The Next Time You’re in New Hampshire

Seat Belt laws came about entirely because legislators were convinced that they would improve things, namely, the safety of the general public.  Death and maiming by automobile has been with us since the internal combustion engine put vehicles powered by gasoline on the roads.  By the 1960s zealous reformers learned to focus on one aspect of the problem, the quickest fix and the one most likely to gain public acceptance if not public favor.  Restraint, they reasoned, equals safety.  They had no research to prove the theory; it just seemed right.  It wasn’t until 1984 (!), despite millions of public dollars spent on “educational” campaigns, that New York finally enacted the first primary clickit law.  In the quarter century since then, every state except New Hampshire has followed with some kind of law, although they vary wildly (see here for current status Safety belt use laws).

And guess what?  Deaths by automobile, measured in millions of miles driven, have gone down.  You can easily find dozens of websites that “show” how you are 63% less likely to die in a car crash if you are properly restrained.  Last year the number of highway deaths fell to 34,000 (somewhere near the battle deaths in the Korean War) for the first time since 1954, when, of course, the number of highway miles driven was much smaller.  Nobody does much research on the issue–it’s one of those, you know, “settled questions,” like global warming was about a year ago.

1954 is an interesting year to come up for comparison.  It was two years before the National Highway Act (almost as big a transfer of power from the states to the national government as the current “Health Care” law) and just before the Volkswagen started to revolutionize the American car market.  It was also twenty years before the oil cartel decided to squeeze us into at least a measure of gasoline thrift. In 1954 we could still work on our own cars (my friends could take them apart and put them back together blindfolded) and the new model year was an event as anticipated as the World Series.  Cars ruled!  By 1984 government regulation, big oil, technological “advances,” and early globalization had transformed a cultural icon into an international utilitarian commodity that required a mega-dollar computer to change the oil.  Chevy v. Ford was important; who really loves a Toyota?

Now that GM stands for “Government Motors” who can love a Chevy?  In many ways, seat belt laws paved the way for this transformation.  Government straps me in, government keeps me safe.  Government protects the air, so government mandates emission controls.  The car companies get used to being in bed with government, so they both can keep me safe.  They have improved everything around them.

People die in cars because they drive too fast and/or are distracted by tiredness, drink, drugs, or talking on cell phones.  The latter will inspire the next round of “improvement” laws, and we will be even safer.

But has anyone asked hard questions about why death by automobile has gone on a downward trend, or what it has cost?  I suggest that it is because of improved roads, improved automobile design (which is the history of the machines long before government got involved), improved understanding of safety principles, and, maybe, just a little to do with seat belt laws.  Common law principles would have arrived at a similar position to the one we find ourselves in, and with much less cost to limits and liberty.  Think about it: if seat belt laws as they now exist were to be strictly and uniformly enforced, law enforcement agencies would be increased by a factor of at least ten and we would be in a police state.  Is this likely to happen?  Probably not soon.  Are seat belt laws likely to be repealed or significantly modified?  Probably not ever.  The Iron Law of Government is, once you’ve got it, it’s really hard to get rid of it.  True of seat belts, true of much more consequential laws.

Meanwhile, drive to New Hampshire and unbuckle, and cheer the Granite staters on.  They’ll probably cave soon, and pass a bad law.  By the way, their death by automobile rate is very low.

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142 comments on this post.
  1. Charles Curtis:

    I’ve been in two accidents where my seat belt has saved my life.

    First accident I went off the road going down a 9% grade at 45 mph in a snow storm, and rolled four times. I would have been thrown into the roof and suffered massive injuries, and almost certainly have been killed. The force of the belt across my torso bruised me, so that I had difficulty sitting up for about a month afterward. I didn’t complain, because due to my belt I walked away from that accident.

    Second accident was last month. I was in a car that re-ended another vehicle at about 20 mph. The belt kept me from hitting the windshield at that speed. Again, major injuries avoided, maybe even death.

    I used to be a libertarian. Not anymore. If you’re too stupid to belt up, you deserve the fine. Society doesn’t need to be liable for your idiocy when you hurt yourself, causing all the rest of our insurance premiums to go up..

  2. Cecelia:

    People die in cars because they drive too fast and/or are distracted by tiredness, drink, drugs, or talking on cell phones.

    People die in cars because they get hit by dimwits who are drunk, driving too fast, etc.

    my life was saved because I had a seat belt buckled. Got hit head on by a dopey kid who was drag racing down a hill – lost control of the car and came into the opposite lane and hit me. All those government regs which forced my Swedish car company to have seat belts and crumple zones to withstand a head on collision – saved my life – walked away with sore knees and a few cuts and scratches. Car was totaled. Dippy kid – who was not wearing his seat belt whilst drag racing – ended up in a hospital with multiple fractures.

    Really a bit of a stretch here to go from seat belt regs to governments owning car companies. Most Euro countries have seat belt regs and by and large are not rushing out to buy up car companies. Don’t really think you have demonstrated a causal relationship here.

    By your logic – I guess we shouldn’t have speed limits or stop lights or regs against drunk driving?

  3. John Gorentz:

    “By your logic – I guess we shouldn’t have speed limits or stop lights or regs against drunk driving?”

    Good question. Speed limits are one way of controlling dangerous speeding, but not the only way. Some European countries are getting rid of a lot of highway signs in order to improve safety, and I’m not talking about commercial billboards. The idea is that if they don’t need to pay so much attention to signs telling them how fast to drive, where to turn, etc., they’ll spend more attention being careful, attentive drivers. The concept isn’t accepted everywhere yet, but I understand it’s getting some traction. And I was once told that in Russia drivers drove carefully because there was no insurance. But it’s not true that there was no insurance, even in the Soviet days. But maybe it was just property insurance and not liability — I’m not sure. And if you look at Russian TV or internet photos now, you see lots of cars getting smashed up by drunk drivers. To judge by movies from Soviet days, there were quite severe penalties for killing a pedestrian who was sober — like 3 years in a gulag. (One Russian blog-reader of mine (I’d say maybe the only one, but the number of blog hits I get from Russia is second only to those from the U.S.) recently told me not to use the word gulag for post-Stalin prisons, and probably I shouldn’t. But it’s a camp surrounded by concertina wire in far-off Siberia, and inadequate food rations.) Well, the point is that a penalty for drunk driving is not the only way of dealing with drunks who kill people. I’m not saying the Soviet or Russian way is best. That country and ours are world leaders at the rates at which they put citizens in prison. It’s not something to be particularly proud of. But the American style of regulation is usually some stupid kind of certification that doesn’t address the problem as directly as it could, but maximizes the employment of regulatory bureaucrats. (CAFE standards, anyone?)

    Also, keep in mind that your life was saved because you had your seat-belt buckled, not because a law required you to buckle your seat belt.

  4. Bob Cheeks:

    I resent Professor Willson’s snide reference to the recently passed Mengele-Obama Health Care legislation designed to make stuff fair, kill stupid, old people, and destroy the oppressive capitalist system.
    Obama is gonna send me money from his stash, give me a new house, buy me a new car, and pay for my utilities.
    “It’ll be like Christmas!”
    I don’t need no stinkin’ job, not when the gummint wants to give me stuff!
    ….Obama, Obama,mmm, mmmm, mm!

  5. Wessexman:

    Whether or not laws are needed, and remember we are not libertarians, the difference between being in a major crash with or without wearing a seatbelt can be large; certainly I see nothing to be gained by not wearing one.

    I don’t particularly consider the laws requiring them as oppressive although I do think the rush to try to legislate safety could be pernicious if it gets out of hand. I’m just not sure seatbelt laws are the place to argue the point against out of control legislation or if they are then it should be drawing a distinction between them and anything goes legislation for “safety”; they being generally a good move in isolation.

  6. John Willson:

    Wessexman (whoever that may be), did I argue against wearing seat belts? I seem to have missed that in my post.

    Your point about not finding this issue as worth fighting reminds me of the Episcopal Church. The classic line is, by golly if they name the Buddha as the fourth member of the Trinity I’m going to leave.

    If we are not attentive to bad law on an issue that affects all of us ten or so times a day, on what issue do you suggest we get attentive?

  7. Wessexman:

    Touche, did I ever suggest you had anything against wearing seatbelts? I seem to have that in my comment.(a Wessexman is a man of Wessex or the Westcountry, I hope you have nothing against such a man.)

    What is the Episcopal church? Do you mean the Church of England sir?

    What do you mean bad law? My point is on its own mandating seatbelts is not bad, in fact it may be good but we must be careful of its use as a precedent in dubious extensions.

  8. Bruce Smith:

    I would imagine being a Libertarian is little consolation when your kids die in an automobile accident because you failed to get them to buckle up!

  9. John Médaille:

    In no state do you have to wear a seatbelt when you drive. In every state you must wear a seatbelt when you drive on the public roads. The fact that the car has little utility apart from the public roadways is besides the point. It seems strange to me to complain of public regulation of a public utility. Actions on the roadway are not independent; the actions of one person affect the life and costs of every other person. This is precisely the situation in which regulation is justified, indeed necessary.

    There are of course prudential questions about the amount and kind of regulation. But that it should be regulated is beyond doubt. The more interesting question about cars is the amount of government support that the highway system gets, but that is a completely different set of questions.

  10. Sam M:

    “If you’re too stupid to belt up, you deserve the fine.”

    And perhaps if you are too stupid not to go down a 9 percent incline at 45 miles an hour in a snowstorm, and too stupid not to rear-end someone traveling at 20 mph, it would be best not to question the intlelligence of others.

  11. Russell Arben Fox:

    It seems strange to me to complain of public regulation of a public utility. Actions on the roadway are not independent; the actions of one person affect the life and costs of every other person. This is precisely the situation in which regulation is justified, indeed necessary.

    As usual, John Médaille expresses what seems to me to be the central point succinctly and wisely. Good one, John.

  12. Brigham:

    In responding to Wessexman, the author writes, “Did I argue against wearing seat belts? I seem to have missed that in my post.” The post opens with these two sentences: “Live a little. Unbuckle your seat belt.” Perhaps that’s poetic license in the form of a catchy opening, but the author seems to be encouraging the not wearing of seat belts…at least in New Hampshire. It reminds me of Paul in I Cor. 10:23: “All things are lawful,” but not all things are helpful. Unbuckling your seat belt is not helpful. If we don’t like government laws as an incentive, we can at least consider the claims of common sense.

  13. Jon Daley:

    Being born in NH and going to college in PA (and now staying here) I have some perspective on living in the presumably least restrictive state, to one of the most restrictive states. (PA likes its laws – the more the better).

    One thing to note is that NH has gradually been increasing its government’s influence over the years (and I am not that old…)

    The one thing I don’t get about seat belt laws is that for the most part, it only affects yourself. I think the only argument that can be made is for people without health insurance who then get care in an emergency room and refuse to pay the bills from the hounding creditors. I guess someone should do some research on how often someone in an accident that might have been prevented by a seat belt doesn’t pay his medical bills….

    If I remember the statistics correctly, when seat belt laws go into effect, generally, accidents go up, but deaths go down, since people feel safer, so drive faster. And there are various stories of people being thrown from cars that exploded, or fell off a bridge etc, so not wearing a seat belt saved their life, etc. etc.

    I do now always wear a seat belt, so I am not pushing for mandatory no seat belt wearing laws, but in general, I think the fewer (and smaller) laws the better. Of course, I have crazy ideas like, “let’s only spend money that we actually have”, but I’m in the minority on that one, both in individuals and the corporate sense.

    I don’t understand the anti-libertarian comments (I guess in the same way I don’t understand why some people think Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged” is against Christians – seems more like anti-Obama to me – though I’ve been thinking I should read it again in light of current events).

    In the very first comment, I thought it was going to say: “I used to be a libertarian. Not anymore. If you’re too stupid to belt up, you deserve to die.”, which makes more sense to me than the original.

    I like the second part of the quote, except that I see it as flipped around. “Society doesn’t need to be liable for your idiocy…, causing all the rest of our insurance premiums to go up.” I pay for a lot of silliness on the part of others, including the government.

  14. Robin Datta:

    There is no need for seat belt laws.

    However, insurance companies should not pool the risk from unrestrained persons with the risk from restrained persons. There should be separate insurance policies for each group, with the “restrained” policies for health / medical and life should be null and void if the insured sustains injury or death while unrestrained in a vehicular accident.

  15. Jon Daley:

    @Robin – that seems perfectly reasonable to me. And I’d say similar things for no cell phone laws – AAA published a report that shows hands-free phone use does nothing to reduce risk of accidents. I say let people use cell phones, and if they cause an accident due to their cell phone use, then they are fully liable.

  16. Albert:

    If my not wearing a seat belt “affects the life and costs of every other person,” there is virtually no action in life that does not do so; no man is an island. Should we really be regulated by the State for every action that indirectly raises the costs for others?

    I suppose I should expect to see support for laws mandating you brush your teeth twice a day in accordance with the precise guidelines set forth by the State Dental Hygiene Board lest you raise the dental and health care insurance costs of others using the public water utilities.

    Yes, I wear a seat belt. (I also support and practice tooth-brushing.) Not because there is a law forcing me to, but because as a child I played outside and came to understand what happens when fast objects accidentally collide with heavy objects. Perhaps a suitable State-supervised rehabilitation program for fools would involve playing outside with concrete objects; fines, after all, merely teach that the richer can afford not to put on their seat belts while the underclass is deprived even more.

    The singular question, for me at least, to those who would move mountains to avoid even the appearance of libertarianism is whether “public regulation” need be done by the State? Another way of asking it is: is the State the only community that is public in nature, or are there other publicly authoritative communities that bind individuals (thus avoiding even the appearance of libertarian individualism) which are better suited for the kinds of formation that “State regulations” intend to accomplish? Or are we really only (private) individuals united in the only (public) community of the State? I think there is more than the State, which is why I don’t see myself as a libertarian despite my opposition to many State regulations.

    A second question is a more prudential question as to why those who favor State regulation want to fight on this hill of seat belt laws? It seems to me that this is an archetypal example of precisely the sort of action Tocqueville questions:

    Thus, the ruling power, having taken each citizen one by one into its powerful grasp and having molded him to its own liking, spreads its arms over the whole of society, covering the surface of social life with a network of petty, complicated, detailed, and uniform rules through which even the most original minds and the most energetic of spirits cannot reach the light in order to rise above the crowd. It does not break men’s wills but it does soften, bend, and control them; rarely does it force men to act but it constantly opposes what actions they perform; it does not destroy the start of anything but it stands in its way; it does not tyrannize but it inhibits, represses, drains, snuffs out, dulls so much effort that finally it reduces each nation to nothing more than a flock of timid and hardworking animals with the government as shepherd.

    Is the belief in and affections for the State as the only public community so pervasive?

  17. John Gorentz:

    It seems strange to me to complain of public regulation of a public utility. Actions on the roadway are not independent; the actions of one person affect the life and costs of every other person. This is precisely the situation in which regulation is justified, indeed necessary.

    On those grounds we should become a totalitarian police state, because ALL of our choices affect the costs of every other person. Even the choice of whether to take the chocolate chip cookie vs the coconut one is a choice that affects other people, and should therefore be regulated. The choice of breeding partners and marriage partners affects the life and cost of every other person, so should be carefully regulated and arranged by the state. The fact that idiots are allowed to spew nonsense on the net affects the lives and costs of everyone else, so should be regulated. The choice of whether you let your urchins spend Sunday morning in Sunday School vs spending it on dirt bikes is a choice that affects the life and costs of every other person. It should be regulated.

