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Against Liberty

Everything is not a matter of opinion and all opinions are not equal. In the U.S., we frame all policy arguments in terms of liberty, and since we don’t teach critical thought, who wins the framing dispute wins the argument.

This week, my 85-year-old mother in law had her life saved by the excesses of the nanny state that made an elderly woman pay more for a car with a bunch of air bags. You can’t think of air bags at my age without thinking of how seat belts destroyed liberty.

First, they were optional, at the princely cost of five bucks.

Then they were mandatory and the cost of a new car went up accordingly.

Then, all of a sudden, there were jackbooted thugs on every street corner giving out tickets to people who failed to buckle them.

One of those jackbooted thugs, a friend of mine, was rushing to an armed robbery in progress call when he was t-boned by another police officer making the same call at high speed. It took most of a day to find the severed rear end of his unit, which had flown into the air and come down between two buildings. That part of the car contained the seat belt anchors. Had he been belted in, he would have been cut in half.

Therefore, the laws requiring buckled seat belts are an unwarranted infringement on liberty, right?

Some motorcycle helmets obstruct peripheral vision and all of them obstruct your sacred right to feel the wind in your hair at highway speeds, right? Therefore, helmet laws are bad policy, at least as applied to rich people who can afford to be maintained in a persistent vegetative state.

Obamacare is a terrible infringement on individual liberty because it requires healthy people to buy health insurance. You have a right to play the odds that you won’t get sick, and bringing down the cost for the other people in the pool is not your problem as a free individual, free to head for the emergency room and get your cancer diagnosed too late for treatment.

Then there are the death panels. Unless you believe in Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, and unlimited health care without cost, some sick people will be subjected to a cost-benefit analysis by death panels.

Your choices are a death panel from a private insurance company that makes money by denying care or a death panel from the government that gets more votes by providing care. Bet your life and choose your death panel, unless you are wealthy enough not to care.

Michigan passed a right to work law this month. Great news for liberty, right, and now everybody has a right to work?

Not every union person is Joe Hill (don't tell Joan Baez) or Woody Guthrie’s "Union Maid." Working people do not wish to be bothered with politics and they no more want to pay union dues than Republicans want to pay taxes.

So the liberty you get from a right to work law is a right to lower pay that affects not just union shops but the labor market generally. People born and raised with the 40 hour week, defined benefit pensions, Saturday and Sunday off work, seniority, firing for cause only, and employer provided health insurance are never taught the history of how those benefits started with labor unions and spread to the country generally.

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The generation watching union rights slip away is innocent of the debate between the AFL (skilled labor) and the CIO (unskilled labor) and the argument that a guy working on an assembly line at a simple repetitive task does not deserve a middle class wage because God—personified by the market—did not intend unskilled persons to live well.

Also this month, two crazy men set out to do unspeakable harm.

In China, a crazy man went into a primary school and stabbed 22 children. Fatalities: 0.

In Connecticut, a crazy man went into a primary school and shot 20 children. Fatalities: 20.

Therefore, the problem is crazy men, because guns don’t kill people, right?

Having a gun in the home makes you safer from intruders, right? Well, no. Guns in the home are 12 times more likely to kill someone in the home than to kill an intruder. Persons with guns in their home are at more risk of both being a homicide victim and of taking their own life successfully.

More successful suicide with guns? See! What did I tell you? It’s all about liberty.

Isn’t gun prohibition the same as alcohol or drug prohibition? This is not a matter for opinion, as we have evidence on all three across cultures.

Do right-to-work laws affect wages and working conditions? They do, and which direction is not a matter of opinion.

Do lower taxes on rich people create jobs? No.

Is there a relationship between per-pupil expenditures and quality of education? Yes.

Is there a relationship between the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere and global temperatures? Yes. Does human activity affect the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere? Yes.

Democracy, understood as government from below rather than from above, only works for peoples who understand the difference between opinion and arithmetic.

Steve Russell, Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, is a Texas trial court judge by assignment and associate professor emeritus of criminal justice at Indiana University-Bloomington. He lives in Georgetown, Texas.