There Oughta be a Law...
Anyone who doesn't see the guns behind government has never tried disobeying a law.
Indeed. That's Brian Doherty of Reason Magazine writing in the LATimes in response to a kind but subtle smear of libertarianism by former New Republic writer Michael Kinsley.
I'm generally with Virginia Postrel when she implies that Reason is these days too concerned with being hip to give libertarianism a serious face. But when they get it right, they get it right - and this LATimes article is ... right. If libertarianism has one indisputably useful thing to offer mainstream political discourse, it's this: that every law you pass is a restriction of someone's freedom, and before you jump on the bandwagon you really need to ask yourself if it's worth putting someone in jail over it. Because invariably, that's what laws mean. Sure, you can comfort yourself by "only" slapping fines on something - but if a person refuses to pay the fine?
No, the inescapable fact is that there are always guns behind government power. I blogged yesterday about this in regard to Mitt Romney. There is a video on YouTube where a medical marijuana "patient" (probably not really, but that hardly invalidates the question) corners Romney and asks him whether he would put him and his doctor in jail for using medical marijuana. Romney, coward that he is, walks away and ignores it. But the truth is this is something that every Drug Warrior needs to ask himself. Is marijuana - recreational or otherwise - really so dangerous to the general public that you think people should go to pound-me-in-the-ass prison over it? People should be separated from their families, companies should lose productive employees, shops should lose valuable customers, the government should lose tax revenue and instead incur a cost, a person should be locked in a cage with other, more violent offenders, children should lose parents and become wards of the state, people with promising careers ahead of them should forever be consigned to the underclass... Is marijuana really so dangerous to "the public" that you can justify all of this? And ditto for every other law. Because every law you support comes with precisely this price tag associated. Mitt Romney should not have been allowed to dodge this question. Reporters should be hounding him with it in every press conference until he looks the camera straight in the eye and admits that this is indeed what he supports. Ron Paul, for his part, could spend more time at the debates asking questions like this rather than banging on about Muslims' feelings, actually. Because what's good for the Romney the goose is at least as good for ganders Huckabee and Giuliani. And of course no Dems off the hook here. Least of all the Dems, actually - because that is the party whose supporters indulge the vanity that they are the party of individual liberty. If that's the case, why does Hillary Clinton want to put people in jail for making video games she doesn't like? Why does Barack Obama want to put people in jail for owning guns that don't meet his cosmetic specifications?
If libertarianism has one valuable thing to contribute to public political discourse, this is it. Reminding people that all their feel-good measures come with a real social cost, and that they need to be more careful about when they say "there oughta be a law..."