    Maybe it’s a good thing that we have an ample supply of people who have the urge to use the state to regulate the lives of others; otherwise how else would we have the manpower to destroy communities and replace our communal and family relationships with an extreme individualism in which the only relationship that counts is the one between isolated individuals and the state?

  18. John Médaille:

    I am having a little bit of difficulty understanding the libertarian argument that is advanced here. Its seems to be (correct me if I am wrong) “Everything we do affects everybody else; therefore there should never be public regulation.” I cannot see that the conclusion follows from the premise. I would like to recast the syllogism: “Everything we do affects everybody else in ways that vary from the trivial (e.g., slight changes in price) to the profound (life and death). Therefore, regulation is a contingent, prudential matter.”

    One contingency is whether we are using purely private resources (our own property) or shared resources (the public highway system.) It seems to me that in the later case, there must be “rules of the road” if carnage is to be avoided. Labeling as “commie-Dem” everybody who thinks the roadways ought to be regulated merely turns most everybody into a commie-dem, which strikes me as counter-productive. I do understand the problem that the major source of regulation is the centralized, totalizing state. However, the proper answer is not “no regulation,” but the building of subsidiary institutions capable of running their own affairs, of providing a counter-weight to centralization.

    But libertarianism short-circuits this process. If there is no regulation permitted, then there can be no talk of subsidiarity in regulation. And that is just one of the ways in which the unintended consequence of libertarianism is totalitarianism. Libertarianism puts everything in an “all or nothing” context, but in such a contest, the All will always win, because when difficulties arise, there are just not enough nihilists to vote for the nothing. Libertarianism short-circuits the building of subsidiary institutions because it opposes the building of any institutions which are not volunatarist and contractual. The practical effect is that “The House (meaning the state) always wins.” Which is a very impractical effect indeed.

  19. Albert:

    Mr. Medaille, I can’t speak on behalf of libertarians because I’m not one, but I think the argument is not that “Everything we do affects everybody else; therefore there should never be public regulation.” but that “Everything we do affects everybody else; therefore ‘affecting everybody else’ can’t possibly be the justification for State regulation or else the State will be regulating virtually everything.”

    Therefore, the grounds for regulation proper to the State authority must be more than what merely indirectly affects other people, but what affects other people in specific and particular ways that call forth regulation by the specific and particular authoritative community of the State rather than non-State voluntary authoritative communities such as professional societies and (here I part with libertarians) non-State involuntary authoritative communities such as the family, the Church, some neighborhood associations, etc.

    As for what constitutes these “specific and particular” kinds of effects on others that are properly subject to the regulation of the State (as opposed to other authoritative public communities), libertarians have their ideas, I have mine, other people have others. I hoped that we can all agree that some actions or areas of life are properly subject to the State, but that other actions/areas of life are not; but for some reason which I continue to hope is simply reaction against libertarians, this agreement remains elusive and instead is confronted by a sense that for anti-libertarians the only question worth asking is “How should the State regulate X, Y, and Z and at which level of the State?” rather than first asking “What should the State regulate in the first place?” and then asking the former question.

    As I wrote above, the only reason that comes to my mind as to a lack of distinction between areas of life or actions that properly fall under the authority of one public community versus another public community is the belief that there only exists One Totalizing Public Community which is the State and everything else are merely private interests.

    Ironically, that belief in the One True Public Community of the State seems to be shared by both libertarian individualists and the collectivists who decry them.

    Maybe I’m missing something, though.

  20. Charles Curtis:

    It’s interesting how the debate here (on FPR, of all places) has broken more or less along “libertarian individualist” vs. “collectivist statist” lines.

    What about communitarian traditionalists who see the law as articulating communal standards and norms – You know, mores?

    For example, we expect school age children to be in school when school is in. Playing hooky is a misdemeanor. Rightly so. The community articulates the norm, passes a law, and gives the duly appointed officers of the law (truant officers, police, school officials) the authority to enforce it by penalizing kids who break it. In our political culture, parents have the right, that is the authority, to choose their children’s school, to home school, or take their kids out of school for good reason. Cultural mores, defined by law.

    We also have a cultural ethic that when someone is catastrophically hurt, we (the community) see that the person receives medical care. We call an ambulance, send them to the hospital, and attempt to heal and save them. Rich or poor, insured or not. Massive amounts of communal resources (17% of U.S. GDP, remember) are devoted to taking care of the hurt and sick.

    This communal endeavor is regulated by law. Certain behaviors are stigmatized and even forbidden (drug use, etc), because of the medical consequences..

    Because, despite what our selfish libertarian friends may think, what you do with your body has huge social consequences.

    Smoke? Get cancer? We all suffer. We all pay. Drive? Don’t buckle up? Get in an accident and screw yourself up?

    Not only do I suffer emotion stress of your behalf, I suffer because medical resources and staff (doctors, nurses, EMTs, physical therapists’ time) are consumed where they otherwise need not have been.

    Seat belt laws express a communitarian norm. It’s good law, it makes sense, and deserves our support and compliance.

  21. John Willson:

    First of all, what makes anyone think that I made a libertarian argument? Anyone who believes in place, limits, liberty should understand that any law that regulates communities, individuals, families–any of the little platoons that are part of God’s created order–have the burden of proof entirely upon them. That does not mean that no regulation is necessary. I am questioning the prudence and the common sense of this particular law in order to make people think about instrumental (as opposed to common) law in general.
    Second, I find John M, RAF, and Sam M to be totally incomprehensible. So you assert, therefore it is right? I need to see evidence, and there is no more evidence that seat belt laws are in themselves responsible for greater safety than there is that “global warming” is man-made and therefore requires drastic and unenforceable legislation. The anecdotal “evidence” provided by Curtis and Cecelia is completely beside the point. Please, if you wish, wear restraints. I do, but some of the time find them not only constraining and uncomfortable, but…UNSAFE! I have much anecdotal evidence concerning people who died or were badly hurt because they were wearing belts, but that is also irrelevant to my argument.
    Third, Robin and Albert are right on! And Wessexman, I was bitching a little because I don’t like people who offer opinions and won’t use their name. The secret ballot was the end of democracy.

  22. Charles Curtis:

    Mr. Wilson,

    You fail to provide any statistical support for your argument. You state that road fatalities are down, and then assert that it is due to other factors than increased seat belt use.

    My personal experience is that wearing a belt prevents one from bouncing around inside or out of a car during an accident. This, common sense seems to say, is usually a very good thing. Most accidents (frontal, rear, roll overs) are made more survivable by seat belt use-

    And that’s not merely anecdotal – see here for stats:

    http://www.google.com/webhp?hl=en#hl=en&source=hp&q=statistics+seat+belts+saving+lives&aq=1s&aqi=g-s2g1&aql=&oq=statistics+seat&gs_rfai=&fp=bcdf8cbbf06dc4f )

    On very rare occasions, as in a severe side impact, the seat belt use may be detrimental. Those instances are rare. On most occasions, use of a seat belt will save you from injury. Again, see the google results posted above.

    Cheers.

  23. Albert:

    Mr. Curtis, to my knowledge, mores are not necessarily or even often enshrined in State law. Frequently, legislating a more reveals the decline and impotence of the more itself. See sexual ethics, modesty, and attempts by the Religious Right to legislate related mores.

  24. John Médaille:

    John W., says I suggest that [the lower death rate] is because of improved roads, improved automobile design (which is the history of the machines long before government got involved), improved understanding of safety principles, and, maybe, just a little to do with seat belt laws.

    In other words, the improvement wasn’t from seat belt regulations, but from a whole bunch of other regulations. Okay.

    And this disproves Global Warming.

    Got it.

  25. Aaron Schroeder:

    “I suggest that it is because of improved roads, improved automobile design (which is the history of the machines long before government got involved), improved understanding of safety principles, and, maybe, just a little to do with seat belt laws.”

    Ok, I guess that sounds reasonable, but do you have any data for it? I mean, with no data myself, all I can say is that it seems pretty unlikely that being strapped into a crashing car rather than being thrown from the front window would do “just a little” to prevent death one’s death in such an instance.

    But as to your complaint about seat belt requirements, I’d say you’re overlooking a pretty crucial feature of this situation: it’s illegal to drive without insurance. And this, for good reason. After all, the kind of damage that a car is capable of doing grossly outstrips the means that almost all drivers have to pay for such damage. But since the mandatory introduction of new drivers to the insurance market (or pool) will likely raise rates, the government has to take what small actions it can to reduce risk–and thus, rates–in the pool. Sure, this includes seat belts. But it also includes bans on text messaging and drunk driving. Simply because those behaviors carry more obvious risk for other drivers is immaterial; just as risky is the normally safe but unbelted driver who hits the other normally safe but unbelted driver, leading to increased injury, to increased payouts, to increased rates–in short, increased risk–for the entire pool.

  26. Bob Cheeks:

    Professor Willson, the effects of several generations of the central gummint is readily apparent in the wisdom of your interlocutors. We have forgotten “liberty, freedom.” Rather sad and telling of course. This blog of yours has told us a lot about ourselves and what we’ve become.

  27. Bruce Smith:

    Here is the NHTSA’s report on lives saved by seat belts and their estimate of lives that could have been saved by seat belt wearing:-

    http://www-nrd.nhtsa.dot.gov/Pubs/811206.PDF

    Presumably John you have a report tucked up your sleeve which specifically demolishes the bias of this NHTSA report and it would seem only fair to direct us to it.

  28. Wessexman:

    “Third, Robin and Albert are right on! And Wessexman, I was bitching a little because I don’t like people who offer opinions and won’t use their name. The secret ballot was the end of democracy.”

    I do not use the term Wessexman to hide but to express my Westcountry identity.

  29. Wessexman:

    “Mr. Curtis, to my knowledge, mores are not necessarily or even often enshrined in State law. Frequently, legislating a more reveals the decline and impotence of the more itself. See sexual ethics, modesty, and attempts by the Religious Right to legislate related mores.”]

    Now this opens up a whole can of worms. I think while the centralised and authoritarian nature used by the RR is dubious and dangerous that doesn’t mean no laws or state support at all cannot be exercised towards traditional mores and social associations. The state has an important role to play in society, it just has to be a measured and careful one.

    Bottom line it is pretty obvious seat belts tend to add to safety, –remember we aren’t liberals who demand dubiously used and assesed statistics to back everything up — common sense can be enough you know! and that on their own they do not infringe on liberty though yes extensions of such mandated safety legislation should be watched out for.

  30. John Willson:

    Cheeks,
    You’re right. The first thing it has told us is that phonics is no longer the way we teach reading.

  31. Charles Curtis:

    Love the snark, guys.

    The thing about libertarians is that they all imagine that the world would be perfect if the crack house on the corner could incorporate and franchise.

    Speaking as a pro- life Catholic (proud card carrying member of the religious left, who wants to regulate both your economic *and* your sex life) who has lived in Italy and France and loved it (especially the single payer health care, and tight communal and family gig, along with the two hour lunches with wine) I gotta say that in my ideal world discussions like this would be unimaginable, because everyone would immediately recognize that wearing your seatbelt is just bloody common sense; and that thinking that not wearing it is some sort of “freedom” is both juvenile and impoverished.

    Everyone in this country is still free not to wear their seatbelt. Only now, in 49 states you can not wear it, and risk flying through your windsheild during your next accident, *and* getting a nice ticket next time you get pulled over. Both of which are what fools deserve.

    Still the Wild West, only now with a Sheriff. Carry on.

  32. Mark Perkins:

    Jon Daley says, “I say let people use cell phones, and if they cause an accident due to their cell phone use, then they are fully liable.”

    This is a perfect expression of what’s wrong, in my little opinion, with libertarianism (and I say this as someone whose voter registration still marks me as a libertarian). I’m sure the families of the dearly departed will be pleased to know that the person whose irresponsibility killed their family member will be “fully liable.”

    In the radical individualist mind of the libertarian, hazardous, dangerous, or malicious behavior cannot be addressed until actual consequences to others occur. That Michigan militia group in the news a couple weeks ago, for example, could not be touched until *after* they murdered a law enforcement official–not while they were in the planning stages. Of course that’s a much more dramatic example, but the premise is the same: if your actions clearly endanger others, they can be punishable by law.

    Is driving without a seatbelt dangerous to others? Probably not.

  33. John Willson:

    Mr. Certis (did you deliberately spell my name wrong above, or are you just not reading?), glad you love Europe, where there are no pro-life people of any beliefs, and where the civilization of the west is gone to somewhere into the diversity dingbat world, and you can call us simple old midwesterners fools, and you want to prove something by “statistics,” which you may not know is different from evidence, please do not insult the readership of this site by name calling. Snark, indeed.

  34. John Médaille:

    I am somewhat curious to know just what standard of proof is being used by those who reject the statistical evidence. It is quite true that statistics are never proof because correlation is not causation, and in the social sciences, where these issues play out, statistics are usually the only empirical tool one has. Hence, the skeptic can always claim that any particular claim is unproven. And he is always “right”; such propositions can never be demonstrated. But since demonstrative proofs are unavailable, what we chiefly require is reasonableness confirmed, more or less, by statistics. That seat belts save lives is certainly reasonable, and the statistical evidence seems to bear that out. Still, the social scientist has no answer to those who reject reason in favor of an unobtainable empiricism. But on the other hand, he is not required to take such people seriously, at least not until they can lay out their own standard of proof, and see if any of their own propositions can meet the standard.

    Formal and mathematical certainty is usually impossible in prudential matters, but Reason is good enough for reasonable men.

  35. Wessexman:

    “Mr. Certis (did you deliberately spell my name wrong above, or are you just not reading?), glad you love Europe, where there are no pro-life people of any beliefs”

    Some of us still linger here!

  36. John Gorentz:

    Bruce Smith wrote: “I would imagine being a Libertarian is little consolation when your kids die in an automobile accident because you failed to get them to buckle up!”

    I’m not sure where the idea comes from that you would expect to find consolation when something like that happens.

    But what kind of parent would tell his kids, “I don’t care if seatbelts are a means of getting people accustomed to government control of their bodies. What’s important is that we have laws that make you safe, no matter if it turns our country into a hellhole like the UK with its Anti-Social Behaviour Orders. When you’re old enough to drive yourself, I’m going to get you a big, gas-guzzling, armored car to keep you safe, no matter if it means more young soldiers have to die in the Middle East to keep our oil supplies safe.”

    I don’t think any parent comes right out and says that. Usually those who demand greater safety from the govt for their own children prefer not to think about the larger consequences of their actions. But those who encourage parents to think as Mr. Smith has done are not encouraging communitarian behavior. They are encouraging a selfish individualism that says, “Me and my household first, and the rest of the country be damned.”

  37. John Gorentz:

    Charles Curtis wrote: “It’s interesting how the debate here (on FPR, of all places) has broken more or less along “libertarian individualist” vs. “collectivist statist” lines.”

    I don’t think that’s at all true of how the debate here has gone. What you describe is how these debates often go, but in this comment section I think there are at least three people who favor an “individualist communitarian” approach that cuts across those old lines you usually see. If “individualist communitarian” isn’t exactly the right term, maybe some other type of communitarianism is. But to me the interesting thing is that the debate is not playing out the way you describe.

