All Commentary
Monday, June 1, 1987

Perspective: Excusing Irresponsibility

Many people are angry at the common spectacle of convicted criminals escaping punishment for their crimes, on grounds that they were “not responsible” for the social or biological conditions which allegedly “provoked” their aggression.

In recent years a new form of criminal has appeared: the international terrorist. Frequently sponsored by some collectivist regime, the terrorist commits the most heinous and bloodthirsty deeds. Inevitably, sympathetic voices in civilized nations are raised to declare that these were merely acts of desperation, in response to intractable injustices.

Then there is the related issue of aggression by communist governments, and the chronic excuse-making responses of Western individuals and governments—a phenomena vividly chronicled in such books as Jean-Francois Revel’s How Democracies Perish.

What links all these issues? Each entails some form of appeasement—of victims ratio nalizing, or even abetting, the outrages of foreign and domestic aggressors.

And one other thing links them: the assault on the philosophy of self-responsibility. Observe that in each instance of aggression, foreign or domestic, voices of “moderation” are raised to excuse the aggressors of moral responsibility for their crimes.

Sociologists and psychologists claim that environmental or biological factors caused a career criminal to victimize others. What he needs, they say, is understanding and rehabilitation.

Diplomats and scholars argue that when the Soviet Union invades a neighboring country or subverts a distant one, it is not being aggressive; it is merely “reacting” to “historic fears of invasion” in order to “secure its borders.” The cure is to reassure the Soviets that we mean them no harm, by means of increased aid, trade, and negotiation.

In each case, individual moral responsibility is obliterated, allowing causality to be inverted—with aggressors being treated as victims, and their victims treated as aggressors.

Just as the obliteration of individual responsibility encourages legalized aggression, so too does it sanction those who have no time to ob serve legal niceties. Therefore, it is no accident that with the decline of the philosophy of individualism and self-responsibility, we have seen the explosive increase in crime domestically, and atrocities internationally.

Robert James Bidinotto

Controls Raise Prices

A recent Canadian study provides revealing information about the effects of government regulation on prices. In 1982, Statistics Canada began to measure the rates of price increases on goods and services that are regulated by government and to compare those to the price increases on products that don’t have the benefit of government regulation.

The figures show that since April, 1973, government approved or regulated prices have increased 240 per cent whereas other prices, based on what the market will bear, have increased only 167 per cent. At the present time, the annual inflation rate of products whose prices are approved is about 6 per cent while those whose prices are determined by good old supply and demand in the market place are inflating at only 3 per cent.

In other words, the unmistakable message from the Stat Can figures is that for at least the last 13 years, Canadians have gotten a better deal price-wise on those products whose prices were determined by “whatever the market will bear.” The reason for this is not hard to see.

Approved or regulated prices are usually prices that are produced under monopoly or under special license from government. For example, eggs, milk, chicken, and airline travel as well as telephone calls have in common the fact that those who produce them enjoy a form of government-sponsored monopoly. The monopoly in turn is regulated by the government. The theory is that by removing the product or service from the market place and permitting a monopoly, the government will ensure that there is no duplication of facilities—e.g., telephone networks—and no oversupply—e.g., eggs and milk. By regulating the price, the government also attempts to ensure that “the price is right.”

The problem is that in determining the price they will allow, regulators often have to rely on information from the regulated industry to determine the costs of production and the reasonable profit that is added. What is lacking is the pressure of entrepreneurs who want to lure away their competitors’ customers. In the end, what the market will bear is determined by customers and businesses looking out for the best deal, and that is why what the market will bear serves the interest of consumers better than the well-meaning regulations of government.

Michael Walker

The Fraser Institute

Vancouver, British Columbia

Strategies for Freedom

What is the best way to attain a free society? Is it political action? Letters to the editor? The endowment of free enterprise chairs on college campuses? Mass mailings and lobbying?

I don’t know. That is, I don’t know the best way others should take because I don’t believe there is a single best way that works for everyone. We are all different, with different strengths, weaknesses, and interests. I would no more try to tell you the best way to work for freedom than I would tell you the best way to live any other aspect of your life.

But I would like to offer an observation. Many people have become so wrapped up in developing strategies for freedom that they seem to have forgotten what freedom is all about. Freedom is an ideal. It refers to the absence of coercive intervention in peaceful activities. It can never be compromised because principles cannot be compromised; principles can only be broken.

When we forget this—when we get so involved in forming strategies for freedom that our main concern is to “put one over” on a gullible public—we aren’t fooling anyone but ourselves. For the “freedom” we attain this way will be a false freedom, with no moral conviction, ready to be turned against us by someone smarter than we are at developing a winning strategy.