Earlier today I posted about a law recently passed here in a suburb of St. Louis, Missouri in which a person caught texting and driving will face maximum penalties of $10,000 in fines and ninety days in prison.
I immediately got into several discussions, both social media and face-to-face, about the merits of my ideas. My theory was that the real problem was Inattentive Driving and that texting while driving was only one example. That by passing a law very specifically aimed at this one kind of Inattentive Driving the municipality was opening itself to some trouble.
The idea is that an officer would be responsible for upholding the law. If a person was texting but the car wasn’t moving; they would be in violation of the law. Also, an officer would be obligated to write a citation for a less-distracted driver texting and not so obligated for a more distracted driver who say, had a wasp fly in the window and land in his lap (I speak from experience).
I argued that a law against Inattentive Drive was broader in reach and would allow law enforcement officers to use their judgment and common sense in handing out citations.
The thrust of most of the arguments against my method were two-fold. One was that of all the events that distract a driver it was texting that was the most likely to cause an accident and therefore the best bang for the buck. The other was that my law against Inattentive Driving left far too much discretion in the hands of the officer of the law. That laws needed to written so that there could be no confusion carrying them out.
In particular the second objection speaks to the very heart of the Libertarian ideal.
It is the bad apple spoils the barrel philosophy, the zero-tolerance philosophy, the mandatory minimum sentencing strategy. The idea is that we cannot trust individuals to make decisions therefore we must pass restrictions narrowly and take power away from the individual. Your daughter was thrown out of school for having a Tylenol? Not my fault, zero-tolerance. You were ticketed for texting while stopped in a traffic jam? Not my fault, just upholding the ordinance. You were given ten years for having a small amount of marijuana? Not my fault, it’s the law.
These kinds of laws are made with the best intentions but largely take us into a Libertarian nightmare. It seems self-evident to me that as we give people less and less responsibility they will be less and less responsible.
I suggest we give people more responsibility and if, and only if, they prove untrustworthy should we take it away. If there’s a bad apple in the barrel, then throw that one apple away. If an officer hands out a ridiculous Inattentive Driving citation using my broad law then bring in the officer for more training. If the officer persists, fire them.
Libertarianism works when people are responsible. People become responsible in one way. By being given responsibility and being held accountable for their actions with that responsibility. If they handle it well they deserve promotions, upwards movement into management where they will train others such responsibility. If they don’t; they will be trained, disciplined, and eventually fired.
The heart of my argument is that by passing Bad Apple laws we are lessening the likelihood for just outcomes by increasing the number of people in the world who do not know how to behave responsibly. I freely admit that passing broad laws opens them to possible misuse. However, I argue that narrow laws designed around the Bad Apple principle eventually result in a far more unjust society.
In the ideal Libertarian world everyone does what is right because doing what is right is in their long-term best interest. You don’t have to tell me that this world will never be. I realize this.
It just seems to me that if we want a more fair world, a more just world, a world wherein people behave responsibly and ethically; the path is not to micromanage people’s lives. It is to give people an understanding of what it takes to succeed and of how ethical behavior benefits all society in the long run.
If you want a strong society then give people responsibility, don’t take it away.
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Ideology
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