  38. s masty:

    two digressions, please.

    my uncle and late aunt survived a crash only because they were not wearing seatbelts and were thrown clear of the car when it was struck by a train. they are related to what Professor Madsen Pirie, at Hillsdale long ago, called the invisible victims of regulation. we can see the few thousand, poor, armless victims of thalidomide, but if regulations demand drug testing to avoid such horrors there would be millions dead during the extra decade that it would take to approve a cure for cancer, and they would lie invisible in tens of thousands of graveyards. how many have died because of safety measures? we shall never be told.

    next, someone from Russia’s reformist Yabloko (or apple) Party told me 13 years ago how the Duma (assembly) arrived at the amazingly long list of activities to be regulated by the state. the assembly members got stonking, staggeringly snockered and made up a list until they passed out unconscious or stumbled home on autopilot. hairdressers? regulated for security concerns? make mine a double, Yuri, and light on the vermouth.

    this democratic procedure, inebriolegislation, somehow ignored by De Tocqueville, is the only plausible explanation for the 19th C Nevada law that if two trains meet, coming in opposite directions on a single track, they each must stop ‘until one of them goes away.’ Take that, Zeno. And Jack Daniels for that matter.

    Thank you, Dr Willson, for another finely written and thought-provoking essay.

  39. Charles Curtis:

    I’m sorry, Mr. Willson. Both for the missing “l” and the sharp words.

    As for pro- lifers in Europe, may I merely suggest that the world is a larger and stranger place than many denizens of the Mid West might imagine?

    http://socialistespourlavie.blogspot.com/

    (I could also refer you to stats and sources that show the French have a significantly more restrictive abortion law than we do, and a lower ratio of abortions to live births, but won’t cloud the air with facts.. I’ll simply note that our Pro- Life movement could only dream of enacting the restrictions that the French have.. )

    The irony I’ve known (let’s stick to anecdote, it’s more fun) is that French socialists are far more anarchic than your average American libertarian would ever dream of being.

    American Libertarians imagine that freedom is not wearing their seat belt.

    For the French, freedom is structuring their communal lives in such a manner that everyone has the time and resources to live in well. 35 hour work weeks, a month of annual vacation, hour plus long lunches, and a decent wage and standard of living that in material terms matches our own, and in cultural terms surpasses it.

    I’ve lived in both spheres, American and European, and gotta say that I’ll take the actual French freedom of being able to live my life with such grace, over ridiculous quibbling over safety regulations..

    But I’ve shot my mouth off far too much here. Ca suffit.

  40. John Gorentz:

    Charles Curtis, why would you want to live in a place where there is no “ridiculous quibbling over safety regulations”? That doesn’t sound like a healthy, vibrant society.

  41. Steve:

    I’ll go out on a limb here and suggest we not have laws against drunk driving; at least not direct ones. Mr. Medaille suggests that we need safety regulations (with which I agree) and that the extent to which we regulate should be a matter of prudence (with which I also agree).

    However, this is an area where I don’t think legislatures have been prudent. There is constant pressure on them from groups like MADD to continue to lower the legal blood-alcohol limit. I believe almost every state has now lowered it from .10 to .08, and I’ve heard talk of lowering it still more, even to as low as .04!

    The problem with this type of law is that it’s both under-inclusive and over-inclusive. It’s under-inclusive because there are many factors which cause people to drive just as dangerously as drinking does (e.g. being over-tired or being young and stupid) but for which there is no easy test. Drunk driving laws are also over-inclusive in that they punish a number of people who might be perfectly capable of driving safely with a BAC level of .08 or even .10. Furthermore, these people who have harmed no one and are not significantly more dangerous than your typical driver are punished quite heavily, and since they’re not driving recklessly, the only way to catch them is with intrusive DUI checkpoints for which police don’t need probable cause (another problem).

    My solution: Have essentially only one traffic law, reckless driving. If a cop sees you swerve or driving what seems to be an unsafe speed, he can pull you over and ticket you for reckless driving. Thus, people who drive recklessly are punished for endangering others, no matter the cause of the reckless behavior. If we still thought DUI was a special case, we could make it an aggravating offense and create much steeper fines for it (essentially like the difference between a primary and a secondary offense described by Mr. Wilson above). The essential thing is that people who drive after just a couple of drinks (and it’s not as if one can know whether one is at say a .07 or a .08 before driving) won’t be punished so long as they don’t drive in a manner that increases the danger to others, and people who do (whether drunk or not) will still be punished.

    Sorry that was so long and bit off topic.

  42. Mark Perkins:

    While I agree that MADD is overzealous–I think deep down (not so deep really) they are teatolling Prohibitionists–I’m not sure I like your alternative solution. Rather than diminishing the problem I think you would exacerbate it. Something like “reckless driving” gives way too much discretion to individual law enforcement officers–and would essentially make the law completely unpredictable.

    The connection between intoxication and hazardous driving seems pretty clear, as is the connection between intoxication and poor decision-making. Hence, the people who think they drive fine with alcohol in their systems tend to be fooling themselves.

  43. Bruce Smith:

    Reflecting on some of the Libertarian arguments in these posts it would seem to me that at the root of their beliefs is a naivety concerning human nature; a belief that human beings can happily co-exist with a power vacuum. They cannot. Human beings are hierarchical creatures. They dominate others for many reasons not least survival. The outcome, however, of a power struggle for domination is not necessarily happiness but often frustration and misery. For example, a dominant alpha individual in control of a society could ban individuals on pain of death from driving their automobiles at more than thirty miles an hour and yet all with the declared purpose of reducing deaths and injuries on the highways. A real historical equivalent of this would be the Chinese emperor who forbade his people on pain of death living within a coastal band a certain number of miles wide for fear of their contact with foreigners. The antidote to this type of despotism can only be democratic government whose purpose is to avoid the arbitrary imposition of restrictions upon individuals and find the common ground for any that an evolving consensus would appear to suggest are needed. This is the origin of Locke and Rousseau’s idea of a social contract between individuals and avoiding as Hobbes would put it “the war of all against all.” Finding that common ground will at times be achieved by trial and error as to the logical and socially binding reasoning for the restrictions but the underlying optimal basis of the effort will be trying to benefit all individuals whilst simultaneously preventing free-riders ignoring them and dominant alpha individuals from unilaterally imposing their idea of suitable restrictions.

    The purpose of democratic government is, therefore, to fill the power vacuum with plural domination to provide universal benefit and control individual domination. To achieve enforcement of plural domination will involve the creation of hierarchy but this is unavoidable because the consequence of avoiding it is potentially malevolent hierarchy, and a Libertarian argument that has gone circular. However, where such government plural domination breaks down is two-fold. Background creators and enforcers of restrictions, the lobbyists and bureaucrats, can start to dominate and concentrated wealth as well as paying the lobbyists can corrupt the governmental elective process itself. The main antidotes for these destructive tendencies are reform to check the domination and corruption and the use of the associative democracy techniques of subsidiarity and distributistism to devolve both the control of power and wealth. The ambivalence of human nature, therefore, creates the need both for balancing processes and their continuous monitoring. Nobody said it would be easy and there will be trial and error but we have no option but to try.

  44. John Willson:

    Mr. Bruce Smith,

    First you tell me that I write something that is so insensitive that I want my kids to die to prove a point (which shows that you can’t read), then you want to cite government “statistics” to prove that I couldn’t possibly know what I’m talking about (which shows again that you did not read my post), and then you give a lecture on human nature and democracy that demonstrates that you do not know Tocqueville, whose insight makes your argument sound, well…silly.

    Grumpy today,
    John

  45. John Gorentz:

    Bruce Smith said: “Reflecting on some of the Libertarian arguments in these posts it would seem to me that at the root of their beliefs is a naivety concerning human nature; a belief that human beings can happily co-exist with a power vacuum.”

    I think you’re reflecting on a strawman as far as this comment thread is concerned. If you were talking to some of the more extreme libertarians I’ve run into, you might have a good point.

  46. Albert:

    Wessexman, I can agree that, in the abstract, the law is a teacher and has a place in supporting other communities and their mores. The problem is that we don’t live in the abstract. We live in a particular moment in history where the State is displacing other public communities and State laws are substituting for and displacing mores, where young folks operate under the belief that which is legal is more important than what is right or ethical–if they don’t believe it fully constitutes what is right or ethical). We have, I think, the obligation to understand this in general and apply our understanding in particular to oppose the growth of the State not merely when it limits individuals (which it should contra libertarians) but when it enervates other public communities.

    What are the limits of the State in “supporting” communities? What does it look like for the State (not in the abstract, but the actual ones we have today) to support communities without displacing them? Is there any principled reason why proponents of State seat belt laws should not also support State tooth-brushing laws (lest dental/health care insurance premiums go up for everybody) or, now that health care insurance is mandatory to have, full exercise regimens (lest health care insurance rates go up for everyone)?

    I do not dispute the evidence that seat belt laws save lives. That is why I wear one. But if “any law that saves lives” is the grounds for State legislation, we are looking, in principle, at a full police State as soon as technology allows us to have one. How is seat belt practice, easily taught within the realm of the individual and at most, AT MOST, the family, being regulated by the State not precisely the kind of example of what Tocqueville rightly criticizes in the passage I quote above? It would be funny if it were not so pathetic that folks who couldn’t bother encouraging and being taught by their parish or parents or friends or self to wear a simple seat belt now must clamor for the One True Community of the State to legislate because of their failure.

    If the State really were trying to support other communities like the family and not binding atomized individuals into the One True Community of the State, wouldn’t the appropriate law not be one targeting individuals but one mandating families or schools teach their kids to wear a seat belt? Our One True Community has already seen fit to mandate sex education with lots of props in our schools; surely, they can legislate experiments of throwing watermelons off the school roof or catapulting melons into a windshield. I assure you this would be of utmost interest to the boys currently bored with our industrial school system.

  47. Josh:

    Mr. Willson,

    I thoroughly enjoyed this post, and agree with the spirit of it. It is refreshing to see commentary the likes of which were seen at the dawn of this site from the likes of yourself and Mssrs. Stegal and Kauffman. I see that many of the commenters disagree vehemently and indeed cast dispersions on the very notion of “libertarianism,” be it “small l” or “big l.”

    From the posts I’ve been reading in recent months, I might suggest the editors prudently remove the word “liberty” from the masthead, as it seems liberty is not something many Porchers are very interested in these days. Perhaps that’s the reason behind Mr. Kauffman’s conspicuous absence in 2010?

    I do look forward to listening in to more of your discussions here on the porch – though your corner of the porch seems to be steadily shrinking in size.

    Also, for the record, I think most reasonable people would read your post for what it is – NOT an argument against seat belts per se, but an argument against coercion. I am forever amazed at the sheer number of seemingly educated (in some instances, even self-proclaimed “enlightened”) individuals who would use the power of the state to force their way of life or their vision of the ideal onto everyone else.

    Liberty is (unfortunately) so out of fashion right now.

  48. Caleb Stegall:

    I do quite a bit of behind the scenes work with legislative leaders in KS, and recently was prepping our liberty-minded coalition on the day’s bills, one of which would require motorcycle passengers to wear eye protection. I suggested that this was a farce and to prove it, someone from our caucus ought to introduce an amendment requiring knee pads as well. We all laughed, but then agreed not to offer the amendment for certain fear that it would have passed.

  49. John Gorentz:

    Caleb Stegal, your knee pad story reminds me of an anecdote I read from the settlement-era history of John Willson’s neighborhood — just to the north of him in Jackson County, I believe.

    It seems the township officials were concerned about the traders who were selling whiskey to the local Indians – probably Potawatomi, given the time and place. One of them wanted to ban such sales. Some of the others pointed out that if such sales were banned in their township, the Indians would simply take their business elsewhere. So the man who first proposed a ban then proposed instead a different regulation: All traders should be *required* to have whiskey to sell to Indians.

    I thought it was a great example of the urge to regulate — one of more unsavory aspects of human nature.

    Unfortunately, despite much looking I haven’t been able to find the source of that anecdote since the time when I read it in fall-winter of 1996-97. It would be worthy of a bicycle expedition to the current township office to get a few photos, and perhaps to marks on the landscape that might have been left behind by Mr. Township Regulator, whoever he was. A lot of the old county histories have come on-line since then, as have many issues of the Michigan Pioneer and Historical Collections. But I’ve not been able to find it in any of those. It is possible I was mistaken about the episode having taken place in Jackson County, but I’m pretty sure it was somewhere near there.

    It’s one of two anecdotes from the old reminiscences of the time that I haven’t been able to find. In the winter of 96-97 I had no idea that I would become obsessed with following up on the exact places of those settlement-era events, which I started doing as soon as the southwest Michigan weather was fit for bicycling in Spring 1997. (Even if it’s no longer about Liberty, this blog is still about Place, isn’t it?)

  50. John Willson:

    John, “The urge to regulate..” what a nice phrase. I was at the hospital this morning for a routine heart check (there are many people who refuse to believe that I have one) and I picked up a National Geographic in the waiting room. There was a feature article on the “Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints” (FDLS)–why it should be in the National Geographic I have no idea–and of course came to the outraged conclusion that women and children are being, you know, “abused.” There are probably about 10,000 of these people in the world, not enough to have a full time lobbyist, so they get sent to jail while we pass laws allowing “gay marriages.” THINK ABOUT LAW, MY FRIENDS! If you are tempted to suggest one, or to pass one, take a cold shower.

  51. Steve Berg:

    I am greatly enjoying Professor Willson’s superb essay, and the comments upon it. Rather than immediately start grading the large pile of case study papers on my desk, I thought that I would procrastinate a bit longer and weigh in on this topic a bit myself.

    I have only briefly visited the fine state of New Hampshire, but was exiled for about 2 years to the Peoples’ Democratic Republic of Marxachusetts to its south. New Hampshire was viewed then as a beacon of liberty above a sea of New England police state oppression. While I was marooned there, the Supreme Soviet, I mean the Marxachusetts Legislature, duly followed the Imperial decree and passed a mandatory seat belt law. But, for some obscure reason, they allowed that it would only go into effect if a referendum to that effect were passed. Miraculously, it failed. And it took some time before Beacon Hill could work their way around to making seat belts mandatory once again. The Spirit of Sam Adams was not totally dead. This was reflected somewhat humorously at the Marxachusetts/New York border on I-90. There, the eastbound traveler is greeted with a series of billboards detailing many of the laws for travelers and residents of the place. Laws, such as if we catch you with a firearm, it is a year in the slammer, and so forth. I called it the “Burma Shave of Oppression” back then. For a brief flicker of liberty, the state had to pop rivet a smaller sign, saying “Requests” over the base of the sign, which said “requires” the wearing of seat belts.

    I have no quarrel with Marxachusetts and other states requiring the wearing of seat belts if that conforms to local norms. I do object when the Imperial government takes my money, and then threatens states to require things like seat belts and drinking ages, when the mandate violates local norms and mores. I find the attitude of the Imperial government to be rather hypocritical. Back during the Great Society I was placed in thrall to the Pentagon, and sent over to do what LBJ promised us was something that Asian Boys should have been doing for themselves. So, for about 14 months, the federal government issued me automatic weapons, explosives, clothes that did not fit, and generally lousy food. I used to ride into combat assaults sitting in the doorways of Huey helicopters, while not wearing a seat belt. I frequently flew at 2000 feet, and also did not wear a seatbelt. I was issued a shot-out rifle that jammed constantly. Despite being a rather large target, I survived, most likely due to Divine Providence. Only once during my tour did anyone in authority have the slightest concern for my survival, much less my welfare, and that was when I was denied permission to travel in country to see an old friend. I tell my more liberal friends and colleagues, that all I really want from government is the same benign indifference to my fate that their co-ideologists exhibited from 1968 through 1970. That tends to make them mad.

