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Is Freedom More Trouble Than It’s Worth? September 12, 2007

Posted by federalist in Markets, Regulation.

Could it be that most people would rather surrender their freedom to a paternalistic government than take responsibility for their own welfare?  Is it human nature to yearn to breath free, or are human beings naturally so lazy that they would surrender their natural rights for a promise of an easier life?

This blogger argues that the libertarian ideal of free individuals undertaking voluntary and mutually-beneficial contracts is just too difficult for the average man.  She would rather pay taxes to a government bureaucracy and let it tell her what to do.

This is the other thing I don’t get about small government types. You protest so vociferously that government takes choices away from you. But a whole lot of choices are BORING. If I never once think about car bumper safety standards for 25mph crashes, I will never miss it. … I don’t want to figure out how much coliform bacteria I can tolerate on my spinach, given my health. I don’t want to do that even if it saves me money. I don’t want to figure out what goes into paint in nephews’ toys. I don’t even want to handle my health care.

A compelling argument if you leave out the obvious alternative, which is that individuals can voluntarily pay others to advise and manage their welfare if they are not inclined to do so themselves.  It’s easy to say, “Have government take care of it.”  But it’s also immoral, since a government solution is almost always both inefficient and coercive.  (Hence my preference: Ask whether government can avoid doing it.)

Is private regulation possible?  Who pays for it, and who ensures its integrity?  Fortunately our nanny state has still left a number of niches for private solutions to flourish.  These offer diverse examples of how safety and purity can be preserved without the intervention of a government bureaucracy.

  • Non-profits like Consumer’ Checkbook and Consumers Union thrive on providing unbiased consumer advice to subscribers.
  • For-profit information bureaus (like Consumersearch.com or Castle Connolly) and publishers (most specialty magazines) provide reviews and advice.
  • Sellers pay independent organizations to certify the quality of their products — e.g., UL, ISO, S&P, Moody’s.  The latter two links are to articles that make a compelling case for the integrity of seller-sponsored ratings.


1. federalist - September 12, 2007

Alex Tabarrok has a witty post along these lines:

I too support the goal of having washers use 21 percent less energy. Hell, I support the goal of having washers use no energy at all. Let’s pass a law.

Energy efficiency sounds so nice. Who could be against efficiency? Tradeoffs, however, cannot be avoided. Thus, energy-efficiency really means that the government is going to choose how white your shirts are gonna be.

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