Pur Autre Vie

I'm not wrong, I'm just an asshole

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Lapsing into Speechlessness

I am not a complete fatalist when it comes to the power of logic in political debate, but I do get pretty pessimistic sometimes. The latest example is this from Megan McArdle: "As a matter of principal, I think that our constitution should not permit laws requiring people to buy services from private parties."

Okay, that sounds like the kind of principle a reasonable person might build into the Constitution. But wait - should the government be able to:

1. require drivers to maintain liability insurance? (seems like a good policy - get it?)

2. require litigants to file paper copies of their pleadings? (Or require paper copies of tax returns to be filed? Bear in mind that the internet is only a few decades old while the Constitution has been around since the 1800s.)

3. require people to put their dogs on leashes in public spaces?

4. require vaccination of dogs?

5. require people to wear clothes?

6. require building owners to maintain fire extinguishers?

7. require corporations to hire boards of directors?

8. require financial institutions to maintain segregated bank accounts?

And so on. A huge amount of economic activity in this country is carried out in the private sector, which means that a lot of laws will directly or indirectly require people to participate in markets. And I truly can't comprehend why anyone would want it to be otherwise. Particular laws may be annoying - who knows, maybe nudity laws should be constitutionally prohibited. Maybe leash laws are silly. But to say that these laws are wrong as a matter of principle because they require people to engage in market transactions strikes me as so utterly wrongheaded that I can't begin to think how I would formulate a logical argument against it. I suppose I could make consequentialist arguments about whether it's a good idea to force most economic activity into the public sector, but mostly I think I would just keep listing examples and sputtering.

[note: edited post to make it funnier, in my opinion]


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