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Personal Freedom vs. Society

I welcome international readers to my first post in English. For the time being, I will translate recent posts that I deem most interesting for an international readership.

Personal Freedom vs. Society

This is the classic, unsolvable conflict within liberalism. By liberalism I do not only mean the current left-wing type, but also the classic liberalism that has evolved into libertarianism, as Americans like to call it. When does my freedom infringe on the freedom of other people? Basically, the main purpose of governments is to answer this question with laws. Do I have to get a vaccination in order not to infect other people and thereby infringe on their freedoms? Or do I value my own freedom so high that I do not allow anyone for whatever reason to violate my right to physical integrity. Contrary to many European states, there are mandatory vaccinations in the USA, e.g. against childhood diseases, and now against the Swine Flu. This is surprising, as it is the US rather than Europe, where people tend to fight against powerful governments. Most states in the world are rather passive when it comes to vaccination, which is a shame as this is probably one of the few examples where governments can do something good to society by making something mandatory for all.

Instead, governments are making absolutely unnecessary things mandatory. The state of New Hampshire is probably the only developed country in the world that has no seat belt law. And it is right in doing so. If you drive unbelted, you will only put your own life at risk, not the lifes of other people. So there is no infringement on the freedom of other people. Then why do we need to have seat belt laws? In many US states, motorcycle riders are not required to wear helmets. Meanwhile, the introduction of a requirement to wear helmets even for bicycle riders is a serious political issue in Germany, although it is only your life that put at risk if you decided to ride without a helmet. Grown-ups should be responsible for their own actions, and parents are responsible for watching their children. So what has the government to do with this? Yeah, nothing.

But it gets even more serious than that. Mandatory health check-ups and laws for how fat you ought to be and what you should eat are the newest trend in socialist countries like Germany or Great Britain. All this happens for the sake of keeping costs down, there is no real lawful reasoning behind it. Japan shows us the future of the nanny state. Again, there are no infringements on other peoples’ freedom happening. Still, the proponents of the War On Fat will claim that this is fair because unhealthy people push up costs for the others on health insurance. This reasoning is simply bullshit. If we had purely private health insurances, people who live an unhealthy life would be offered lower premiums if they changed their behaviour. So the costs would be borne by the ones who cause them, not by others. So it is the failure of the current half-state-run system that leads to such bad laws.

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2 comments on “Personal Freedom vs. Society

  1. Wie geht’s!

    One comedian once suggested that instead of an airbag, cars should come with a sharp metal spike on the steering wheel. No one would ever follow too closely or speed again!

    I understand and sympathize with your libertarian arguments against seat belts and motorcycle helmets. For the former, you do endanger only yourself, but your mandated insurance company bears higher risk. If they could refuse or reduce liability payments for not wearing a seat belt, repealing the law would probably work well. As for helmets, motorcycle riders can (and do) get hit in the head with rocks, tire treads, road debris, and insects which can cause an accident which can harm others.

    You raise an interesting point regarding bicycle helmets. There might be value in making children ride with helmets because they do not possess the ability to make rational choices. Deaths from head injuries are much more likely without a helmet. If we wish to contain medical costs, there might be some value in mandating some minor protective equipment for hazardous activities. You can claim they infringe liberty and I agree, but the infringement is minor and the benefits large.

    What about weight loss programs? Hmmm. I know a lot of people who wouldn’t do it unless forced. Obesity is probably the leading factor in most American deaths which cost everyone.

    Macht’s gut! Tschuss!

    • It is true that there might be benefits as a result of such regulation. But these benefits are mostly very small. For instance, by how much might insurance premiums go up for everybody if we were to abolish seat belt laws? A couple of bucks surely, but is it necessary to regulate everything in life just to save small amounts of money? It is this Keynesian attitude of having to finetune everything in society/economy that will ultimately destroy our freedoms.

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