Saturday, October 14, 2006

What Do You Want To Be Free to Choose?

Professor Bryan Caplan asks an important question (emphasis mine):

Here's a question for libertarians (though of course others should feel free to answer): What currently illegal thing do you personally really want to be free to do?

Set aside "not pay taxes"; that's too easy. For me, anyway, the truth is that I'm so bourgeois that I'm already free to do almost everything that I want to do. What about you?

If you scroll down through the comments of Bryan Caplan's post, most of the answers revolve around guns, sex, and drugs. No wonder libertarians don't do well in the polls!

I'd have to agree with Dr. Caplan -- I'm already free to do almost everything I want to do. If I had to choose something that personally affects me, I wish I could opt out of social security and take responsibility for saving for my own retirement.

On the margin, I wish there were fewer regulations of industries, little or no involvement of the FDA in bringing new drugs to market (this would theoretically speed up the rate and breadth of innovation and reduce costs of pharmaceuticals), replacement of most (if not all) job licensing with job certification to promote easier entry and greater competition in job markets, elimination of minimum wage laws (to decrease unemployment among the African-American community), easier ability for immigrants to legally come into the US (I have many friends who have been negatively impacted by this), elimination of trade barriers (particularly with poor countries), turning abortion over to the states (to be determined by legislatures) rather having it as a federal issue, and making participation in the social security system voluntary rather than forced (giving people the choice to opt out of it completely).

If I could make one and only one change, it would probably be to give parents the freedom of school choice. I'm not a parent yet, but if/when I become a father, this would be a huge issue for me. I think it is an absolute travesty that we continue to force students from poor families to go to non-performing, non-safe schools. Middle and upper-class families have freedom of choice with schools by being mobile enough to move to good school districts and/or sending their kids to private schools. The poor do not have these options.

With the exception of education, I think Americans are incredibly well off when it comes to liberty. I was surprised by how most of the answers given to Bryan Caplan's question have almost zero impact on the lives of most Americans.

I've been to a number of countries where people don't have freedom to own property, start a business, drive on the road without getting stopped by the police for a bribe, or even get mail at the post office without having to open it up in front of "inspectors". In comparison, most of what the people are complaining about in Dr. Caplan's comments section seem relatively insignificant.

If people care so much about liberty, why aren't they more concerned about it overseas? I have far more concern and sympathy about the lack of basic freedoms most North Koreans, Moldavians, and Haitians have than I do about the inability of Americans to buy dope at Walgreens.

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