    Some of those commenting here are quick to bring statistics about safety into the fray. This is only secondary to my mind. My concern is that we are a once free people, who are becoming much less free at an alarming rate. Tocqueville’s prediction that America would degenerate into a soft despotism has come to pass. When my city proposed an ordinance banning smoking in public establishments, I was the only one to speak out against it at the city council meeting. I used Tocqueville as a support to my argument. What we have now is the dictatorship of the school marm. We lose our liberties, but that is only for our own good. If we were free, we might get hurt. Far better to be a serf or slave, than to be a free man or woman. Is smoking unhealthy? When done to excess, most definitely. I occasionally smoke a pipe, usually around a campfire. Is the drinking of alcoholic beverage unhealthy and unsafe? Yes, again when done to excess. Do many people do foolish and stupid things and get hurt? Most definitely. The problem is that other people, who act stupidly and foolishly are now seeking total control over the lives of others, all in the name of safety. Mr. Stegall has shown us an example from Kansas on how this can happen. Sadly, it happens all the time in places other than Kansas. What needs to be hashed out here, and in our country, is just how safe slavery and serfdom really is. How do we balance social responsibility with shrinking liberty? I prefer to think about how Thomas Jefferson might handle these sorts of issues. Let each ward republic to rule on whether their residents need to wear seat belts or motorcycle helmets. Let the citizens of each of these little republics discuss the issue on their front porches, and then vote on them in each place. It is really sad that so many people here have forgotten the words of Patrick Henry on March 23, 1775. At least New Hampshire still prints something similar on their license plates.

  52. Mark Perkins:

    Josh,

    You may be confusing libertarianism and liberty. Perhaps radical individualism and liberty are actually mutually exclusive.

  53. Bruce Smith:

    It is the viewpoint of Libertarians that governments alone are the problem because they make too many rules that’s the real straw man. Imagine a situation where there is a seat belt wearing law in force and black boxes in cars can record whether seat belts were being worn by the accident victims at the time of the crash (which maybe for all I know they already do). Imagine also that the private health insurance contracting industry much beloved by Libertarians rules that there will be no further health treatment if a retrieved black box shows the claimant was breaking the law by not wearing a seat belt at the time of injury. Imagine that the claimant’s injuries were so severe they required 24/7 care for the rest of their life. Is the Libertarian still going to continue not wearing a seat belt in the light of this possible outcome? Will their anti-government phobia persuade them they should carry on not wearing a seat belt because their relatives can look after them for the rest of their lives in the event of severe disablement? I think not. I think all that Libertarian false bravado would rapidly disappear and seat belts would be worn.

  54. Wessexman:

    “I think you’re reflecting on a strawman as far as this comment thread is concerned. If you were talking to some of the more extreme libertarians I’ve run into, you might have a good point.”

    Not really. Libertarians are quick to say they aren’t atomists as Marxists will tell you they aren’t collectivists and care about the individual when pressed but scratch the service and most are atomists as are most liberals and progressives as well. And yet again I don’t think you yanks, with your murder and violence rates and restraining order all over the place have anything to brag about when it comes to social harmony.

    Albert seats belt laws are different to those laws you talk of, they prevent possibily fatal, immedate injuries and don’t really appear to cause much oppression or communal undermining. It would be silly to draw the line with them, certainly in Britain I’d look like a fool if made a big deal out of seat belt laws. Remember in the middle ages, the great time of community, there were things like laws of sumptuary, laws against usury and all sorts of similar laws without them undermining community. I don’t think we can be so regulatory but seat belt laws do not seem much of a threat.

  55. John Gorentz:

    Bruce Smith and Wessexman, the term “strawman” isn’t an all-purpose pejorative. If you don’t believe me, you could look it up. It has a specific meaning, which you both seem to have missed. You haven’t even come close to addressing the point I made by using it. It might be interesting if you were to disagree with what I said, but you have to know what I said before you can disagree with it.

  56. John Willson:

    Bruce Smith,
    Why do you have this fetish about “libertarians,” of which there are damn few on this site? I wish you well with your regulatory state; just don’t call an ace a spade. Phonics is still a good way to learn to read.

  57. John Gorentz:

    …but seat belt laws do not seem much of a threat.

    They are a huge threat if the logic given for them is the same logic that has been presented by way of justification in this comment thread. FPR is supposed to be about Limits in addition to Place and Liberty. What are the limits in this case? If they are justified on the basis of the basis of the saving of the Almighty Societal Dollar, or the saving of lives, then what is going to limit the same logic from being used to justify a welfare-police state? If we were to enact them on the basis of some better reason that limits their application to just seat belts and not to, say, the eating of vegetables and trans-fats, then maybe they wouldn’t be such a threat. But so far nobody has offered such limited justification. Therefore, they are in their present form a great danger to society.

    Because next thing you know, when the temperature in the frog bath gets turned up another degree, someone will ask, “How are ASBOs so much different than judicial restraining orders?” One degree at a time, with no logic to limit them from going up another degree, and another, until finally your dinner of frog legs is ready to be served.

  58. John Gorentz:

    I should partly take back my statement that nobody has offered a justification with limits. Steve Berg has done so, suggesting that they wouldn’t be such a threat if enacted locally, in conformity with local norms. I agree with that.

    There are a lot of regulations that I support at local levels or in non-governmental institutions, but which are a threat to communitarian liberty when enacted at the national level. But we live in a society in which the national government is jealous of its prerogatives and greedy for more, and is trying to use stimulus spending (among many other means) to destroy any aspects of state governments other than their roles as administrative arms of the central government, as well as any family institutions or civil society that compete with the role of the almighty central state.

  59. John Gorentz:

    Professor Willson, that’s the second time you’ve mentioned phonics. I have never quite understood the reason some people put such emphasis on it. You can’t learn to read English with just phonics. It would be a mistake to try to learn to read without it, but it’s just one tool in deciphering our written language.

    The problem is, English isn’t a very phonetic language, at least in comparison to a language like Russian. And even in Russian, where there is a much closer correspondence between letters and sounds than in English, there are some things you just have to know. For example, except in books printed for the benefit of non-Russian readers, there is nothing to mark which syllable gets the stress — and the stress is very important to the meaning. There are no rules by which to generalize — it’s something you just have to know.

    It’s a topic of some importance to me because I’m trying to have a second childhood by learning another language. My wife and I watch a part of a Russian movie almost every night (though she refuses to watch any that don’t have subtitles). I have the Gospels loaded on my MP3 player, and when I go on bike rides or work in my shop I listen to a chapter repeatedly, in English, Russian, French, and Spanish, doing a different chapter each day. I judge the chapters by how many miles it takes to listen to one. Some long chapters are as much as two miles long. Others are less than a mile long. Then sometimes when I’m resting in my Lazy-Boy, I follow the spoken Russian with the printed text in hand. It’s just another thing that helps me learn to read. Phonics alone wouldn’t do the trick, even in a phonetic language like Russian. (On Sundays in church, I follow the Epistle and Gospel readings in a Russian Bible. It’s all I can do to keep from getting lost, and sometimes I do get lost, but it forces me to try to process the printed word quickly. I learned to read English that way when I was little (in addition to reading the Dick and Jane books in school) so I’m hoping it will work again. So, yes, I use phonics as much as possible, but realistically, that’s not enough.

  60. Wessexman:

    “Bruce Smith and Wessexman, the term “strawman” isn’t an all-purpose pejorative. If you don’t believe me, you could look it up. It has a specific meaning, which you both seem to have missed. You haven’t even come close to addressing the point I made by using it. It might be interesting if you were to disagree with what I said, but you have to know what I said before you can disagree with it.”

    We know what it means and we used it correctly. You appear to think it is wrong to think of libertarians as atomistic or radical individualists in general, I at least disagree. In fact I don’t think it is wrong to consider most liberals and not a small amount of so called conservatives, such as your self-proclaimed hero Thatcher(who call herself a conservative and once stated there was no such thing as society.) as such.

    “They are a huge threat if the logic given for them is the same logic that has been presented by way of justification in this comment thread. FPR is supposed to be about Limits in addition to Place and Liberty. What are the limits in this case? If they are justified on the basis of the basis of the saving of the Almighty Societal Dollar, or the saving of lives, then what is going to limit the same logic from being used to justify a welfare-police state? If we were to enact them on the basis of some better reason that limits their application to just seat belts and not to, say, the eating of vegetables and trans-fats, then maybe they wouldn’t be such a threat. But so far nobody has offered such limited justification. Therefore, they are in their present form a great danger to society.”

    I think seat belt laws by their very nature are quite limited, I don’t think anyone but someone already committed to a lot of regulation, or someone hysterically opposed to any, could see much of a threat in them. They serve in a specific context. One can just as easily argue that a quasi-anarcho-capitalist argument that any regulation for safety could be tyrannical is just as unlimited. Before you know it we’ll be in that Rothbardian fantasy land where any mandatory regulations on medicine or air travel is seen as being a sure road to tyranny.

    Personally I don’t mind much either way about seat belts laws but I think it quite hysterical to see in them a necessary slippery slope to the “regulatory state” and think it quite a silly issue to take a stand on although my knowledge is mostly on the British and Australian political tempos.

    “Because next thing you know, when the temperature in the frog bath gets turned up another degree, someone will ask, “How are ASBOs so much different than judicial restraining orders?” One degree at a time, with no logic to limit them from going up another degree, and another, until finally your dinner of frog legs is ready to be served.”

    Wait, we had this discussion on ASBOs. You did not respond to these questions(and certainly never proved the allegation they can be given to those who haven’t broken the law, as restraining orders can!) but made some similar hysterical comments as if the very idea of ASBOs meant civil liberties must die and as if they were worse than the US’s much larger prison population, murder and violence rate and gratuitous use of restraining orders.

  61. Bruce Smith:

    The straw men in the article are as follows:-

    Because governments have imposed seat-belt rules this is another example of how we can usually rely on governments to enslave us with unreasonable rules.

    Those rules are usually always badly thought out.

    Here are John Willson’s own words in his article to confirm this:-

    “Tocqueville noticed in the 1830s that in a democracy, “laws are almost always defective or unreasonable.” With a few exceptions, such has always been true under any form of government.”

    It is obviously apparent if you stop for a moment to think about it that Governments are not alone in creating rules. Private enterprise creates rules too. The media during the health care debate has been full of examples of health insurance companies imposing unfair rules. Clearly, being allowed to die because you are denied treatment is also enslavement. Rules are therefore constantly being created by both public and private organizations the difference between the two is that most of us agree that final accountability for the wisdom and reasonableness of these rules should rest with an elective body which we call government.

    Secondly, as I tried to suggest power doesn’t operate in a vacuum. The purpose of government is to create rules. Often this is done to prevent free-riders. It is, for example, illegal not to have car insurance which covers treatment and compensation for injury and death to third parties you might cause as a driver.

    Thirdly, I asked John Willson to supply us all with a report that shows quite clearly why the NHTSA report I referenced is biased and therefore badly thought out. He has failed to do so. In brief I don’t believe casting aspersions constitutes reasoned argument.

  62. John Gorentz:

    We know what it means and we used it correctly. You appear to think it is wrong to think of libertarians as atomistic or radical individualists in general, I at least disagree.

    This is funny.

    1) By setting one up again you give a quick demonstration that you still don’t know what “strawman” means.

    2) You speak for both of you. Kind of what I was beginning to suspect. I found it really strange that two different people would have the same goofy misunderstanding of the concept, which made me wonder if it was really two different people. Then I thought back to how that discussion on ASBOs went. Then you said “we”.

  63. John Willson:

    I took a statistics course once upon a time. It was a liberating experience. It taught me, as all the liberal arts do, never again to be hoodwinked by NHTSA reports or the people who “reference” them. I asked a much more important question: What do you think about law? If it is “hysterical” to be concerned about seat belts, and if there is someone so twisted up as to think that insurance companies are one-thousandanth of the threat that government is (go look up your statistics and see how much money, how many people, how much firepower all the insurance companies in the world have compared to one day’s spending in Washington, D.C.), there is an argument to be made that I have not yet seen. Here is a bit of wisdom from Paul Johnson, in “Modern Times”: “The destructive capacity of the individual [and here I would add, the corporation], however vicious, is small; of the state, however well-intentioned, almost limitless. Expand the state and that destructive capacity necessarily expands too, pari passu.” Rather than citing government reports, which are by definition self-serving, why not take a stand and say what kind of law one might get “hysterical” about?

  64. Bruce Smith:

    Firstly, I was not trying to hoodwink you John I was giving you the chance to show how illogical the seat belt law is rather than asking us all to be government phobic and see this as the logical reason. You have failed to do this. This is how rules work. If they prove defective in logic we change them or do away with them. We don’t have Moses around anymore to make the rules for the complex world that’s developed since his demise and this is the reason we use governments as the ultimate decider here on planet earth. But it makes no sense to pretend that government is the devil that creates all the rules, children make rules, parents make rules, schools make them, private enterprise makes them and even religions. We are surrounded by rules. Sometimes the rules decided upon are vicious. The rules the financial corporations on Wall Street decided to play by resulted in the Financial Crash. Please don’t tell me these were government imposed rules. How, for example, would you explain Lehman Brothers choosing to mislead investors by playing the Repo 105 rule? How would you explain the behavior of AIG, an insurance company by the way, that needed $700 billion of tax payers money to sort out the results of the foolish rules it played by? Like many I would see the rules that financial enterprises operate with as a pretty big threat both now and in the future I don’t think we would regard ourselves as “twisted”.

    Finally, it is coming to light after the recent deaths of twenty five miners from gas explosions in a coal mine in Julian, West Virginia, that the private mining company, Massey Corporation, which owned the mine had a long list of citations by the public safety and health organization responsible for mines for “unwarrantable failure to comply with standards such as following an approved ventilation plan, controlling combustibles or designating escape routes.” These citations were made by the American MSHA, the public health and safety organization tasked with ensuring healthy and safe working in mines. Following your logic we should automatically designate their citations as self-serving! This is nonsense John and you know it!

  65. Jon Daley:

    I haven’t gotten to the end of the comments, so perhaps this was already addressed, but Mark says (my paraphrase) that penalizing people who cause accidents isn’t good, we should penalize people for behaviors that statistics have shown don’t cause accidents.

    Am I misunderstanding your point?

    Steve is recommending (a law against reckless driving) exactly the way NH has dealt with cell phone use while driving, by putting it under an existing law (yay, not creating a new law, always a good thing, in my opinion) that deals with driving while distracted. That makes sense to me. I don’t know how anyone can text while driving (I check my email while at red lights only), but I think lots of people can talk on the phone while driving, and some people can’t.

  66. John Médaille:

    “The destructive capacity of the individual [and here I would add, the corporation], however vicious, is small…

    John, your addition to this comment speaks volumes. Aside from the fact that you offer no support for treating corporations like individuals, when clearly they are not, their power is clearly not small, as recent events have proven. In fact, the largest corporations are larger than most governments, and their destructive capacity is enormous.

    But the greater problem is making a distinction between the corporation and the gov’t, since indeed corporations derive their very being from their state-granted corporate charters. Like the most recent bit of Supreme Court legislation, you give to the corporations the “rights” of natural persons, and pretend that their power is small and that their rights are distinct from the government. Neither is the actual case. this is a complete innovation in law, and the idea of treating corps as persons goes back to an obiter dicta in the 1876 Southern Pacific case. Normally, such a dicta would not be reported in case law, but in this case, it has become the foundation of a whole branch of law, and a great source of confusions about just what a corporation is.

    Further, you demand “evidence” for any law that requires we do something while using public resources, but will not share with us what your standards of evidence are. How are we to respond to a standard you will not share? Is there not a justification for thinking that your basis is ideological rather than principled? I am certainly wrong, since you are indeed a principled person rather than a narrow ideologue, but in this case, you offer us nothing but ideology, since you will not share your standards for evidence.

