Wednesday, June 28, 2006

A Matter of Principle

Paul W. Smith is host of "The Paul W. Smith Show" on WJR (760 AM in Detroit) from 5:30 to 9 Am every weekday. He also writes an op-ed column for the Detroit News which appears every Monday. Last Monday, June 26th., Mr. Smith's op-ed was titled "Inconvenient truths prevail on helmets, drugs, schools." The first paragraph says:

"O utta' my mind on a Monday moanin':

It is never good to bash your head; however, if you are going to bash your head, better to have a helmet on it. Football, hockey, lacrosse and baseball players know it. Race car drivers and bicyclists know it. Motorcyclists know it."

True. It is safer to wear a helmet than not to at certain times like when riding bikes and motorcycles. But this isn't about persuading people of a rational idea. It's about positing a noble goal and then trying to achieve it by force. He then says:

"I don't need to go into all the arguments for and against a law making cyclists do what's best for them and for the rest of us. (We went through this already regarding seat belts in cars.)"

Yes we did. The thugs won and now they want to expand their control to helmets. But the above two sentences illustrate a point to which I will return shortly. Mr. Smith then adds:

"Now's a good time to point out that I have been a motorcycle owner. And I have been hit by a car while riding (I was a very careful, defensive driver. It did not matter.) I had my helmet on. I thank God I did.

The inconvenient truth: Everyone is better off when you wear a helmet. (It is unfortunate there has to be a law to get people to do it.)"

Yes it is, but not for his reasons. In a laissez-faire economy, most personal saftey issues would be handled privately, probably by insurance companies who would offer cheaper rates to people who wore helmets. But Mr. Smith's attitude seems to be "Why should we wait for market forces to persuade people to do that which a little force can achieve a lot faster?"

Mr. Smith is not alone. Most intellectuals and media pundits think this way. There is however a fact of reality they are all ignoring and that was hinted at in the comment above about seat belts. It is the fact that a principle once adopted, even if only in part, must eventually be adopted in its entirety or completely repealed.

In this case, it means that once you agree to the principle that the government has the right to force people to wear seat belts, it's only a matter of time before all aspects of our lives are controlled by that same government. If it's ok to force people to wear seat belts, why is it not ok to force them to wear helmets? If it is ok to force people to wear seat belts and helmets, why is it not ok to force them to drive the kind of cars the government wants them to drive as long as the government claims it "is better for everybody?" There is no reason. Why can't the government declare that single family homes are a waste of energy and begin a massive campaign of moving all Americans into high rise apartments because it "is better for everybody?"

Of course the fundamental principle under all of this is the principle that the government has the right to initiate the use of force against citizens for some social goal other than protecting citizens' rights. Once that principle is adopted it will grow of its own virtue. If a little bit of force is "good for everybody," a little bit more is better, and a little bit more, then more, until total force becomes the best for everybody. The only way to prevent total control by the government is by repudiating the principle in its entirety and returning the government to its original responsibility of controling the retaliatory use of force.

Today's thinkers like to pretend that principles don't have to work that way. It's what they are taught in college. But they do work that way. If you doubt this, look at the nature of law itself. The law works by extrapolating new conclusions from established precedents. An established precedent is an adopted principle.

"Mr. Smith goes on to complain about illicit drug use: "It angered and drove me crazy when some folks somehow blamed the police for not being more on top of the Fentanyl/heroin story. You, too?

Inconvenient truth: If you use illegal drugs, (or use legal drugs illegally) you may die."

The wisdom of the war on drugs aside, I usually don't feel sorry for people who OD on drugs. Such people are looking for an escape from reality and I am not saddened when they achieve a permanent one.

Paul W. Smith correctly complains about Detroit schools and their turn down of $200 million dollars from Bob Thompson:

"Enough time has passed since that opportunity has come and gone (in its original form) to state the obvious inconvenient truth: Politics, ego and control issues trumped what was best for the kids. What system of education, city or state in this country, would not have benefited from an infusion of $200 million?"

Aside from the question of why a government run school system needs such a bailout, it doesn't seem to have occured to Mr. Smith that "Politics, ego and control issues" would not be a factor in a completely private school system.

He then promotes breast feeding but doesn't call for the government to force that on women, yet. He then closes with these two paragraphs:

"Finally, I'm not telling you how to live your life, or if you are right or wrong in your own actions (even though I have a strong personal opinion). My (ultimate) inconvenient truth is: Human life begins at conception.

Join me as I sit in again for Rush Limbaugh on his nationwide show heard noon till 3 p.m. on WJR."

Of course this was an op-ed and Mr. Smith is entitled to all of his opinions. But I find it a bit ironic that a man who is comfortable with the principle that the government can initiate the use of force against citizens to achieve some social goal, and who does not understand that principles (precedents) always grow by way of their own virtue (merit), is sitting in for Rush Limbaugh. Rush of course is often heralded as a defender of freedom and capitalism. With defenders like this is it any wonder capitalism has a bad name? One cannot defend the principles of captalism (individual rights) while endorsing the principles of statism (iniatory coercion against citizens for some social goal--"it's good for everybody." If capitalism is to be defended properly, its defense must be based on individual rights. It's a matter of principle.
Post a Comment