Tag Archives: freedom

Isaac Newton’s Funeral

Throughout history, most societies have been based on status. King, noble, and peasant. Brahmin and untouchable. Mandarin and coolie. One of liberalism’s crowning achievements is tearing down those old status societies and replacing them with contract societies. In a liberal society, all people have equal rights, and must deal with each other as equals. No man is forced to grovel before a duke or a king. He may look him in the eye now.

Bill Gates and Warren Buffett are far richer than I am. But if one of them wrongs me, I get my day in court. They might have better lawyers with shinier suits than me. But we are still equals before the law.

This was a novel phenomenon in the 18th century, mainly confined to England and the Netherlands, and even far more imperfectly than today. Here’s how Isaac Newton’s funeral looked through French eyes:

Having come from a nation where aristocracy and clergy held a monopoly on power and privilege, Voltaire marveled at a society where a scientist was buried with the honors of a king.

Robert Zaresky and John T. Scott, The Philosophers’ Quarrel: Rousseau, Hume, and the Limits of Human Understanding, location 877 in the Kindle version.

Isaac Newton’s life was a landmark event in the history of science. His funeral was, unknowingly, a landmark event in the history of human freedom.


The World Is Not Perfect

We shall never prevent the abuse of power if we are not prepared to limit power in a way which occasionally may prevent its use for desirable purposes.

-F.A. Hayek

Serious thinkers need to keep that in mind more often. Human imperfection is exactly why human freedom is a good policy for the world in which we live. By its very definition, utopia — “no place” — is a poor goal for this place.

Regulation of the Day 141: Mandatory Fire Sprinklers

Politicians love it when housing prices go up. They think it’s a sign of a vibrant and growing economy. That high-price fetish is partially to blame for the housing crisis of 2008.

Officials in Cumberland, Maryland have not learned their lesson. They are doing all they can to boost local housing prices. For example, the city council is currently mulling requiring all new homes to install fire sprinkler systems. For a 2,000 square foot home, that would add $3,000 to $9,000 to the price of the home.

Potential homebuyers are questioning the wisdom of the idea; high and rising prices reduce demand for housing. It’s basic economics. If this mandate passes, fewer Cumberlanders will be able to afford a new home. For a city complaining about its aging housing stock, this is not wise policy.

But this isn’t just an economic issue. It’s a personal freedom issue. As one man told the Cumberland Times-News,

Cumberland resident Don Bohrer suggested that more — and louder — smoke detectors, and not sprinklers, are a reasonable solution. Bohrer cautioned against “Big Brother” government infiltrating private homes any more than already is done.

“We’re losing more of our freedoms every time you pass one of these silly things,” Bohrer said.

He’s right. One mandate isn’t that big of a deal, though this one is rather expensive. But when you add them all up – federal regulations alone add up to 157,000 pages – you see that regulators have created a monster.

(Hat tip to Megan McLaughlin)

Fixing America’s Immigration Black Market

One of the problems with current immigration laws is that they raise the price of immigrating legally. Basic economics tells us that when something costs more, people consume less of it.

That’s why so many of America’s immigrants are turning to dangerous but cheap immigration black markets to enter the country. This is a problem with an obvious solution. In today’s American Spectator, Alex Nowrasteh and I make the case that lowering the cost of legal immigration through liberalization will reduce the amount of illegal immigration, and shrink cruel black markets.

Basic economics wins again.

Regulation of the Day 125: Salt

Having eliminated all crime from New York’s streets, ended homelessness, rebuilt Ground Zero, and fixed the state’s ailing public schools, New York’s state legislature has set its sights on how much salt you eat.

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg already has a plan to reduce NYC residents’ salt intake by 25 percent over five years. But State Assemblyman Felix Ortiz (D-Brooklyn) thinks that doesn’t go nearly far enough. It only covers New York City, for starters. The rest of the state’s salt intake would remain perilously unregulated under the Bloomberg plan.

That’s why Mr. Ortiz has introduced statewide legislation that would “make it illegal for restaurants to use salt in the preparation of food. Period.

A $1,000 fine would accompany each violation.

