M.S. at the Economist’s Democracy in America blog writes about the relationship between government regulations and personal liberty. Here’s the crux of it:
But there’s another reason why I can let my daughter swim in the Amstel, and that is that I’m pretty sure that in a well-regulated country like the Netherlands, the water is reasonably free of heavy pollutants and raw sewage. (I would not, for example, let her swim in the Mekong.) This, I think, outlines a useful distinction between different kinds of regulation. I am perfectly capable of assessing for myself the risks of swimming across a small pond in Massachusetts, or the risks of swimming in the Amstel when lots of boat traffic is around. I don’t need regulations to protect me; I have common sense. What I can’t assess for myself is the risk that the water is contaminated by raw sewage. For that, I need a regulatory agency that stops households and businesses from polluting the river. To generalise: for risks I can assess myself, I don’t want regulations that prevent me from doing as I please just because I might end up suing the government. For risks I can’t assess myself, I do want regulations that give me the confidence to do as I please. One kind of regulation stops me from swimming in a pond in Massachusetts. The other kind lets me swim in a river in the Netherlands. One kind of regulation makes me less free. The other kind makes me freer.
I think that’s a great and not completely obvious point.