All Commentary
Sunday, March 1, 1987

Perspective: The Quest for Freedom


It is man’s hunger for freedom and spiritual well-being more than his hunger for material well-being that sounds the death knell for socialism and communism. The realization that human freedom is morally superior to state coercion in any form is what is changing the world.

Terrance D. Paul, President

Best Power Technology, Inc.

The Least We Can Expect

In Beyond Liberal and Conservative, William S. Maddox and Stuart A. Lilie argue per suasively that “classical liberal” principles serve, to some degree, as the basic assumptions of almost all Americans, These assumptions include: individualism; “the state as an instrument to serve individuals, not as an end or value in and of itself”; limited government; individual rights; equality under the law; and representative government.

It would be difficult to find many Americans who did not at least pay lip service to such basic principles of classical liberal philosophy. Yet, of course, few Americans hold to those principles consistently. Most advocate substantial government intervention either in the economic or personal realms of human action, or in both.

In one respect, all principles are promises. When people espouse certain abstract principles, in effect they are making pledges about their future actions. From a social standpoint, inconsistency and hypocrisy are forms of promise-breaking which fool other people’s reasonable expectations. If widespread, this renders social relationships unpredictable and chaotic.

Now, America is a nation of considerable intellectual diversity, and it is irrational for us to expect our fellow man to agree with us on everything. But we can reasonably hold each other to account for the promises implied by our stated principles. And due to shared classical liberal assumptions, Americans have a right to expect of each other certain minimum standards of political behavior.

The whole thrust of classical liberal principles is toward a society of self-responsibility. If classical liberal assumptions are indeed widely shared in the United States, then they constitute implied social promises between citizens. And thus, the least we can expect of any able-bodied American is a life of self-supporting productivity—not irresponsible parasitism or aggression.

The least we can expect is that individuals support themselves—not live at the expense of others. The least we can expect is that businesses win their success in the marketplace—not in the corridors of Congress. The least we can expect is that politicians keep their oaths to uphold the Constitution—not abuse their power by making some favored constituencies “more equal than others.” The least we can expect is that voters view each other as inviolate ends—not mere means.

As Americans, our common principles pledge each other lives of self-responsibility. And the least we can expect of each other is that we keep our promises.

Robert James Bidinotto

The Heart of the Issue

In many parts of the country, hospitals are being hindered in their attempts to provide needed services. In Fairfax, Virginia, for example, Fairfax Hospital until recently was prohibited from performing heart transplants. Who was standing in the way? Federal and local bureaucrats.

According to The Wall Street Journal (November 21, 1986) such disputes are becoming more frequent. Many hospitals wish to offer additional services such as transplants, but in states where government permission is required, officials often object.

Why? Sometimes, as in Fairfax, it is argued that the area’s residents are already adequately served by other centers that perform transplants. Some are concerned about the costs of duplicating staff and resources. The main contention is that these procedures should be per formed only in “centers of excellence” where chances of success are best.

The hospitals counter that close-to-home access is economically, socially, and psychologically valuable. Patients often need extensive follow-up care. Using a distant center can mean relocation, or expensive and tiring travel. A Fairfax resident, for example, would have to travel to Baltimore or Richmond, both more than an hour and a half away.

This is one of those unnecessary debates in which basic questions are ignored. Leave aside that if Fairfax residents are content with the service in other centers, Fairfax Hospital will do no transplants. Leave aside that duplicate staffs may develop money-saving improvements which could be passed on to others. Leave aside that new “centers of excellence”-surely a desirable goal—cannot develop if they are not allowed to gain experience.

Instead consider the fundamental question: Who should decide these secondary issues of availability, quality, and costs? Should patients and their physicians be free to decide what hospital services to use, and should hospitals be free to decide which to offer? Or should a political authority restrict this freedom?

If individual freedom of choice is a basic right, then despite all good intentions of local health planning boards, and notwithstanding their legal authority, these decisions are just none of their business.

HB

Last Call: Alderbrook Seminar

FEE’s annual Northwest seminar will be held April 10-12 at the Alderbrook Inn on beautiful Hood Canal in Washington State. Dr. Smart Pritchard is organizing the program. Speakers will include Howard Baetjer Jr. and Greg Rehmke of the FEE staff and Richard Stroup and Jane Shaw of the Political Economy Research Center (PERC), Bozeman, Montana. For more information contact Dr. Pritchard at P.O. Box 4101, Tumwater, WA 98501, (206) 352-4884, or contact us at FEE.