  67. Jon Daley:

    @Caleb: kneepads: yes, you are probably right to not introduce it. I worked at a company that used to post the birthday months for people, so you could wish them happy birthday – I thought it was pretty fun, as you generally wouldn’t know people’s birthdays, and it added to the community, with people celebrating birthdays, etc. HR issued a policy about not offending some class of people (I forget what the rule was), and I jokingly responded saying that they should stop celebrating birthdays, since that might offend Jehovah’s Witnesses. The result – they stopped publishing the birthdays to avoid offending anyone. Oops.

    @Phonics: the trouble with discussing “phonics” is that it means different things to different people. Some people I have talked to about phonics is to ignore spelling, and learn everything phonetically, and specifically are arguing against word memorization (which I’d never heard of before). It turns out some people consider my method of teaching to be phonics based – which is (besides reading a lot to our kids all the time) is to have them sound out words as they find them, and try to learn how different letters make different sounds in different contexts (granted, there are a bazillion rules and differences, but our oldest is getting used to different choices, and so when he wrote Hesikiea, and we went through each letter, he was able to guess (in most instances) a second choice for a sound to correctly spell Hezekiah, and I was amused when a couple times he said, “oh right, ‘a’ could make that sound too).

    @random enforcement of laws: And to whoever said about having the “reckless driving” laws are arbitrary, and so you never know if you will be pulled over or not, perhaps depending on how grumpy the police officer is, or if he doesn’t like you, etc. I agree. Speed limits are currently that way, as I am probably the only person who actually follows them (when it is safe to do so, e.g. driving 20 mph under the average is not safe, so then I disobey the law) and since “everyone” goes 5-10 mph above the speed limit, and only people who drive 20mph over get tickets, we are already in the situation where you can be pulled over and ticketed at any moment, depending on how the police officer’s day is going. (if you disagree, I’d like to see you spend a day following the speed limits exactly)

  68. John Willson:

    No, John, I am not an ideologue. Marxists, Straussians, Distributists, and Agrarians, among others, are ideologues, which is simply defined as someone who would impose ideas upon reality. The opposite of conservative is not liberal; the opposite of conservative is ideology. You demand statistics. You find government superior to corporations. Fine. Live with it. I don’t like the court-ordered definition of corporations as persons any more than you do. It was practical, for a while, and allowed the growth of the capital economy to make us all prosperous. Now we find that being prosperous is not all that wonderful.

    I also think that you are a principled man. But give me a break–I will not give in to mere numbers, unless it is to say that New Hampshire has a low death rate by automobile, with none of the restrictive laws. Why could that be?

  69. John Médaille:

    No, John, I don’t “demand” statistics; I offer them. You will not accept them as evidence, which would be fine, if only you would tell us what you do accept, which you won’t. How are you to be persuaded to any view but your own? And if no persuasion is not possible, what is the point of discussion? Further, if you have no objective standards of evidence that you are willing to share with us, are we not entitled to pass this off as mere ideology?

    And does not your method of argumentation leave something to be desired in a person who claims not to be an ideologue? I refer to your comment “live with it.” If this is the way reasonable men discuss things, wouldn’t you have to accept an argument in the form of “seat belt laws: live with it” as equally persuasive?

    And why do you ignore the fact that corporations are created by governments? I would think that is a fact beyond dispute. Yet, you identify them with individuals (in one case) and not as individuals in your next post. I am not seeing a lot of coherence here, John, but perhaps that is a hazard of com-box discussions.

  70. Mark Perkins:

    Jon says, “…Mark says (my paraphrase) that penalizing people who cause accidents isn’t good, we should penalize people for behaviors that statistics have shown don’t cause accidents.”

    So,
    “Statistics have shown” that drunk driving doesn’t “cause accidents”? Those statistics must be interesting. Or is it the meaning of “cause” that’s ambiguous (one of those “it’s not the fall that kills you; it’s the sharp stop at the bottom” things)? Or is that statistics don’t “show” anything on their own?–we use them to argue, explain, mislead, etc….

    I was also the person saying that “reckless driving” is too ambiguous. For example, an officer could say that going 3 mph over is reckless. You are right about speed limits, but then it is very clear what the law actually is. Though enforcement is often unpredictable, there’s no question that if you go over the speed limit you can be fined. When it comes to “reckless driving” (and I imagine if, as someone suggested, that were the only driving infraction it would be a bit more substantial of a punishment than a $100 driving class), the driver has no way of knowing when it comes to a huge gray area. Rapid lane change? Late turn signal? Almost swerving into the other lane? Forgetting to turn your lights on at dusk? Tailgating? Point being that unless you clarified specifics, everyone would be ignorant, in the dark, and at the complete mercy of LEOs and judges. And if you *did* clarify specifics… well, you’d basically have what we have now.

  71. John Willson:

    John M, you have misrepresented what I said about corporations. I don’t even know where you got it from! That’s OK, and I won’t talk about corporations anymore anyway. But your insistence upon statistics interests me. The world didn’t even have statistics until the mid-19th century, but somehow it produced Western Civilization. Since statistics, that civilization seems to have gone south. Is that causation, or do “reasonable men” have any other terms in which to talk?

    John G, the reason I keep bringing up phonics is (besides the fact that it is the only reliable way to teach children to read) that if one sounds out a word, one has a decent chance to understand what it means. Of the above 60 or so replies to my original post there are maybe 10 who understood what the heck I was saying. I’ve read it again, and think it is clear enough so that a few more should get it.

  72. John Médaille:

    John. You don’t like statistics. Got that. Message received and understood. No problem. But what you won’t tell us is what you evidence you find persuasive in the social sciences. Whether seat belts work is a question of science and reason. So what persuades you on such questions?

    And as far as the corporation goes, you (not me) stated that their capacity for damage was like that of individuals: limited. Well, I suppose that’s true, since the capacity of any human organization is “limited” in some sense. But that would be true of gov’t as well.

  73. John Willson:

    John M, Good point. There are no “social sciences.” I think you know that. Do seat belts work? Yes, sometimes, and no, not other times. Do good roads work? Yes, all of the time. Do side supports on car doors save lives? Yes, every time. Do laws save lives? Give me an example. I’m sure you have one, but it isn’t seat belts.

  74. John Médaille:

    There is no social science? There is no organized body of knowledge about social structures? Why would you say such a thing?

    As for examples of laws that save lives, you gave them. Cars are built to gov’t regs, which is why they have side supports; roads are built under public law, which is why there are good roads. Safety features in cars are generally not marketable, and manufacturers will put them in only if everybody is required to do so, lest they be put at a price disadvantage for doing the right thing.

    You keep saying that seat belts don’t save lives. Your grounds for saying so are not clear, except that you believe it and therefore it’s so. You reject science, so nobody can present you any evidence and you are stuck with a private ideology, and no way to evaluate evidence save on subjective grounds. You pound the table–and the keyboard–about how everybody else is wrong, but you won’t give us your own evidentiary standards.

    But why do you think such lines of private argumentation should be persuasive? You can preach to the choir, but can you talk to the public? Must you have a convinced audience before you can make your arguments?

    I’m sorry John, but conservatism is not about rejecting science. It is about conserving it; about making it better. Which means less ideological, and not more so.

  75. Jon:

    It sure is obvious from the discussion here that seat belt laws sit right on the cusp of what might be considered “reasonable” regulation of individual behavior. Certainly we don’t think forcing people to obey double yellow lines is unreasonable. I happen to agree that, given there is some level of public subsidy of emergency rooms, that seat belt laws are reasonable.

    However, this completely misses the point. We should all want to live in New Hampshire simply to have a license plate, and a state motto, that says “live free or die!” That is simply the best four word English imperative ever.

  76. John Gorentz:

    _I happen to agree that, given there is some level of public subsidy of emergency rooms, that seat belt laws are reasonable._

    Certainly that makes them reasonable, but it doesn’t keep them from being vile, dangerous, and anathema to a community that believes in Place, Limits, and Liberty.

    And it sure would be nice if the people who support them on those grounds would address the implications of “some level of public subsidy” for everyone’s health care. I notice that all the seatbelt law supporters have so far been running full speed away from that question.

  77. Wessexman:

    “This is funny.

    1) By setting one up again you give a quick demonstration that you still don’t know what “strawman” means. ”

    This doesn’t make sense please explain yourself. And it isn’t a strawman, it is true. It is that simple the bast majority of American style libertarians are radical or atomistic individualists from my experience. This is no strawman, it is simple experience.

    “2) You speak for both of you. Kind of what I was beginning to suspect. I found it really strange that two different people would have the same goofy misunderstanding of the concept, which made me wonder if it was really two different people. Then I thought back to how that discussion on ASBOs went. Then you said “we”.”

    So now you entering the world of conspiracy theories. Is this meant to bolster your hysterics?

    And I’m still waiting for you to show proof that ASBOs can be applied where no crime has been committed. Until you do that even your very weak argument that was given is full of holes.

  78. John Gorentz:

    Wessexman and Steve,

    You’ve failed the Turing Test.

  79. Wessexman:

    John Wilson said:

    “No, John, I am not an ideologue. Marxists, Straussians, Distributists, and Agrarians, among others, are ideologues, which is simply defined as someone who would impose ideas upon reality.”

    You mean like a Platonist? I think you have to be clearer John. Like Russell Kirk I believe ideas rule society.

    “The opposite of conservative is not liberal; the opposite of conservative is ideology.”

    It depends what you mean by ideology. The myth of the completely relativist conservatism is just that – a myth. All conservatism and even more all traditionalism is backed up by ideas, conceptions and principles. It is simply that ours are far more complex and essential than the other movements and we are less likely to try and enact a simplistic, rigid formulation of them.

    “Rather than citing government reports, which are by definition self-serving, why not take a stand and say what kind of law one might get “hysterical” about?”

    Those that really coluld be used an extensive basis for a “regulatory state” and destruction of communities.

    I personally am not too worried either way about seat belt laws, like Jon I think they could well be on the cusp, but to consider them as the harbingers of necessary authoritarianism seems a little bit dramatic to say the least. It enters us into that logic that could easily get into awkward situations like those whose simplistic attitudes to gun rights leaves them umming and ahhing when the liberal asks them if private ownership of nukes or artillery batteries would then be okay. It is after all you John who keeps reminding us of the conservative opposition to simplistic use of abstract conceptions, being dragged into a logic, most completely exampled by John Gorentz, where almost all gov’t regulation becomes suspect is surely a similar, dubious abstraction.

  80. John Willson:

    As I said before, it’s like the Episcopal Church: When you make Buddha the fourth person of the Trinity, I am going to leave. In that unfortunate body, its members have been able to rationalize Prayer Book change, women “priests,” homosexual bishops, and still say, “just one more thing and I’m taking a hike.” I really do believe that seat belt laws are rather down the food chain of liberty, but the whole point of this post was to excite people into thinking about where the “Limits” are.
    I’m leaving in about an hour for the Philadelphia Society meeting (it’s in Philadelphia this year!) and won’t be around to joust for a week or so. Thank you all for a wonderful discussion!

  81. Wessexman:

    I am warming more and more to the unnecessary nature of adult seat belt laws. However I still don’t think they can be well used as a starting platform for other assaults on freedom and I don’t think much is to be gained by taking a major stand against them(particularly for an Englishman like myself.).

  82. Bruce Smith:

    At the root of this post about seat belt laws appears to be an irrational belief that human beings cannot be relied upon to use representative group decision making because the representatives will always irrespective of conditions decide upon courses of action that are faulty, or unjust, or solely in the interests of the representatives. So for example in John Willson’s post and comments there are such wild statements as “Laws are almost always defective or unreasonable. With a few exceptions, such has always been true under any form of government.” and “government reports, which are by definition self-serving.” On this logic electing a board of directors for a business or corporation should also be judged an anti-social activity, same too of your local council or home owners association. The conclusion of this line of thinking is that human beings are incapable of taking group based decisions for the common good and it’s, therefore, a Hobbesian dog-eat-dog world. Such an anti-representative democracy belief, however, flies in the face of human experience. Human beings have been “selfishly” uniting together to resist the selfishness of the narcissistic and sociopathic few for thousands of years using both representative and participative democracy and we use such words as “altruism” and “morality” euphemistically to describe the motivational drives for this activity. Evolutionary psychologists tell us that our mode of operating is that of Conditional Co-operators, Altruistic Punishers and Reverse Dominators and evolving these modes through language, weapon development and empathy is the reason why we have been able to develop such complex civilizations that adapt nature to meet our needs and get beyond the limitations of the alpha dominated ape stage.
    When human beings many thousand of years ago at the hunter gatherer stage of development made the effort to consider how it could be decided what rights individuals should have against “certain kinds” of forcible interference by others they realized that it could only be done justly by participatory democracy. As population sizes grew and the nomadic lifestyle disappeared it became impossible to use participatory democracy to decide upon rights (and responsibilities) applicable to the whole of the population and the work-around eventually produced was representative democracy based upon universal political suffrage (I am taking the issue of whether successful implementation of rights also depends upon economic suffrage to be tangential to the core of this argument). To reject this work-around in principle would appear to be based upon Libertarian ideology (do tell me outside of Communism and Fascism the other ideologies that reject true representative democracy) but the problem with such ideology is that it never answers, or refuses to answer, the question of how it can be justly decided what the “certain kinds” of forcible interference individuals should have the right to resist. Usually the only answer that gets thrown up is that individuals should have the right to amass as much property as they like and too bad if the property-less starve to death. Libertarianism, therefore, appears to be a demand by ideologues for a mandate to complain without taking on board any responsibility for devising the means to resolve the complaints (Exactly how should we decide whether or not to have a law requiring seat belt wearing or should we have no laws at all and go back to the dominant alpha stage?). I believe most human beings respect those who seek to work with others to resolve difficulties and regard a refusal to do so as selfish and irrational.

  83. Albert:

    Wessexman, you’re right that seat belt laws are different from tooth-brushing laws or exercise laws in that they prevent fatal, immediate injuries and don’t appear to cause much oppression or communal undermining as an isolated law abstracted from the rest of the legal regime. But it simply isn’t abstracted from the rest of the legal regime, and I suggest that matters a lot. By itself, yes, big deal. But along with the rest of the legal regime, it is another small cup of water drowning the populace and, yes, undermining other communities, and so this law ought to be opposed in our current situation.

    Is there something about the State in its nature such that it particularly is needed to encourage drivers to wear seat belts because other public communities simply cannot? It seems to me that such a responsibility is easily and reasonably carried out by families, schools, good drivers associations, churches, and/or even insurance companies who want better drivers.

    The latter is a revealing example. Imagine for a moment if an insurance mega-corporation embarked on a program to have representatives monitoring cars stopping at Stop signs and traffic signals. They’d check license plates electronically and issue $5 rewards for obedient seat belt wearers, and $5 charges to those who fail to wear their seat belts.

    First of all, this would work and so save lives. Second, it is frankly comical and not a little scary to imagine an insurance company exercising this sort of watchful behavior over their customers.

    If this seems weird for a corporation to do, why do we feel it is appropriate for the State to monitor our seat belt use? Is it because, at root, the State (unlike a corporation) has become for us the One True Public Community (though we of course wouldn’t name it that) whose actions alone are for our communal good and so must be deferred to and cherished? Perhaps it has.

    And perhaps it is because the State has already psychologically made us its wards that we cannot even imagine public community alternatives to the caring State and so the State must always provide the communal restraint and any rejections of laws like seat belt laws are seen as “libertarian.” Sometimes it seems like many on this site defer more to and give more respect to the State rather than to their Church. I’d call that undermining.

