Government is not the nanny of society to tell the populace what is good and bad for them. “Don’t smoke.” “Don’t talk on your phone while driving.” “Exercise and eat right.”
All of this is great advice, but there is erosion of personal liberty if legislatures turn this advice into law. If sound advice is the standard for legislation, government will not stop enacting laws until the populace is doing exercises in front of televisions while Big Brother watches and barks commands if one does not bend low enough. There is a legitimate function for government in society, however, doling out good advice with stiff penalties for not heeding is not a legitimate function.
Idaho Senate bills 1030 and 1031 outlaw using your cell phone in your car and impose a stiff penalty for any infraction. It is undeniable that dialing and talking on the phone while driving is not a good idea. However, a better and more liberty-friendly approach to dealing with cell phones and driving would be to impose stiffer penalties for those who cause accidents while talking or dialing on their cell phones. The effect of such legislation would be to reduce cell phone usage of people who consider the penalty of causing an accident a greater risk than the disservice of not talking while they drive. However, people who value their phone use while driving worth the increased financial risk may continue using their phone.
Liberty and responsibility are inexorably linked. For those willing to assume the responsibility of their actions, the government has no authority to deny them the freedom to act.
When the free market functions without government intervention, “good idea” legislation is unnecessary. When the law of supply and demand is not inhibited by legislator’s good ideas, the free market provides everyone with what they want, providing they are willing to shoulder the costs and to assume responsibility.
Take, for example, the “good idea” law banning smoking in restaurants. Suppose the legislature repealed this law. Does anyone think that every restaurant in Idaho would allow smoking? That one who wished to dine smoke-free would be unable to? Of course not. Only the restaurant owners whose clientele demanded smoking with their food would allow smoking in their establishments. The other restaurant owners who have greater demand for smoke free meals would post a sign outside their door that said “No Smoking.”
Restaurants, like all businesses, would cater to the demands of their customers.
Consider now the results of repealing the smoking ban. Restaurant patrons who wish to remain smoke free can still find plenty of non-smoking restaurants in which to enjoy their food. However, the group of people that the law previously discriminated against by preventing them from enjoying a cigarette with their dinner can now find establishments at which they can enjoy their food as well.
The smoking ban has only one effect, which is to diminish the freedoms of the people who wish to smoke with dinner and the restaurant owners who wish to allow smokers into their establishment. The government is telling two willing, competent and capable adults who desire to be involved in a certain type of transaction, “No, we legislators say you cannot do that.” The effect of such “good advice” lawmaking is to make criminals out of otherwise law abiding citizens.
Government exists to protect people’s belongings and their person, and to force restitution from the person who damages another’s property or person. The government does not exist to protect people from themselves by micromanaging their lives and stripping away their liberties in the name of safety.
Levi Ellis is a graduate of Hillsdale College where he earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Economy. While in college, he worked for The Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C. Levi was born in raised in Idaho and resides in Boise with his wife. Reach Levi at [email protected]