Tom Colicchio, who owns a restaurant and has appeared on the television show Top Chef, is livid. He told the New York Daily News that “New York City is considered the restaurant capital of the world. If they banned salt, nobody would come here anymore… Anybody who wants to taste food with no salt, go to a hospital and taste that.”

He’s right; the salt ban does offend culinary decency. But there’s another angle that’s at least as important: personal responsibility.
If I want to pile on the salt, as Mayor Bloomberg famously does, that’s my right. But I also need to be liable for the consequences. If chronic salt over-consumption gives me high blood pressure and heart trouble, that’s my fault. I should pay the cost.

But that’s not how the current health care system works. We suffer from the 12-cent problem: on average, people only pay 12 cents for every dollar of health care they consume. Roughly 50 cents are picked up by the government, and insurers cover the rest.
That means people have less incentive to watch what they eat than under a more honest system. Why not rack up huge health care bills? Everyone else is paying for me. Health care on sale! 88 percent off!

Freedom cannot exist without responsibility. Decades of government encroachments in health care have taken away a lot of our responsibility for health care decisions. So it makes some sense that Mr. Ortiz would finish the job by taking away peoples’ freedom to eat what they want.

A better solution would be to have both freedom and responsibility, instead of neither. Ban the salt ban. Give people more control over their health care dollars. Let us be free. Let us be responsible. We’re all adults here. Treat us as such, Mr. Ortiz.

Hayek on Freedom

Think for a minute about how progress is made. It doesn’t follow a constant, linear path. It is unpredictable. It comes in violent fits and starts. It happens at the whim and fancy of genius.

Everyday life is much the same. Life is what you make of it. You have to be free to find what’s best for you. That means making wrong choices sometimes. It means not just trial, but error. Or, as Hayek put it:

“If we knew how freedom would be used, the case for it would largely disappear… It is therefore no argument against individual freedom that it is frequently abused.”

-F.A. Hayek, The Constitution of Liberty, p. 31.

20th Anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall

The Berlin Wall fell twenty years ago today. CEI released a video to mark the occasion.

See also Fred Smith’s writeup, re-posted here in its entirety:

On November 9, 1989, the Berlin Wall came crashing down. Today marks the twentieth anniversary of that great day – one of the greatest in the history of human freedom. Communism in Germany finally collapsed, setting off a domino effect that would reach Moscow within two years. Families torn apart for nearly three decades came together in tearful, happy reunions as the world watched. The Cold War was finally, mercifully, ending.

Many historians cite World War I as the twentieth century’s opening act. Sixteen million souls died in that war over nothing. Two of the nations it toppled became the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany. Communist and fascist governments would combine to kill more than one hundred million people over the next seven decades. Those needless deaths are the twentieth century’s legacy, every bit as much as the transistor or rock ‘n roll.

The fall of the Berlin Wall was that short, bloody century’s coda.

November 9, 1989 was also the start of something better. It was a nation’s way of saying that it was ready to move on to better times. To a new world defined not by oppression, ideology, and servitude, but by freedom. Sweet, precious, fragile freedom. Seeing the footage on the news was like witnessing something being born. The hope and potential that surround every birth were glimmering in people’s eyes. It was beautiful.

What Berlin’s people did on that day also inspired half a continent to send the same message to their leaders. What a noble achievement. How worthy of commemoration, now that twenty years have passed.

What a shame, then, that this milestone has been treated more like a millstone by the media. Reporters more concerned with today’s news cycle are giving at best perfunctory attention to a day that showed us all that is good about humanity.

To partially right that wrong, CEI has produced a short video commemorating what the Berlin Wall’s fall symbolizes. I hope you will watch it and enjoy it. Of course, it is hard to convey in a few short minutes what the people living in that Wall’s shadow went through for 29 long years.

So put yourself in their shoes. Think what they thought. Look right in the eyes of those separated families as they try to catch glimpses of each other over that wall. And the people who risked their lives escaping. And the soldier carrying back the body of someone who didn’t make it. What was going through his mind as he carried out his grisly task? That might give you an idea of what the Berlin Wall meant.

We all need to remember the Berlin Wall. We need to say to each other, “Never again.” And we have to mean it.