    Lastly, I don’t know much about medieval sumptuary and usury laws, but the most important thing that needs to be said about that is that our modern State is not Christian and its legal regime as a whole (including parts like seat belt laws) tends to be ordered to materialism and the concentration of power to enact its own conception of justice. The second thing to be said is that I do not know whether usury laws (which I’d support as involving fraud) or sumptuary laws undermined other communities; it seems likely that some inordinate ones may have. I don’t know.

  84. D.W. Sabin:

    The comic aspect of this discussion seems to always get lost in the shuffle. The Dread and Selfish “Libertarians” are those so called “anti-government extremists” (soon to hatch as fully formed McVeighs) while the dispassionate and prudent and wise and wonderfully compassionate folks who favor an all-knowing benevolent government are models of solemn calm. Like, you know, Trillions of dollars in debt, rampant over-leveraging in everything from precious metals to McMansions, Government bail-out leaving the U.S. Citizen holding paper on not only bad securities but failed shopping malls or hotels as well, unceasing handouts to the tune of a billion bucks a year as protection money to the various tribes in our foolhardy democracy projects overseas etc etc etc…and this is the side of the equation that is “pragmatic” and pacific and balanced and never ever “extremist”.

    Yes, those bad boy extremist libertarians sure do muck things up. The pro-government extremists are much more better meaning.

    I just love these “either-or” discussions. Right Handed of the World Unite against the Evil Left Handers. Meanwhile the government is ambidextrous, grabbing fistfuls of the future and tossing it out the window.

  85. John Médaille:

    I don’t know about evil, Dirk, but I do suspect ill-considered. The choice between all and nothing always means that the “all” wins, as I have pointed out on numerous occassions. And the history pretty much bears this out: the more libertarian the rhetoric, the more statist the reality. One needs to consider the law of unintended consequences, how our best of intentions lead to the worst of results. All of our theories are inadequate, since by definition a theory, like a map, leaves more out than it puts in. But how are we to know that we have included the most important landmarks? Only experience can teach us. Theories which fix everything in advance wreck everything in advance.

  86. Bruce Smith:

    It’s true its just so easy to moan on endlessly on FPR about how evil the state and capitalism is but never get down to answering the question “How shall it be decided what individual liberties to give and deny ourselves?” That would probably be too constructive an exercise for some.

  87. John Gorentz:

    It’s true its just so easy to moan on endlessly on FPR about how evil the state and capitalism is but never get down to answering the question “How shall it be decided what individual liberties to give and deny ourselves?” That would probably be too constructive an exercise for some.

    Then you should be glad that some of us have been discussing that very question in this comment section. And some, like Steve Berg, have proposed at least partial answers. His comments may have been too constructive an exercise for some, but I thought they were fine.

  88. Bruce Smith:

    I don’t see how Steve Berg has even attempted to answer my question, just another big moan about the evil nanny state. How about you attempting to answer my question constructively John Gorentz without resorting to the same pointless moaning as Steve Berg.

  89. Wessexman:

    “The comic aspect of this discussion seems to always get lost in the shuffle. The Dread and Selfish “Libertarians” are those so called “anti-government extremists” (soon to hatch as fully formed McVeighs) while the dispassionate and prudent and wise and wonderfully compassionate folks who favor an all-knowing benevolent government are models of solemn calm. Like, you know, Trillions of dollars in debt, rampant over-leveraging in everything from precious metals to McMansions, Government bail-out leaving the U.S. Citizen holding paper on not only bad securities but failed shopping malls or hotels as well, unceasing handouts to the tune of a billion bucks a year as protection money to the various tribes in our foolhardy democracy projects overseas etc etc etc…and this is the side of the equation that is “pragmatic” and pacific and balanced and never ever “extremist”.

    Yes, those bad boy extremist libertarians sure do muck things up. The pro-government extremists are much more better meaning.

    I just love these “either-or” discussions. Right Handed of the World Unite against the Evil Left Handers. Meanwhile the government is ambidextrous, grabbing fistfuls of the future and tossing it out the window.”

    What pro-gov’t extremists? Few of us who are either neutral or supportive on the issue of seat belts laws are particularly pro-gov’t.

    Libertarians are a menace because they are atomists, it is that simple, they(and a good many liberals and not a few so called conservatives.) have little notion, in general(and in the case of libertarians it is true that they do, on the whole, tend to think like this.), of society, culture and social associations as anything more than superficial afterthoughts formed from the immediate, rational actions of fully formed, presocial, autonomous individuals.

    These are not the sort of people we want to listen to on these kinds of problems.

  90. John Gorentz:

    I don’t see how Steve Berg has even attempted to answer my question…

    I imagine you don’t. I’ll add this one to the list.

  91. Wessexman:

    Albert I largely agree with you, but I will say I just don’t see seat belts being used as a jumping off point for more regulation, at least consciously. So we’re left with already enacted, largely unnecessary(I think for children they are a good thing!) but also largely harmless ones.

    If we got a chance perhaps we could remove them but they hardly seem like anything we’d have to campaign against, particularly when there are many worse regulations. In Britain you can’t smoke in a bar or pub for instance, even if the owner wants to let you! Now that is a regulatory state action(it came from Brussels so what do you expect!). I believe several American cities have rolled out similar laws and some Australian councils have even banned smoking in public places altogether, not being content on just inside pubs, bars etc.

  92. Wessexman:

    “I don’t see how Steve Berg has even attempted to answer my question…

    I imagine you don’t. I’ll add this one to the list.”

    Don’t be disruptive, if you have nothing of worth to add then don’t make a comment.

  93. John Gorentz:

    Best constructive contribution of the day: “Don’t be disruptive, if you have nothing of worth to add then don’t make a comment.”

  94. Charles Curtis:

    I resolved to keep my trap shut online, but sometimes things just get too provocative..

    On the trillions of dollars of debt we have, I’d simply like to point out that that debt has all been run up almost entirely under Republican Presidents.

    See here:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_debt_by_U.S._presidential_terms

    I smell a pig in the parlor, here folks. Libertarians like Greenspan and Friedman (and their whores in Government like Reagan and the Bushes) have an ideological goal to discredit government.

    The rich want their taxes cut. They also like putting people in their debt. They call it investment.

    But what better debt slave than the U.S. Public?

    That’s what we’re seeing here. The rich are screwing the American public like a pooch, and intend to break the government’s ability to “redistribute wealth” by bankrupting us.

    Note that what they call redistribution I call investment in the public good through education, infrastructure, health care and other public investments.

    Discussions like this are really farcical to me, now. If you seriously think a seat belt laws constitute creeping totalitarianism, you are not very smart. All you risk from the state by not belting up is a token fine *if* you get pulled over. Any anarchist retarded enough to get a thrill of not wearing his belt ought to just risk it. Since he’s already risking his life anyway.

    Because if you want a true libertarian regime, I say that we push it all the way, and say if you hurt yourself in an accident while not wearing your belt, we just ought to leave you in the ditch to die.

    Your fault, you should suffer the consequence all by yourself.

    I’m watching my father smoke himself to death. I’m trying to convince him to quit, knowing that he’s probably already done himself irreparable harm, from which he will never recover. He’s probably taken a couple decades off his life.

    I’d like to strangle the CEO of the old Phillip Morris and every other tobacco company. That bastard is a criminal. Since I won’t indulge my fury due to Christian principle (the Beatitudes counsel me to love those that hurt me, and I struggle to do my best) I have to say that in lieu of that I will support every political move to restrict tobacco use.

    Because my father’s illness due to smoking, and your injury when you fly through your windshield next time you have an accident, just doesn’t impact him. It will hurt us all.

    And since I very likely owe my life to people like Ralph Nader. Because of them, I have been conditioned to wear my belt. Because of them, I have had a belt in my car to wear.

    And as I said in the very first post in this thread, my belt has saved my life.

    Twice.

    Libertarians can go to hell. Ralph Nader is the man.

  95. John Gorentz:

    If you seriously think a seat belt laws constitute creeping totalitarianism, you are not very smart. All you risk from the state by not belting up is a token fine *if* you get pulled over.

    The above two sentences constitute a non sequitur.

  96. Charles Curtis:

    John, I’m not sure we’re speaking the same language. My last post wasn’t written all that well, but those two sentences seem to make perfect sense to me.

    I just got back from living in Europe, and I now find I have no patience for American political life. This website purports to be about liberty, small communities and localism. Well, let me tell you that Europe is full of far tighter and humane communities than any I’ve ever lived in Stateside.

    And know they have rules. Lots of rules. I grew to appreciate them, along with the sporadic anarchism that they spawned..

    American libertarians and teapartiers are just pathetic. In France they don’t play. The socialists take to the streets and shut Paris down. And let me tell you, it rocks. I just can’t take these libertarian milquetoasts whining sedition anymore. Put up, or shut up. As a former vet, I’ll take arms in support of my government.

    Because I’ve had enough.

    I think it really was my catching the tail end of the health care debate here, where I heard too many morons braying about socialist medicine being awful, when it was limpidly clear they had absolutely no idea what they were talking about.

    Because as a veteran with a VA disability rating, and someone who has spent a deal of time in places with single payer systems, I have to tell you that socialized medicine is absolutely awesome. The US government runs itself a very fine medical system in the military and VA system. I’ve been in them both for a long while now, love, and so must defend them.

    Anyway, that’s really all I have to say. It was my mistake to subscribe to this thread. I’m going back abroad as soon as I am able, so we won’t have to put up with eachother much longer..

    Peace.

  97. Charles Curtis:

    And you’re spot on, I am writing like crap.. trop de vin, manque de sommeil.

  98. Wessexman:

    “Best constructive contribution of the day: “Don’t be disruptive, if you have nothing of worth to add then don’t make a comment.””

    And all to think your behaviour made it all possible ;) .

  99. John Gorentz:

    John Médaille said: “And the history pretty much bears this out: the more libertarian the rhetoric, the more statist the reality.”

    John, I too have often noticed something along these lines. I hope we can compare notes some time, perhaps in another comment thread, to see whether or not we’re both talking about the same phenomenon.

  100. John Gorentz:

    Charles Curtis, the reason I picked on those two sentences was because I am interested in how and why we make rules. The fact that the effect of a rule is innocuous is no reason it isn’t an important step in creeping totalitarianism. As as been mentioned over and over again by myself and others, the thing that’s of concern is the basis for making such rules. If the basis for the rule is the fact that our behavior affects the lives and costs of other people, then no rule is out of bounds. Some better basis is needed than that.

    A few weeks ago I read Walt Rinderle’s book on The Nazi Impact on a German village. He tells about a lot more about village life over a much longer period of time than that title would indicate, though. He shows how when people lived right next to each other and shared scarce resources, they needed a lot of rules. There was a real community which did its best to ignore the state. They knew the larger state existed — how could they help but know when young men were drafted to serve in the Kaiser’s armies or when invading armies came through? — but for them life was a matter of the community, not the state. The making and enforcing of rules was a community effort — something that could be done only in a community where everyone knew everyone. Even in peacetime it wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows — it could be hard to live in a place where social norms were upheld because everyone knew everything you did — and where the village officials could decide if your behavior really merited subsidized health care or not. But it was communitarian and not compatible with the Nazi’s attempt at totalitarian rule from the center.

    (I read that remarkable little book just before staying at Walt and Anne Rinderle’s very nice little B&B in Vincennes IN for a week of bike riding, in order to get an early start on spring. I didn’t know before I got there that it included an invitation each evening to come downstairs for conversation about these things over a couple of beers, or that Walt and I had compatible tastes in beer. (Bitter taste and room temperature are good.) Walt’s father had come from the little village his son wrote about, and that gave Walt an opening to go back and do some oral history that wouldn’t have been possible for a complete outsider.)

  101. Bruce Smith:

    John Gorentz I take notice that you and John Willson are typical Libertarians you always evade the difficult questions that people ask you. Your whole mode of operation is to moan and rail at government without ever taking the trouble to ask yourselves why it is there. Why it exists. For people like you two it’s as though it sprung out of the ground after the planting of dragon’s teeth. This is nonsense. Here’s why government came into existence.

    Human beings are not naturally predisposed to live freely together as equals. They are hierarchical creatures. Their nature is to seek power whereby an individual, or group, will seek to dominate others who in turn will retaliate by seeking to counter their power and make egalitarianism prevail. It made sense to band together do this because egalitarianism worked better for survival purposes not only to defeat other threatening human beings but to defeat powerful animal predators and minimize hunger by sharing food found by hunting and foraging. Matters became more difficult with the arrival of wealth stored in the form of capital. Capital is the commoditization, or corralling, of nature. Its accumulation and use can make or break lives. To prevent the destruction and abuse of their lives by capital is why human beings seek to legislate egalitarianism and will now until change occurs always spontaneously seek to use the vehicle of government as one of the just, or fair, means to achieve this. It is why asking the question “How shall it be decided which liberties to allow and deny ourselves?” is so important. It is not just determining which liberties but which vehicles to do the determining with. Finally the issue of the true nature of human being’s attitude to power is why Communism, Fascism, Neo-Liberal Conservatism, Statist Socialism and Libertarianism don’t work as ideologies. This is because they fail to acknowledge the ambivalent attitude of human beings towards power. We like to dominate but hate to be dominated. It is why only an ideology that seeks to balance out power (including that of capital) by making judicious use of all the vehicles, or tools, at its disposal can ever hope to achieve some semblance of harmony amongst human beings.

  102. Bruce Smith:

    Thanks Charles for your hat tip on debt by party. Can’t wait for the right-wing bloggers on this site to tell us the figures don’t count because Sarah Palin told us they were produced by socialists (CommieDems).

  103. Bruce Smith:

    John Gorentz I appreciate you starting to answer the question “How shall it be decided which liberties to allow and deny ourselves?” and I very much support devolved decision and rule making where individuals clash over objectives and in many ways the smaller the community, or grouping of individuals, resolving any conflicts the better as far as I’m concerned. However, we don’t live like we used to do two three thousand years or more ago when we lived in small communities. We have to contend with much greater complexity including the Financialization of Capitalism which is led by the United States and prone to produce such horrors as the recent Financial Crisis. Here is John Bellamy Foster on the subject of Financialization:-

    http://www.skeptically.org/ecodev/id2.html

  104. Albert:

    Albert I largely agree with you, but I will say I just don’t see seat belts being used as a jumping off point for more regulation, at least consciously. So we’re left with already enacted, largely unnecessary(I think for children they are a good thing!) but also largely harmless ones.

    If we got a chance perhaps we could remove them but they hardly seem like anything we’d have to campaign against, particularly when there are many worse regulations. In Britain you can’t smoke in a bar or pub for instance, even if the owner wants to let you! Now that is a regulatory state action(it came from Brussels so what do you expect!). I believe several American cities have rolled out similar laws and some Australian councils have even banned smoking in public places altogether, not being content on just inside pubs, bars etc.

    Wessexman, I also don’t see seat belts being used as a jumping off point for more regulation except, of course, in so far as citizens of New Hampshire are being pressured by those who point to seat belt laws in the other 49 states as justification for added seat belt laws in NH (despite low accident fatality rates). That seems pretty clear to me, although I agree that seat belt laws are not being used as a jumping off point for, say tooth-brushing laws.

    I think what is going on is a bit more complicated; if laws do not exist or come into existence “serially” but in a matrix that constitutes a legal regime, then each law within the matrix supports and appears, through mechanisms of familiarity, to justify the existence of other parts of the matrix. In other words, just as it is not enough to point to an event in isolation to understand history, it is not enough to evaluate a single statute in isolation from the rest of the matrix of laws because of the way they reinforce each other. A statute needs to be evaluated in the context of the rest of the legal regime because that is how that statute will be experienced.

