Founding principles

My weakness has always been an urge to understand things from founding principles, even at the cost of developing comprehensive empirically-based arguments. Supporting ideas with empirical evidence is all very well, but I need to know exactly what the empirical evidence is in service of. For instance, for many people peace is the ultimate goal of public policy, and any policy that promotes public peace, even at the cost of freedom, is worth the price if it can achieve its goal. So the government should take away people’s weapons, whether or not those weapons have been used in a crime, if it makes society more peaceful by lowering gun homicide rates. The loss of freedom and independence that law-abiding gun owners suffer as a result is just a minor concern, of no consequence in the balance of things.

I have come to the belief that for me, freedom is the ultimate aim of policy. I don’t believe anyone should be deprived of life, liberty or property unless they have themselves deprived someone else of those things. The objection to this, of course, is the notion that people will misuse their freedom and that it is government’s duty to prevent such abuses by, paradoxically, taking away people’s freedom. So, even if you have never committed a crime with your guns and are not about to do so, the government should be able to take your guns since you might at some unspecified future date commit a crime. If you enter into a voluntary contract with another person to pay him three dollars an hour for some work, the government can punish you because it doesn’t think your wage is “fair”, even though both you and the worker agreed to it without compulsion. If you rent your room to a foreigner without proper documentation, the government has a right to punish you for disposing of your own property as you see fit. If you refuse to cater for a gay wedding, the government allows the dissatisfied customer to sue you for your refusing to put your own time and energy at his disposal, even when he has not paid you for your time or contracted with you to do so.

All these situations demonstrate an intrinsic injustice in government actions that really shows up the intrinsic injustice of the public policy goal that lies behind the actions. They can only be justified on the assumption that government has a right to dispose of our time, energy and property as it sees fit, and that we are not free to dispose of ourselves and our property as we see fit. In other words, the government owns us, according to statists. I find I simply cannot accept this as a basis for formulating public policy.


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