Mark wrote the other day about a post of Maggie’s. The two of them touched on a subject that really goes to the heart of libertarianism: freedom of one’s own will; the ability to consent to something, to make decisions for one’s own self.
This is what libertarianism is all about: the belief that everyone should be able to make their own choices.
The “problem” with letting people make their own choices is that sometimes people will expose themselves to danger. There is a very real danger here; it’s not imagined. “Allowing” people to make their own choices means that some people will make choices that, one way or another, harm themselves; others will make choices that appear to harm themselves, or, at least, appear to someone else as likely to cause those doing such things harm. Once in awhile, people will make choices that harm others.
This “danger” infects all human behavior.
Mark’s post primarily discusses prostitution (as, I understand, do many of Maggie’s). He expresses a naïve belief that logic — combined with what increasingly seems a prehistoric understanding of an individual’s inalienable rights — could convince those who want to regulate the making of choices to take a more libertarian view even towards “the sex trade.”
Not everyone, of course, is as concerned about souls. Some just want to make sure that if people are going to do things that harm themselves, government gets a cut of the action, too. One way or another, they say, it will.
Senator Lou Correa — the California senator suggesting that we legalize certain gambling sites so the government gets its cut and that we enforce this by taking away the homes of those who try to gamble at non-government-sponsored sites — may perhaps be forgiven. After all, you really can’t stop people from doing what they choose to do. You can make it illegal, but many people are going to do it anyway. And our government really does need more money (just ask them).
I only wish when I needed money, I could “legally” force others to give it to me, too.
But why does government need more money? Why?
Therein lies an irony. Government needs more money because it costs a lot to watch over me. It costs a lot to watch over you, too, of course, but as a libertarian, I try not to speak for you.
Me, though, I know something about. I’m a freedom-loving kinda guy. I learned at an early age that I like making my own choices. Hell, I even ran away from home — finally leaving “for good” when I was 17 — whenever my parents tried to restrict my ability to make my own choices.
Most of the choices I make, you may not care about. I’m a lawyer for example. I choose to practice criminal defense. And while some of you will no doubt hate me for that, most of you don’t care too much; you’re okay with letting me make that choice.
On weekends, or any other time I can pry myself away from work, my choices might be a little more disconcerting. Sometimes, I just stay home, read, maybe watch a little TV and do some chores. Other times, however, I’ll jump on my motorcycle and go for a ride. Now things are getting dangerous. Now I really need someone to watch over me.
What if I chose to ride without a helmet, for example? So far, you haven’t reached the point where you’ll tell me what you really think — that I shouldn’t be riding a motorcycle at all — and try to pass laws to keep me from doing it. But no helmet? That’s just too much risk: you can’t let me make that choice.
Not in most states, anyway. I mean, I really could die if I ride without one and you just can’t risk letting me. (Interestingly, we’re getting a little relaxation on this one: in some states, Republicans have led a charge to repeal helmet laws.)
Now I don’t want to sound ungrateful. I’m glad that the government cares about me so much. After all, if government has proven anything, it’s that it’s not just expensive, but expansive. So I’m a little worried about how far it’s willing to go. With increasing speed, we seem to be headed down a slippery slope.
Frankly, that seems more dangerous to me than just about anything choice I’d make.
Rick is a criminal defense attorney with an office in Fresno, California. He also writes Probable Cause: The Legal Blog with the Really Low Standard of Review.