    That is why I admit that in of itself, a seat belt law is not a big deal. For example, if that were the only law that makes safe driving associations or families less important to the formation of good drivers, then I wouldn’t argue against it. But because it is actually representative of the matrix of laws that makes other communities less necessary, little by little, and thereby undermines them, I do make a case against it. In sum, I think the main issue is that statutes are not experienced in isolated from each other, but as a part of a matrix, a legal regime. So in considering individual statutes, we ought not to consider them apart from the context of other laws (and, frankly, other cultural forces), a context which might be determinative if the adoption of a law is unwise in a particular situation, even when it would be wise in another. I’d suggest, furthermore, that in light of the legal regime at large which most definitely undermines the family, a seat belt law in NH ought to be opposed (along with other statutes more important in isolation, e.g. certain divorce laws or smoking bans in pubs for businesses).

    As an aside, I think this is precisely why Tocqueville uses the work “network” in the passage I quote above:

    Thus, the ruling power, having taken each citizen one by one into its powerful grasp and having molded him to its own liking, spreads its arms over the whole of society, covering the surface of social life with a network of petty, complicated, detailed, and uniform rules [emphasis mine]

    If one simply looks at a single rule apart from the network, then yes, it’s no big deal. But that would misunderstand how laws and cultures function.

    I suppose it is because I believe parents and older siblings ought to be responsible for making sure children wear seat belts in their cars that I would reject even State laws concerning children wearing seat belts. I simply will not drive unless all adult friends and children are wearing seat belts. Others should do the same because in doing so, communal ties are strengthened in ways that the State simply cannot achieve by means of fines, which simply teach that money is all that is lost when breaking communal ties. On the other hands, if someone disobeys me by refusing to wear a seat belt in my car, the breaking of communal ties is evident in the damage does to concrete relations in both the refusal and my kicking the person out of my car.

    There is a huge difference between the “community” of the State and what it says about the nature of life by punishing via fines (and therefore contributing to a culture that reduces life to having more or less money), and real communities where the punishments are fully relational in nature.

  105. Steve Berg:

    Bruce Smith, I did not realize that you had a question, as I was off this site for some days. As I understand your question, you want my opinion of what level of government should be making rules that attack personal liberties. I thought I covered this quite well in my brief sketch, so here is another attempt on this question. Such rules should be made at the lowest possible level of government, preferably by those intimately involved in the proposed regulated activity. To my mind this should be at the township level, which here in Illinois is the only governmental entity where the citizenry can directly legislate ordinances. Like Jefferson, I tend to equate just government with consent of the governed. My consent is really only valid when I have a say and a vote in the matter. If I consider a local regulation oppressive, I am free to move to another township where the rules are more congenial to my beliefs. I have found that even at the local level, representation rapidly becomes imperfect. In my city, I am rarely in agreement with my so-called representatives, and they tend to represent political correctness far more than they do my views, or even fiscal prudence. At the county level it is worse, the state level worse yet, and by the time you get to Washington D.C. the average congressman “represents” about 800,000 people which is an obvious impossibility. Instead they tend to represent those who fund their campaigns.

    In a repeatedly hard fought battle against Big Nanny, here in Illinois, we are not required to wear motorcycle helmets. I normally wear one except for those times where I have just rebuilt an engine, and I want to hear what is going on before there are any heart and wallet wrenching grinding and crunching noises. I would say that my hearing is not all that good, but since most of that is also service related, I certainly do not want to be again accused of whining. I also wear specially constructed riding apparel which has built in armor. I do this at my own initiative, as I understand that the beneficent and omniscient state government hands out driving licenses to complete morons on a regular basis, so in this instance, I voluntarily relinquish my liberties as a matter of personal choice.

    This is a long winded explanation of what is essentially political legitimacy. To me, with an appreciation for real federalism and political subsidiarity, I prefer to be personally involved in the regulatory process. Those who like to promote diversity, which tends to be top-down imposed uniformity, would much rather have a one size fits all set of regulations, always reducing liberty, and always for the public good. Frequently, the people doing the regulating have only a slight acquaintance with what is being regulated. And, few if any of them personally know the people whom are going to be regulated. The top-down regulatory approach essentially uses “the death of a thousand cuts” approach to legislation. Each regulation may seem to be reasonable, and minor in importance, but the eventual effect is the death of liberty and local community. Communities can certainly be oppressive, but they are small, and they can be left behind. The world wide Hobbesian Nanny State does not allow this option, and so I oppose it. Hell, even Hobbes was known to flee what he considered to be oppression.

  106. Roger S.:

    Charles Curtis said,

    “If you’re too stupid to belt up, you deserve the fine. Society doesn’t need to be liable for your idiocy when you hurt yourself, causing all the rest of our insurance premiums to go up..”

    Now that is the thinking that scares me to death. Charles I like bacon but its bad for me. Should the government regulate bacon because I might eat it and our insurance premiums might go up. If you are overweight Charles then you are at a greater risk for everything that kills you and your idiocy makes our insurance premiums go up. Perhaps we need a few rules to regulate your diet. Getting enough exercise there Charles? If not maybe we need a little law to ensure you do. John Williams was simply pointing to fact that little laws to that take away little freedoms lead to big laws to take away big freedoms.

  107. Roger S.:

    Charles said,

    “American libertarians and teapartiers are just pathetic. In France they don’t play. The socialists take to the streets and shut Paris down. And let me tell you, it rocks.”

    I m sorry, Charles I think I understand now. You ve been to France.

  108. D.W. Sabin:

    “Libertarians can go to hell”.

    Thats the spirit.

    Might I add, “and take the Bureaucracy with them as punishment”, thus killing two birds with one stone.

    One of the interesting summary ideas in Andre Gide’s novel “The Immoralist” is that independence and liberty can be paralyzing. This is precisely why any fundamental notion of genuine liberty can only be achieved through an understanding of the profound limits of liberty . Liberty, in the end, is only truly productive or spiritually and intellectually rich within a context of humility and fraternity. Still, fraternity without the chastening effects of liberty is an invitation to the deadening atmosphere of the herd. Morality, without liberty is playbook morality, something that eventually consumes the moral instinct and replaces it with the very immoral and gullible obedience of the automaton.

    One can cast insults at the libertarians to one’s hearts content but there were few beyond them raising concerns about a government lost down a diminishing and punishing curve of over-extension, debt, bureaucratic gridlock, influence peddling, war mongering and fecklessly over-arching profligacy. Do I agree with every utterance of the Libertarians? No. Neither do I agree with every utterance of the Republican-Democrat Statists. However, what I do see is this cult of partisanship and prideful ideology dragging us downward into a totalitarian quicksand. Note how Nader tipped a hat to Ron Paul and I am quite certain Paul would tip his hat to Nader’s work against the corrupt machinations of power-politics in Washington.

    One may readily see the logic in Medaille’s assertions about the unintended consequences of libertarian ideology resulting in precisely the big government abuses we now experience. However, It is equally true that there is a law of intended consequences that is just as bad and purposefully benefits the destructive totalitarian drift that consumes best intentions in Washington D.C. today. Too big to Fail becomes Too big to fail getting bigger and we dole out a billion dollars in cash a year as protection money in Afghanistan and Iraq, oblivious to the many historic examples of utter failure in this kind of empire cycle. We blow up a magnificently destructive bubble of consumer debt and yet still, after all this, the great minds in Washington are working on ways to continue China’s role as “producer” and ours as “consumer”. The fact that people might save rather than spend what they do not make strikes horror in the heart of the Bureaucrat and the globalist utopia schemes.

    A Distributism that holds the full concept of liberty central to its subsidiary philosophy is something that may bear fruit. A Distributism that simply shuns liberty in order to replace it with an assembly line provincialism of drones following order will deserve the degeneration it has championed. Where is the fuller discursive capacity that unleashed such spectacular progress and technological advancement in this Republic gone didactic? Where is the skepticism that lent us good humor and a strong bulwark against creeping institutional decline? Where is the humility that saw multi-denominations thrive, thus insuring the continuance of varied and un-molested spiritual life?

    I’d be perhaps more skeptical of the more narcissistic and paralyzing effects of liberty if we were anywhere close to a genuine fuller realization of liberty in this nation but we are not. We beg now for “leadership” and think more vigorous political action within a failed paradigm will see us through to better days. Reductive institutional thinking is a profoundly corrosive agent in a society that has become fatalist and exceptionally, blithely gullible. Again, those that question government excess are “extremists” while those that endorse it are good citizens.

    Replacing good sense with law will insure that good sense becomes something enshrined behind a glass box that proclaims “Break only in case of emergency”. It will die there a long slow death…a musty museum piece…a relic of yore. Frankly, the project of modernity has successfully obliterated the authentic meaning of liberty because it has effectively quelled the discursive mind and replaced it with best intentions gone wild. Liberty requires a grounding in cause and effect and in this nation now, we seem to think causes and effects are shifting things, dependent upon the offices of a benevolent state.

  109. Wessexman:

    But seat belt laws aren’t, on their own, much of an example of gov’t excess though Sabin, that is the point.

    Anyway I think Albert’s post has settled this discussion in a balanced and sensible. way. I agree with him, on their own seat belt laws are rather benign though probably unnecessary, for adults at least, and don’t, on the surface, seem much of a jumping off point for new regulation. But being part of a matrix of legislation they are probably unhelpful in today’s climate, and generally unnecessary law should probably be avoided, so removing them for adults would probably be positive.

    However it is worth pointing out that very communitarian ages have had plenty of pesky laws such as the medieval laws of sumptuary which regulated consumption and extravagant dress. But still I think it wiser to do without unnecessary regulation.

  110. Mark Perkins:

    I too find Albert’s post reasonable. Seat belt laws taken alone are completely innocuous. Being forced to wear a seat belt isn’t tyranny, even if you don’t want to wear one. But as part of a comprehensive set of papa-knows-best laws? Less innocuous. The nature of the comments suggests, however, that seat belt laws are not worth the fight.

    There are 110 comments–many very heated–on a brief blog about seat belt laws. No wonder every law, no matter how insignificant, now requires a thousand pages of a law.

    I reread the article to remember what inspired such fury and volume. Didn’t find much by way of inflammatory rhetoric, for the record.

    Earlier I got caught up in some comments suggesting that the only things the law can deal with are actual tangible results (i/e you can plan a terrorist attack all you want, but by golly we’ll prosecute you after you carry it out).

    What’s more interesting to me at this point is the fury and outrage the post provoked.

    People are quite literally freaking out that Dr. Willson would ever suggest driving unbuckled for a second. Risk–any risk–seems to equal stupidity. Only idiots or monsters would ever drive unbuckled, ride a bike without a helmet, smoke a cigarette, drink a beer, run with scissors, eat ice cream, play rugby. I don’t have any brilliant insights about it, but it’s an interesting attitude.

  111. John Gorentz:

    Mark Perkins wrote: “The nature of the comments suggests, however, that seat belt laws are not worth the fight.”

    I think there are a lot of people who would disagree with that. If you don’t believe me, have your Representatives propose a repeal. It’ll flush out a lot of people who think it very much worth the fight to retain them.

    That in itself would form a valuable public service. We need to identify these people, and perhaps set up a National Registry of Control Freaks to keep track of their whereabouts. It would serve much the same purpose as a National Registry of Sex Offenders.

    Some of the more unbalanced characters among them might scream that such a move is creeping totalitarianism, but it seems reasonable as a preventative measure. And really, is it any more restrictive to register one’s whereabouts with the local gendarmes every week than to clip a seat belt around one’s body several times a day? The behavior of these people is costly to society and the public purse, so it seems a bit of regulation is in order.

    I’ll bet Janet Napolitano would support such a registry. She is already on record as warning about the potential risks to our society posed by returning war veterans and those opposed to abortion and immigration. Certainly she would find control freaks to be no less of a threat than those groups.

  112. Mark Perkins:

    I should have written more clearly. I’m saying that overturning seat belt laws is not worth the fight. Save the energy and resources for something more important.

  113. John Gorentz:

    Mark, the point of a move to repeal would be to consume the energy and resources of the bad guys — the control freaks. If you let it consume more of your time and energy than theirs, then you lose. My hero, St Ronald, understood these things. Bill Clinton was a master of it. They never lost an opportunity to speak out in favor of positions that were not attainable at the moment or in the near future. But their rhetoric put their opponents on the defense and positioned their own sides for action when the opportunity was ripe.

  114. Bruce Smith:

    Steve Berg. Many thanks for your comments. I didn’t intend that you should reply but now that you have I can say that I’m in broad agreement with what you say and would go further in saying I would want to see greater use of referenda using internet voting like the Swiss. The area where I would disagree with you is attitude to government and this has been the basis of all my comments on this FPR article. The volume of comments on this article I believe reflects this difference in attitude with regard to the role of government. It’s not so much the issue of seat belt law that has inflamed so many people more the right of any organization to do so and to intrude in people’s lives in such a comprehensive and intrusive way. I don’t have a problem in acknowledging the idea that the invasiveness may be too much or even wishing to personally see it substantially reduced in some areas but I do have a problem with the idea you could and should throw the baby out with the bathwater. Not only do I think it crazy not to see the usefulness of government I just don’t think it will ever happen because of human nature. I read John Willson’s article several times and two things jumped out at me. Firstly, the New Hampshire license plate slogan “Live Free or Die” reminded me the state was in New England which reminded of Old England and the history of some of my English ancestors. Secondly, John Willson’s statement “Tocqueville noticed in the 1830s that in a democracy, “laws are almost always defective or unreasonable.” With a few exceptions, such has always been true under any form of government.” seemed in relationship to the history of those ancestors and American history also to be completely nonsensical.

    Allow me to explain. If you are going to “Live Free” you need to have the means to flourish. My ancestors were distant great grand-parents with a family of twelve children. My distant great grand-father had what would be considered a fairly good job, he managed a large pottery manufactory. The only problem was pottery manufacturing produced a lot of dust which often resulted in people working there getting lung diseases. My family story was that this distant great grand-father got what my more recent family called a severe form of lung disease, pneumosilicosis, and as a consequence died of it at the young age of thirty six leaving my distant great grand-mother a very small pension to raise a family of twelve. They lived in great poverty as a consequence of this early death and could not really be described as “living free” in any full sense of the term. The history in the nineteenth century of dust related diseases and early deaths in factories and mines was that they came to understand that the dust was the problem and that dust extraction fans and ventilation fans were the solution. The only problem was the owners of the factories and mines fought a long running battle not to spend money on these fans claiming they could ill afford it and their businesses were very delicately balanced and always on the verge of going bankrupt because of the conditions of trade (Much like the Republicans declaring America can’t afford a universal health care system despite the statistics showing that the Republican Party has the worst track record for being spend-thrifts as a government since the ending of the Second World War). Of course, everybody could go and see the luxurious houses the factory and mine owners lived in and could see they were not short of money to spend on their own needs. Anyway there was a great campaign to introduce Factory Laws to change all this. Laws to stop the adulteration of food by businesses had also been passed earlier which had been another big health problem. One of my other ancestors had been a radical MP fighting for this cause amongst others. In the end it was the political suffrage Reform Acts of 1932 and 1867 which finally helped gain the majority for the passing of food and factory laws.

    In the United States it was only through the passing of laws that the country was unified and able to throw off the yoke of English oppression. It was also only through the passing of laws that slavery was abolished and defeated in this country. A declaration that laws are always defective and unreasonable and that with few exceptions this is always true about any form of government shows great historical ignorance, profound disrespect for the efforts of our ancestors and a quixotic disconnection with reality.

