Quotation of the Day…

by Don Boudreaux on November 27, 2011

in Civil Society, Complexity & Emergence, Cooperation, Hubris and humility, Law

… is from page 3 of the original 1961 Van Nostrand edition of Bruno Leoni’s pioneering book Freedom and the Law (original emphasis):

[N]o relativism could prevent us from recognizing that in any society feelings and convictions relating to actions that should not be done are much more homogeneous and easily identifiable than any other kind of feelings and convictions.  Legislation protecting people against what they do not want other people to do to them is likely to be more easily determinable and more generally successful than any kind of legislation based on other “positive” desires of the same individuals.  In fact, such desires are not only usually much less homogeneous and compatible with one another than the “negative” ones, but are also often very difficult to ascertain.

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{ 8 comments }

kyle8 November 27, 2011 at 8:21 am

However there is a sizable subset in any population of people who want to control the actions of others. They have no problem prescribing actions as well as proscribing them.

You cannot be completely free until you are willing to allow your neighbor to live their life as they choose, even if you don’t particularly like them.

SmoledMan November 27, 2011 at 11:41 am

There are a sizeable amount of left & right wingers who want to control the actions of others. Take the recent initiative to privatize liquor sales in WA state. It passed 60/40, but most of that 40 “no” vote were Christian conservatives. The real battle is between the individual and the statists.

GAAPrulesIFRSdrools November 27, 2011 at 2:19 pm

I have no love for government “enterprises”, or “soft prohibition” but technically, voting “no” on such a referendum is not “controlling the actions” of others, since no one is preventing you from drinking.

Those sorts of referenda are won and lost on peripheral issues, such as minor access to alcohol, (I wonder if the workers organization/union ran commercials showing some grainy black and white depiction of some seedy looking character handing a bottle to a 10 year old) the prevention of alcoholism, government fiscal issues and the classic public sector unionism claims of “good jobs” being “lost”. I don’t accept those claims, but I acknowledge their existence and effectiveness among the public. Then there’s the insurance companies who fear increased DUI liabilities if there’s a change.

Whether or not alcohol is distributed by a government agency, it will be consumed, regulated and most importantly taxed (even the most libertine individual is unlikely to favor allowing alcohol consumption-especially the hard stuff-to be distributed to grade schoolers, and if you do, prepare for immediate rejection from public debate as irresponsible).

If you reduce these issues to simple analysis you offer, you don’t understand how these campaigns are waged and you aren’t ready to wage the next battle.

In fact, to show you how complicated this was, when I was younger a similar discussion was held in my state (although referendum is not allowed here). Less principled, I was against privatization because I already knew I could get whatever I wanted prior to being 21-and figured privatization would came with more stringent access controls.

Ken M November 27, 2011 at 7:20 pm

I too have no problem with alcohol being sold through a state agency as long as (1) there’s no state subsidy for this enterprise and (2) any private entity is allowed to compete on freely without any regulations not applicable to the state agency. Of course, given the history of government, I’d expect the state agency to be driven out of business within a very short time by market forces.

If either condition (1) or (2) are not met, (which would include prohibiting private liquor sales) is clearly “controlling the actions of others”.

GAAPrulesIFRSdrools November 27, 2011 at 8:23 pm

Its not “I too”, since I do have a problem with government sponsored enterprises. Nonetheless, the reason these GSE’s survive has much more to do with dependent/institutionalized constitencies than a desire to control others and its counterproductive to make such an assertion.

However, whether or not alcohol is sold by private parties, there’s always regulation and restriction in use.

khodge November 28, 2011 at 1:21 pm

I have no problem, whatsoever, with what the people in WA vote to do or not to do in their own state.

kyle8 November 27, 2011 at 8:54 pm

That applies to all people unless you are a very very committed libertarian. However, it applies to a much greater extent to those on the left, who are quite happy with controlling nearly every aspect of our lives, including our incomes, our savings, our speech, what we eat, and what kind of toilets we have.

W.E. Heasley November 27, 2011 at 9:47 am

Law, in western civilization, is/was a bottom up process. Legislation on the other hand in many, many cases is a top down process.

“..convictions relating to actions that should not be done are much more homogeneous and easily identifiable than any other kind of feelings and convictions”. Homogeneous and from the bottom up.

“…legislation based on other “positive” desires of the same individuals. In fact, such desires are not only usually much less homogeneous and compatible with one another than the “negative” ones, but are also often very difficult to ascertain“. The other “positive desires” of the same people in competing legislative subsets.

One might say “ actions that should not be done” are agreed upon over centuries and centuries, and are the homogeneous basics put forth by James and Jane Goodfellow. Whereas ‘“positive” desires’ are merely the-way-things-ought-to-be put forth by a subset of the James and Jane Goodfellows.

Moreover, this subset of James and Jane Goodfellows representing a particular positive desire want to initiate such positive desire regardless of the existence of an equal or even greater countervailing group/groups. Enter the politicos of state. Enter the special interest. Enter the top down process.

Enter public choice theory.

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