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July 03, 2017

Freedom and Responsibility

Once the American Revolution was won, the colonies had the freedom they’d fought for. They also had the responsibility that came with freedom. When things went bad, there were no bossy Brits around to blame. And things did go bad. The Articles of Confederation adopted by the Continental Congress and eventual the colonies were inadequate during the war and a failure after. The current constitution, adopted in 1789, saved the day – but not without a great civil war.

A lesson for Independence Day is that freedom comes with responsibility.

We’re debating whether various drugs should be legalized. I think the answer, as it has been for alcohol, should be “yes”. With the freedom to use drugs comes responsibility (that’s why children, who aren’t responsible, don’t get freedom).  Drug use can’t be a mitigating factor for a crime even if the immediate decision to commit the crime was clouded by drugs. The decision to use drugs (or alcohol) led to the crime. Society has a responsibility to publicize the dangers of drug (or alcohol) use and to provide some help to those who are dependent. But, if society has an unlimited responsibility to those who choose to use, then society must take that choice away. That puts us back where we started with drug use banned. We can’t have freedom to use drugs without personal responsibility for their effects on us and how we deal with others.

We’re debating whether banks should be free from Dodd-Frank constraints. Yes, IMHO but only if they also have the freedom to fail. If there is any possibility of bailouts, then no freedom for banks. Bernie Sanders is right on this: too big to fail is too big to exist.

What about loans that provide the freedom to go to college? Sure. But the recipients have the responsibility to spend the money wisely and to pay it back whether they spent it wisely or not.

Shouldn’t we be free not to have our children vaccinated? No! Because you can’t take responsibility for the consequences either to your own children or to society as a whole, whose herd immunity is diminished by your choice. No freedom without responsibility.

What about freedom not to work at an “unfulfilling” job? Goes with the freedom not to eat assuming there’s some job available, you’re able to work, and there’s a daycare solution.

What about environmental regulation which restricts business? Businesses (I’m a businessman) should be careful what they wish for in this case. If there are no regulations, then you are responsible for harm that you do. Regulation can be a needed protection both against competitors who cut corners and unlimited liability. This is a tradeoff against freedom, one that I think we often need to make.

The glories of freedom should be celebrated on Independence Day. Celebrate responsibly!

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