Sunday, June 15, 2008

How NOT To Advocate Freedom

Article authors and commenters on conservative blogs and news sites often make a lot of true and useful points. "Cap-and-Trade legislation would cost the economy trillions," "The way to lower gas prices is to drill here, drill now," and so forth. But most of them suffer from two basic errors.

One is a fundamental lack in the overwhelming majority of the articles and comments. They tend to focus chiefly on near-term 'practical' consequences, to the exclusion of broader ideas. Many talk about how expensive something will be. Some even go so far as to decry the bureaucracy that always accompanies legislation. (Agencies fill in the details, not legislators.) Few talk about how wrong it is to restrict freedom of action in the first place.

It's demonstrable, for example, that forcing businesses to cap CO2 emissions will result in higher costs for them and higher prices for their customers. Even those in favor of such schemes acknowledge that. Some point out the crazy patchwork quilt of regulations that will result, producing a chilling of business productivity.

But conservatives and those sympathetic to them too often minimize the key word in the first sentence of that paragraph: force. They rarely point out that, whatever the consequences, the result has been achieved by government coercion. They don't cry out that the government has no right to be meddling here when no one's rights have been violated.

The problem with the approach of most conservatives goes still deeper.

In arguing over the likely causes and consequences of climate change, or any of a number of contemporary controversies, they overlook entirely whether anyone should be arguing over what laws to pass at all.

To focus on which side of the debate Congress should favor is to already hand that fetid cesspool the job of trying to clean up an alleged mess. This is simply another form of special interest lobbying that even the conservatives decry when it comes to actual Congressional lobbying.

Congress has no right to interfere in the free trade of rights-respecting businessmen.

Conservatives play into the hands of their opponents when they only try to sway politicians to produce the outcome they desire, against the so-called liberals who desire a different outcome. No one should be asking Congress to determine the outcome — because it doesn't have the right to even talk about the issues until someone's rights are threatened.

The error comes from (in many cases, implicitly) accepting the faux liberals' collectivist view of society — that we're all 'in this together', like some big family that has to vote on where to go on vacation. I'm riding in my own car, thank you very much, and I insist on my right to drive wherever I damn well please, provided I don't roll over your lawn.

Do individuals have the right to free speech? Absolutely. (Until Canadian values take over here, anyway.) Is it appropriate that people should make their views publicly known on issues that affect them? Yes, of course. The 'town hall' providing free and open debate is one of America's finest traditions.

But the attitude that "we should do this," and "they should do that" is all too rarely accompanied by, for example, "Exxon-Mobil has the right to extract oil from shale in Colorado, provided only that they've purchased the mineral rights." That purchase should be from someone who owns the land, which should not be "the people of Colorado," and most definitely not from the U.S. Government. The latter has no legitimate say in the issue, whatsoever.

It's the collective view, made worse by narrowing it to immediate practical consequences, that is at the bottom of much of these problems to begin with. It invariably leads to coercion and the violation of individual rights. Beware accepting your opponents' premises.

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