economic risks of some kind. But we don't operate mindlessly in trying to smooth out every theoretical wrinkle in life.

The nature of freedom of choice is that some people will misuse their responsibility and hurt themselves in the process. We should do our best to educate them, but without diminishing choice for everyone else.

If you read the whole thing it is basically a defense of the individual’s right to make economic choices for himself, even if those choices are less than optimal. In other words it is a defense of capitalist acts between consenting adults. A few years ago the same write defended social freedom of choice:

Today, however, there are those who would deny others the choice to eat meat, wear fur, drink coffee or simply eat extra-large portions of food, to give a few examples. Wearing perfume in public raises the ire of certain organized interest groups.

While on any day each of us may identify with the restrictive nature of a given campaign, there is a much larger issue here. Where do we draw the line on dictating to each other? How many of these battles can we stand? Whose values should prevail?

Life in America has remained relatively peaceful compared with that in other societies. But we are becoming less tolerant and more mean-spirited in everyday social interactions. We have become less forgiving. Suing institutions as well as each other for perceived harms has become a ruinous sport.

New attempts to regulate behavior are coming from both the right and the left, depending only on the cause. But there are those of us who don't want the tyranny of the majority (or the outspoken minority) to stop us from leading our lives in ways that have little impact on others.

While the choices we make may be foolish or self-destructive-bungee jumping is my favorite example of insanity-there is still the overriding principle that we cannot allow the micromanaging of each other's lives.

When is the thrill too risky? How many drinks are too many? When is secondhand smoke too thick? All of these questions need to be considered with some measure of tolerance for the choices of others.
We are witnessing a new age in this country: the fragmentation of society along lines that do not break on typical demographics such as race, age or income. These new divisions are based on paternalism-what we believe is best for each other.

The beauty of choice is that it allows some people to drive a high-powered car to dinner, allows others to have a drink with dinner and allows a cigarette to be smoked after dinner. In all cases, we require individuals to make certain their behavior does not have an impact on others. To the degree that it does, they will be held responsible for their choices.

But when we no longer allow these choices, both civility and common sense will have been diminished.

All I can say is that I agree about 99% with these sentiments. Unfortunately he is now a former officer holder not a current office holder. But these are relatively consistent libertarian views -- supporting freedom of choice in the economic as well as the personal realms.

The author, by the way, is former Senator, George McGovern, the darling of the Far Left. McGovern started his political life in the Progressive Party of the radical Left Henry Wallace -- Wallace was Roosevelt’s vice president but didn’t think FDR was far enough to the Left. McGovern later joined the Democratic Party. If McGovern hasn’t abandoned his old antiwar views, and I have no reason to think he has, then is pretty much on my side. I’d vote for him. He certainly sounds a hell of a lot better than any of the politicians running for President today. George, come back. All is forgiven.

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