Perspective: Look Around
APRIL 01, 1989 by WILLIAM E. SIMON
Look around the world today and ask: where are the victories against poverty most dramatic? Where is the race to the future being won? Where is peace most secure?
Again and again, the answer can be found in that small group of nations where men and women have freedom: freedom to pray and to speak, freedom to vote, assemble and dissent, and freedom to seek their fortune without fear or without favor, and where freedom is coupled with moral responsibility: responsibility to one’s community, responsibility to one’s countrymen, and ultimately and inescapably responsibility to the God who rules us all. For the abiding hope and the unlimited possibilities of freedom rest in the strength of freedom’s moral foundations as well as in that crucial link between our economic and our personal and political freedom.
—William E. Simon
Speaking at Templeton College, Oxford
Protecting the Irresponsible
Most people agree that government should punish irresponsible conduct which infringes, in a direct way, on the rights of others. Thus, there is common agreement on the legitimacy of laws against such conduct as murder, assault, rape, and theft.
However, there is also a wide range of conduct which many people consider irresponsible but which does not directly impact against others. Examples include the denying of God, refusing to care for others, viewing pornography, listening to rock and roll, believing in communism, ingesting drags, and attempting suicide.
Should government punish individuals for pursuing actions which are harmful only to themselves? The answer is unequivocally no! Individuals have the absolute right to engage in this type of conduct and it is the sovereign duty of government to protect the exercise of this right.
The essence of freedom is the right to choose between alternative courses of action. If an individual is not permitted to choose an irresponsible course of action that harms only himself, then he cannot truly be considered free. Does this mean that advocates of liberty necessarily approve of the choices which others make with respect to their own lives? Of course not. But we view liberty as so crucially important to human life that we are willing not only to tolerate these choices but also to affirm the right of others to make them.
Why is freedom of choice so vitally important? There are three reasons. First, freedom of choice is a God- given right and, therefore, cannot legitimately be taken away by man. God wants us to choose good over bad, and virtue over vice, but under no circumstances does He force us to do so. He leaves us free to choose our own way, recognizing that each individual must ultimately bear the consequences of his own choices. Since God permits man to sin against himself, government has no legitimate authority to prevent him from doing so.
Second, freedom of choice is necessary for individual growth. In order to improve and perfect himself, an individual must be provided the widest possible latitude to choose between good and evil. The ultimate conquest over self can take place only through a continuous process of choosing between good and bad, moral and immoral. It is this process of choosing that enables an individual to move forward in his aim of constantly refining himself.
Third, freedom of choice makes the pursuit of correct conduct meaningful. If a person is coerced into doing good, or prevented from doing bad, then his actions mean nothing. It is only when the individual voluntarily and deliberately pursues good for its own sake, rather than as a result of coercion or manipulation, that his conduct has positive meaning for both himself and his God.
The true test of a free society, then, is the extent to which laws protect, rather than punish, the pursuit of irresponsible conduct which does not directly harm others. Not only is freedom of choice a divine right, it is the only method for individuals to reform themselves in meaningful ways.
—Jacob G. Hornberger
Where Your Mail Went
The Postal Service may soon have to file environmental impact statements for all the mail it is dumping in America’s trash boxes and dumpsters. For example, a Rhode Island carrier was arrested after 94,000 letters were found buried in his backyard. A 1987 survey by Doubleday and Company found that up to 14 percent of bulk business mail was either thrown away or lost. One Arlington, Virginia, postal clerk told a customer, “We don’t have room for the junk mail—so we’ve been throwing it out.” In 1987, 1,315 postal workers were fired for theft and/or mistreatment of mail. A Postal Inspection Service audit found properly addressed mail dumped in the trash at 76 percent of the post offices it visited. A survey by Doubleday found that up to 14 percent of properly addressed third-class mail vanished in the postal labyrinth. The throwing away of mail has become so pervasive that postal inspectors have notified employees that it is bad for the Postal Service’s business.
“The Slow Death of the U.S. Postal
Service,” published by the Cato Institute
At first blush, the regulatory system seems reasonably orderly. Administrative agencies provide oversight before products go on the market, while the courts supervise matters farther down the line. But the structure beneath is much more chaotic. The hierarchy of regulatory powers is so fragmented that the system can never say “yes,” only “maybe.” One agency’s approval may be tramped by a second’s disapproval. Approvals by two agencies may be refuted shortly afterward by a federal court. And approvals of all three may be rejected by a liability court following an accident decades later . . . .
Any endeavor can tolerate only so much uncertainty. Compounding scientific doubt with unnecessary layers of regulatory unknowns will sink many undertakings regardless of their scientific and economic merits.
writing in Technology Review