Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Prohibiting freedom

On this day in 1919, the United States officially became a "dry" country where the manufacture, transport, possession or sale of alcoholic beverages became illegal.

...and millions of Americans became outlaws, working overtime to find ways over, around and under the government's best efforts at enforcement.  Meanwhile, organized crime made a killing--in more ways than one--supplying "juice" to quench the still-present-but-now-proscribed thirst.

It was a Constitutional Amendment only Al Capone could love.  Fourteen years later a subsequent Amendment cancelled Prohibition.  That didn't mean the flourishing underground networks disappeared.  They merely found other illicit goods to supply.

Those who seek to wield legal force to bludgeon people into making the "right" choices for their own good still haven't learned their lesson.  Government does not provide freedom.  In its best form, it carefully constrains some of it in order to preserve most of it.  It is a negative agent, not a positive one.  The coercion inherent in government action means it's a short path from trying to protect meth addicts from themselves to preventing a family from deciding how much cough syrup they need to purchase at the pharmacy. 

In the same way, agreeing that mentally troubled people need to be kept away from guns can easily be translated into government policy that NOBODY outside the police or military should have them.

It's the nature of the beast (Leviathan) that government always seeks to expand its scope.  The most effective way for it to do so in the West has been to convince people it is the only actor that can address some pressing issue.  This gains it entry into new areas to control, within which it promptly sets about staking out related territory.

In reality, little if anything government does can address the most pressing issues of our time.  The irony is this: a wildly unpopular law (such as Prohibition) may honor the forms of governance, but could hardly be said to be representative.  Where a broad social consensus and freedom of association exists, however, few if any laws are necessary.

We have exponentially too many laws on the books today, at the Federal, State and local level.  Most result from either the "tyranny of the well-intentioned" or one group trying to coerce another in a direction they aren't freely willing to go.  I'm not saying there is no need for government--I'm a libertarian, not an anarchist.  But let's stop trying to pretend it's a neutral, precision instrument for social perfection.  It's anything but.

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