Ask Americans what made our country great and they will say, without hesitation, that liberty is our touchstone. Yet ask Americans what their government should do for them and the answer can be boiled down simply to this: "Control, tax, and regulate my neighbors." Americans want liberty for themselves, but they want something very different for others.
This is why it has been a struggle to keep liberty as the foundation of our society. Liberty requires respect for the personal choices that others make. In the long run, our liberties cannot be maintained if we violate the liberties of others. In trying to control others, we will eventually find ourselves controlled. Taking our neighbors' liberties results in the loss of our own.
Let's take the Drug War, for example. When we take away our neighbors liberty, because they like to use substances we consider to be harmful, we expose ourselves to harm. Close to one-half of all murders in this country result from the prohibition of drugs. Turf wars between gangs result in the death of many innocent victims. The exorbitant black market prices mean that more people steal to fund their habit. Thus, we are twice as likely to die from a mugging when drugs are illegal than when we are not.
Our children are also put at risk. The high black-market profit margin in illegal drugs guarantees that pushers will haunt our schools, addicting our youth. Even though alcohol and tobacco are illegal for minors, the average student finds it easier to buy an assortment of chemical highs at school than drinks or smokes. The War on Drugs has painted targets on the backs of our young people.
The economic costs of the Drug War are staggering as well. Half of our police, court, and prison resources are devoted to tracking, arresting, and jailing people whose only crime is an attempt to be happy. Our military are deployed overseas to burn hemp fields and to prevent the cultivation of opium. We have fueled anti-American sentiment and strengthened the hand of Latin American authoritarian regimes by funding their half-hearted cocaine eradication efforts. We pay these costs with high taxes and more inflation, resulting in recession and job destruction. As a result, our very livelihood may be lost. The standard of living that would otherwise have been ours is no longer possible.
I could go on, but I'm sure you get the picture. Taking liberty from another has dire consequences for us. The blowback can cost us our standard of living, our jobs, our children, and our very lives.
Consequently, I cringe when some well-meaning individuals, even those who call themselves libertarian, insist that society is better off when we deprive a select few of liberty. They just don't understand. Our rights are intertwined. When we deprive someone of their liberty our own is sure to be compromised. It's just a matter of time.
To be for liberty, you must be for it consistently, respecting the lives of others in all matters. You cannot make an exception for the War on Terror. You cannot make an exception for the War on Poverty. You cannot make an exception for the War on Drugs. You cannot make an exception for gays or prostitutes. You can't let bureaucrats deny dying patients life-saving medicine just because the FDA hasn't yet approved it. You can't take another's money or land and give it to another.
Liberty is indivisible. It's the one thing we can't have unless we are willing to give it others. If someone tells you differently, they just don't know how the world really works. Make sure that you don't vote them into power.
The liberty you save may be your own!
April 23, 2008