    We cannot disassociate the development of the Nanny State from the struggle of the wealthy to hang onto their wealth and to be able to continue to extract further wealth from the majority. The development of social insurance in Germany under Bismark in the nineteenth century was a good example of how the wealthy classes bought off the revolt of the working classes (No coincidence that Karl Marx was German). In the English speaking world I believe that the cementing of the move to the Nanny State occurred in England on January 8th 1909 at a meeting of the Fabian Society the leading intellectual and ideological organization for social reform. At this meeting S. G. Hobson, a distributionist, urged the Fabian Society to withdraw its affiliation with the Labour Party. This was opposed by the influential author George Bernard Shaw. A vote was taken and Hobson’s proposal was defeated. Shortly after in the next decade the Russian Revolution of 1917 took place. This turned out to be a disaster because of Marx and Lenin’s failure to understand that human nature is predicated upon the issue of dominance and that the oppressed always need to be able to make effective use of government to lift the oppression of the minority. In a climate of revolution the 1926 British General Strike took place which it is commonly believed was “betrayed” by the leadership of the Labour Party:-

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1926_United_Kingdom_general_strike

    The “betrayal” was both fortunate and unfortunate. It prevented Communism but produced the Nanny State. Enter Phillip Blond with his diagnosis and this May’s result for their general election where if the Conservatives win there may start to be a reversal of the Nanny State if the Conservatives are willing to use government to facilitate a devolution of wealth to offset the welfare provisioning of the Nanny State. The United States is not immune from having to decide on the same compromise due to the decline in wage value and the enormous rise in personal debt to compensate. The desire of the wealthy elite to accumulate yet more capital/personal wealth by driving down wages is now deflating the American economy after the collapse of the personal debt bubble. The deflation is occurring because so many people can now longer afford to finance debt to fuel the expansion of the economy. Government laws will be required to permanently resolve this issue much the same as they were required to get fans in factories and mines and stop food adulteration in nineteenth century Britain. This opposition to law-making government is I suspect the real reason for the perverse hidden agenda of some of the contributors to FPR. Power is fine as long as it’s monopolized by the extremely wealthy.

  115. D.W. Sabin:

    Smith,
    “perverse hidden agenda of some contributors to FPR”….? Wha? Methinks you are starting to see mere opinions turn into will-o-the-wisps. “Beyond Here Lies Monsters”….BOOO!

    There is just nothing like the ready talents of the more entrenched wings of both Right and Left to create monsters and demons out of anyone doubting conventional piety.

    With humans, conspiracy is usually overkill and generally hoists the conspirators on their own pitard. No, with humans, one can scam them in broad daylight because humans are drawn to scam like moths to the flame.

  116. Bruce Smith:

    Well I guess that puts me, Sancho Panza, in my place yet again bringing up the rear-guard!

  117. Bruce Smith:

    No! No! Today’s Don Quixote award goes to Polistra for her/his comment on Jeremy Beer’s post “Was the Movement Con Mind Ever Opened?”

  118. Bruce Smith:

    Well here we go Neoliberal-Free Capitalism and Public Services:-

    http://www.respublica.org.uk/blog/2010/04/dear-michael-merrick-your-virtue-ethics-neoliberalism-another-form

  119. Bruce Smith:

    Here is my summary of what I think the arguments have been about on this post and why they are more important than just the specific one of whether a government has a right to make a law, or rule, making seat belt wearing mandatory. I believe there is a misguided attempt on FPR to perpetuate through the Localism enthusiasm the ideologies of Neoliberalism and Libertarianism which most thoughtful individuals hold responsible for the Financial Crash because of the deregulation mania and attendant inadequate regulation. John Willson exemplifies this attempt. He pinned his colors to the mast in his post by using the New Hampshire license plate slogan “Live Free or Die”. He then proceeded to tell us that Tocqueville said “laws are almost always defective or unreasonable” and that he, John Willson, agreed with this stating “With a few exceptions, such has always been true under any form of government”. I have argued against this attitude of painting the use of government as being the main source of our problems. I have attempted to make clear that whilst I strongly support a dispersal of power away from government to bodies making good use of associational democracy for the delivery of public sector goods and services human beings will still spontaneously create rule, or law, making bodies because they often need their support to resolve inter-personal and inter-group conflict and in many cases also have a need for uniform application of rules.

    In support of this reasoning that there is a spontaneous need for rule making bodies I have used some of the arguments Christopher Boehm makes in his book “The Hierarchy of the Forest”. Amongst the most important ones are that human nature is naturally hierarchical but not necessarily in the sense that it is usually conventionally conceived. He argues that a drive for egalitarianism is a natural instinct in human beings but it is achieved not by attempting to completely remove hierarchy but creating a kind of reverse, or anti, hierarchy of the rank-and-file that jealously guards its rights not to be unduly dominated by domineering individuals or factions. The rank-and-file will use what ever means they can make use of to do this and the least physically aggressive but effective proxy means that has evolved is to use governing bodies to make the anti-hierarchical rules. Initially when societies were small it was possible to do this satisfactorily on a participative democracy basis. As population numbers increased the work-around became representative democracy which has been misused through corruption of government by the rich, unfair wealth distribution leading to state sponsored and delivered ameliorative welfare services which in turn have lead to Agency Theory problems with bureaucrats and politicians. These are not grounds, however, for pretending that governing bodies are useless, or the rules they make are always useless, or that somehow under Libertarianism these bodies will substantially wither away like the Communist ideological prediction, they are grounds for reform and for the development of fresh work-arounds that will diffuse power more effectively to maintain the anti-hierarchical checks and balances we know we need because of our innate hierarchical tendencies. In simple terms we use governing bodies to self-regulate ourselves and always will do. The onus is on the Neo-liberals and the Libertarians to provide a convincing account of how their ideology will work using Localism without these governing bodies.

  120. Wessexman:

    ““perverse hidden agenda of some contributors to FPR”….? Wha? Methinks you are starting to see mere opinions turn into will-o-the-wisps. “Beyond Here Lies Monsters”….BOOO!”

    Sabin obviously his rhetoric is a bit off but I think Bruce is simply recognising the Porcher, and general decentralist right, division between those close to libertarianism and individualism, whether of the Rand, Friedman and Austrian variety or the more transcendentalist variety, and the more traditionalist, communitarian and distributist sections. There is a cleavage or gap between these factions. The possible implications of talking indiscriminately about control freaks is not missed on one such as myself who believes in an established church, a certain link between religion and politics and who holds a general “conservative-pluralist” idea of society and social authority.

  121. Bruce Smith:

    You are absolutely right Wessexman. The point I have been struggling very hard to get over is that the cleavage is based on a failure to understand human nature. Nobody can now stop the traction from Christopher Boehm’s turning point insight that human nature is both egalitarian and hierarchical. Suspending prior conviction and taking the time to think through the political and economic implications of this innocuous and obvious sounding insight will eventually prompt the realization that the ideologies of Neoliberalism and Libertarianism actually stand as obstructions to human progress and the ideas of distributism and balanced governance using the principles of associative democracy and subsidiarity do not.

  122. Bruce Smith:

    To further illustrate Christopher Boehm’s Human Nature thesis I would point out that Phillip Blond’s Rousseauian Liberal Individualism derives directly from the Hierarchical (dominating or domineering) aspect of our human nature. Within Rousseau’s Social Contract each individual is sovereign and is, therefore, entitled to refuse the dictates of another and the morality of doing so accordingly becomes relative. Here is Phillip Blond explaining this and the implications in more fast paced detail but splendid form:-

    http://www.respublica.org.uk/videos/watch-phillip-blond-speaks-about-red-tory-rsa

  123. John Willson:

    Hey Folks,
    I’m back home now on Tax Day, another famous pean to liberty, and have just caught up with all the very interesting comments that accumulated during my computerless days. My wife and I slept in five different beds in seven days (at hotels, with families) and wore seat belts on every segment of the drive, except when my cousin in the hills of western Pennsylvania said, “Nah, you don’t have to wear that damn thing around here.”
    It’s still not clear to me that the “original intent” of my post was grasped by more than a few. Most of our (so-called) founders understood that society is antecedent to politics–although the real federalists, name-called “anti-federalists” by the nationalists–understood it better. The relation of law (instrumental law, as I said before, not the common law or natural law) to society is always a problematic thing, and those who would guard Place. Limits. Liberty. must always be vigilant about that.
    Oh, well, I really enjoyed the many comments.

  124. Roger S.:

    Bruce S. said

    “Suspending prior conviction and taking the time to think through the political and economic implications of this innocuous and obvious sounding insight will eventually prompt the realization that the ideologies of Neoliberalism and Libertarianism actually stand as obstructions to human progress and the ideas of distributism and balanced governance using the principles of associative democracy and subsidiarity do not.”

    I am curious as to what you mean by “human progress.”

  125. David:

    Bruce Smith said:
    “Presumably John you have a report tucked up your sleeve which specifically demolishes the bias of this NHTSA report and it would seem only fair to direct us to it.”

    Unfortunately he appears not to. John Adams on the other hand most definitely has the evidence:
    http://john-adams.co.uk/2009/11/05/seat-belts-another-look-at-the-data/

    In fact it’s one of the major themes of his excellent book “Risk In essence he points out that humans often react to safety measures by behaving in a more risky manner. In the case of seatbelt laws the evidence is that they had no effect on total mortality have led to more deaths for pedestrians and cyclists.

    Johm Willson said:
    “there is no more evidence that seat belt laws are in themselves responsible for greater safety than there is that “global warming” is man-made and therefore requires drastic and unenforceable legislation.”

    Anthropogenic global warming is as solidly scientifically demonstrated as you can get. I hardly need to link to the IPCC, possibly the greatest collaboration of scientists the world has known. As John Adams demonstrates quite the opposite applies to seatbelt laws.

  126. John Gorentz:

    “Anthropogenic global warming is as solidly scientifically demonstrated as you can get.”

    As solidly as you can get? It has a pretty good scientific basis — good enough for me, anyway — but it’s not as good as you can get. There are a lot of phenomena that have a more solid scientific explanation than that one.

  127. john Willson:

    David,
    You are a hoot! I watch TV commercials every day that are more convincing than “the greatest collaberation of scientists the world has known.” They usually say something like “I trust my heart to Lipitor,” or “ask your doctor.” Have you ever asked yourself why the earth warmed up in the middle ages, or cooled down just in time for Puritans to survive in the 1630s? Was it cows farting or not farting, and why have we had “scientific consensus” tell us in the 1970s that a new ice age was about to arrive? I think you should put great faith in seat belts. The “data” you present is foolish, and you should read it again. Or do you just get mesmerized by charts and grafts? If you read my original post, I said that I do indeed, most of the time, buckle up. But can you explain why New Hampshire has a very low death-by-automobile statistic, since you seem to like statistics so much? Or do you just want to make laws that force me to behave the way you behave? I am the least libertarian guy you would ever want to find, but you guys that make laws based on specious “statistics” brings out the anarchist in me.

  128. John Médaille:

    John W., You repeat something that is widely reported, namely that in the 70′s, there was a “scientific consensus” about global cooling. Alas, like many things reported in the press and the blogosphere, that isn’t true. A survey of the scientific literature of the time reveals just the opposite, a growing concern about warming. What you will find is a Time magazine article on global cooling reporting such a consensus.

    Like many things in Time, it turned out to be false.

  129. john Willson:

    As usual, you don’t address the issue, but report a Time magazine crappola. in fact, there was a very wide “consensus” about global cooling in the 70s, and your assertion to the contrary is not credible. What do you want to report to the FPR? Is it that my argument about bad law is wrong because you think that global warming and Al Gore are sainted? As I remember it, the post was about seat belts.

  130. John Gorentz:

    I was around in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and I remember the conservative press making fun of the global cooling hysteria. Dunno about any consensus, though.

  131. Mark Perkins:

    There was wide speculation about cooling but the consensus was global warming even then.

    http://www.usatoday.com/weather/climate/globalwarming/2008-02-20-global-cooling_N.htm

  132. John Médaille:

    John W., it may surprise you to learn that merely insisting on a thing doesn’t make it so, even if the insistence is surrounded by childish insults. This is an empirical question, solved by an appeal to the evidence. If there was such a consensus, then the National Academy of Science knew nothing about it, and said so. The articles that did talk about cooling were about 10 and 20,000 years cycles based on Earth orbits, not about imminent glaciation. If you have evidence to the contrary, I am open to hearing it. Otherwise, mere assertion is not persuasive, at least not to me.

    And John, you brought up global warming, not me.

  133. John Gorentz:

    Mark,

    The article says the score in the scientific literature was 7 to 20 to 44. I hope you don’t call that a consensus. The article itself is careful not to.

  134. john Willson:

    John M,
    Give me a break. The post was not about warming, global or otherwise. You know that, but want to make this an issue that you can control. Deal with seat belts, please, and don’t give me any more nonsense about who is “childish.” By the way, if you want to resort to name calling, this is the last, the very last, time that I will respond.

  135. John Médaille:

    Let’s see, You start talking about global warming, and object when others respond. You hurl insults, and complain that others engage in name calling. Asked for evidence for your preposterous claims, you say “give me a break.” As for your threat to cease responding, it is an empty threat, given that you respond mainly with petulance.

  136. Mark Perkins:

    John G.,

    You are probably correct. Over 50% does not mean a consensus, but, at the very least, there does not appear to have been anything close to a global cooling consensus. Some interest in the possibility, certainly.

  137. john Willson:

    Gosh, John M, you are just devastating. I submit to your subtle rhetoric and pleasing personality. It would be nice, however, if sometime you could speak to the topic. By the way, do you have a place, or limits, or liberty? Or just ideology?

  138. John Médaille:

    Well, I’m sure there’s an LJAA in here somewhere, but before we start the nominating speeches, could you explain to me why it is “on point” for you to bring up global warming, and “off point” for any one to respond? I missed that part.

  139. john Willson:

    Yes, you did.

  140. david:

    John,

    “Or do you just want to make laws that force me to behave the way you behave?”

    Directly the contrary. You have not understood what I said nor the references. I am opposed to seat belt laws.

    I directed you to John Adams’ work because I think you would find it interesting and because it would support your core argument against seatbelt laws. Bruce suggested you should have a reference to back up your criticism of others’ statistics and I thought I would be helpful to provide it. It demonstrates that the statistical claims of lives saved by seatbelt legislation are false. It is an unfortunate reflection on human nature that in many instances the inaccuracy can only be deliberate, i.e. they are lies.

    Bruce, if you read Adams you’ll realise that’s wrong with the NHTSA study is that it is a reductionist model. It assumes that one can establish the impact of seatbelts by estimating the impact of seatbelts in each collision and summing the results. However, population-level statistical analysis of what has happened in the real world demonstrates that the predicted reductions in deaths simply have not happened. Why don’t seatbelt laws save lives? The phenomenon of risk compensation: the use of seatbelts changes driver behaviour.

    What is most iniquitous is that seatbelt laws result in a transfer of deaths to pedestrians and cyclists.

  141. Marylou:

    Stop Drunk Driving Now’s President and Founder, Ron Bellanti, gives high school students the cold hard facts on drunk driving. Ron is dedicated to helping teenagers realize the consequences of drunk driving and have them make the right decisions as well. Learn more about drunk driving prevention, statistics and how to get your school involved at http://www.stopddnow.com

    Recently, Ron spoke at Londonderry High School in Londonderry, New Hampshire educating students on the perils of drunk driving. Read more on what the Derry News thought of the drunk driving prevention event at http://www.derrynews.com/londonderry/x2073120501/LHS-students-hear-cold-hard-facts

  142. Booker:

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on coercion. Regards

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