Strong opinions, weakly held

Government regulations and freedom

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.

1 Comment

  1. Excellent point, this sort of precision regarding the meaning of highly charged terms like “regulation” is much needed. Thanks

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