Let's make individual liberty a special interest again

Par Beryl Wajsman le 20 juin 2016

So, Montreal wants to ban pit bulls and "other dangerous breeds" in its 19 boroughs. When we heard about this, we began to reflect on how many bans we have lived through in the past year or so. It seems that the default reaction of our elected officials is prohibition. The last prohibitionary era gave us organized crime. This one won't end any better. It will give us a permanent big-brother command state.

Pit bulls, caleches, plastic bags, fireplaces, woodburning ovens, outdoor smoking and sidewalk terraces. All have been banned in the past year. And the war on cars and parking continues as well as the restriction of language rights.Some have enforcement dates that only begin next year. All are wrong in most of their aspects.

They are wrong because they are mostly based on junk science. They are wrong because they are done as replacement of real policies to meet urgent needs. But above all, they are wrong because they pander to the noisiest fashionable special interest of the moment, giving the public the impression that its safety is somehow secured and indeed that safety - rather than liberty - is the central organizing principle of society. Well, it may be time to make liberty a special interest, because we are quickly losing it. As Benjamin Franklin wrote, "Those who would trade permanent liberty for temporary security shall, in the end, have neither liberty nor security." He was speaking after the Continental Congress had adopted the Bill of Rights and he was warning of big government.

And we are losing liberty because of the dangerous logic behind all bans. They are all based on the theory of prevention. By that measure, how long do you think it will take before the politicians decide to restrict what we say and write because it may inflame someone to do harm? And they have already tried. Then what do we have left?

Today's prohibitionists like to ban. It makes their political lives easier. They don't have to concern themselves with poverty, the health care system, economic opportunity or education. The matters they were elected to manage and get right. Those problems are difficult and their solutions require real work and thought. Not easily explained in six-second sound bites or 140 character tweets. But bans fit the bill. They can be listed on re-election flyers. Bans demand enforcement which means more inspectors giving politicians more power over our lives. And bans come with fines, creating more back-door tax grabs so that our elected class never has to cut the vote-buying programs they love so much and sell under the cloaks of "culture" and "diversity."

The sad part of all this is that too many people are beginning to believe the nonsense. Today's "ban-it" mentality mirrors in style and substance the "lynch-'em" mentality of the past. It's just easier isn't it? Yet today's knee-jerk reactionaries will corrode justice just as much as yesterday's did. They are criminalizing everyday life. And worse.

Both the prohibitionists and their followers are guilty of selling everyone a bill of goods. And of betraying the best of our progress. For decades, our best progress as a people was based on the expansion of individual liberty, not collective security. The latter was the stuff of tyrannies not democracies.

Individual liberty is what created a system that provided the greatest equity of opportunity - not equity of result - in order to allow for the fullest flowering of individual possibility. And that liberty was not just political. It was social and economic as well. A free economy, less fettered by mountains of compliance,  incited and inspired individual enterprise and initiative to discover new things, create new products and expand employment. And when enterprise sought excessive and untrammeled privilege and power, it was reigned in because it had already been justly rewarded.

But a generation of prohibition has stifled incentive, expression and just the sheer enjoyment of life. Most of our best and brightest are giving up on Quebec because they don't want to deal with the 19 full working days a year that entrepreneurs - business or creative - have to spend on compliance in this jurisdiction. Prohibitionary rule and regulation will not make life a danger-free zone, no matter how much politicians may talk. Life doesn't work like that. That's why we have words in our vocabulary like "accident." Life, as the title of a famous off-Broadway called it, "is not a dress rehearsal." Nobody gets out of it alive. Even the politicians can't ban death. So let them leave us be to enjoy our time.

We have allowed an expanding political and bureaucratic class to enact thousands of pieces of law and legislation -many vaguely-worded and unintelligible -  that have resulted in ever more citizens facing severe punishments for behavior that was - only recently - considered harmless.   That kind of retroactive action was what President Kennedy called, "the slow undoing of our basic rights." 

The protection of those basic rights, our basic liberties, is our most vital special interest. Let's make some noise about it. The politicians seem to react to only that. They'll quickly understand that if they push any more, they will ignite a national frustration that will bring us to torches and pitchforks. The new prohibitionists are selling lies. Fight back and don't buy into them.


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