Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Rights and Responsibilities

I was listening to the radio this morning on my commute to work and the Libertarian candidate for Mayor of Cincinnati was arguing for the legalization of drugs.

It brought to mind an earlier post I had written about the line between the subject of rights and freedoms on the one hand and responsibilities, costs and consequences on the other.

Let me state at the outset that I am all for freedom and liberty.  However, I am also a big believer in responsibility.  I think there is a lot to be said in allowing people to have the freedom to do what they want to do.  Let them smoke pot, drop out of high school, ride their motorcycle without a helmet, drink a 40 oz Big Gulp and refuse to buy health insurance if they want to.

Do whatever you want.  Just make sure that your choices don't infringe on my freedoms and my pocketbook.

It is pretty well documented that drugs are not good for you.  Marijauna, which has been legalized in small quantities in a few states, has a long list of negative side effects .  I saw many of these among my college classmates who smoked when I was in college.  Most prominent was the fact that what were once highly-motivated individuals became slacking loafers the more they smoked.  It was sad to see the downhill slide and that was a major reason that I never even tried the drug.

My anecdotal observations from 40 years ago are now borne out by recent research that long-term marijuana users tend to produce less of a chemical in the brain linked to motivation.

Note: I could find no attribution for the image but notice that it is off-balance.  I  wonder why?

It is becoming increasingly difficult for any individual to get a job in the private sector if they can't pass a drug test.  According to the Society for Human Resource Management, 57% of employers require all job candidates to take a pre-employment drug test.  So who supports the pot smoker if they can't get a job because they aren't "motivated" to get a job or they can't pass the drug test if they apply for one?  That is where the libertarian ideal runs into reality.  It is also where the actions of that person exercising their "freedom" starts encroaching on me.

In my earlier post, "Don't Spillover On Me, Don't Tread On Me", I cited this great insight from Steven E. Landsburg who teaches economics at the University of Rochester.

"Things tend to work out best when people have to live with the consequences of their own behavior"

or to put it another way

"Things tend to work out poorly when the consequences of our actions spill over onto other people"

A fundamental problem in our society is that we are good at making sure people get their rights and freedoms but we tend to shy away from holding people responsible for their actions.

If you want to smoke pot and cannot get a job, why should your actions mean that I should pay for your welfare benefits and food stamps?

If you ride a motorcycle without a helmet and you suffer a head injury, why should my health insurance premiums go up to pay for your irresponsibility?

If you don't buy health care insurance, why should the local hospital (and me and others) absorb the cost if you need to go to the emergency room?

Well-functioning societies require a balance of rights and responsibilities. They go hand in hand. You cannot keep handing out rights without also insuring that the requisite responsibilities are also in place.

I am not a fan of Obamacare but the legislation is absolutely not workable without an individual mandate.  You can't provide the right to gain insurance with no pre-exising condition exclusion if there is not the responsibility (and the penalty) to carry health insurance.  As it is, the penalty is much too low to enforce any responsibility (the higher of $95 or 1% of income).

If the Libertarians are really serious about decriminalizing drugs then they should be willing to pair this with tough rules on personal responsibility if that drug usage spills over on everybody else.  This means no welfare benefits,  food stamps or other benefits for those who fail a random drug test.  If you are arrested for driving under the influence you would pay with jail time.

Freedom is not free.  I like the ideals of libertarianism. I just want to hear more about protecting my freedom in the process.  That is something that neither the Democrats or the Republicans have done a very good job at in the past.

Patrick Henry once said 'Give me liberty or give me death!'

All I am saying is that if you give out some liberty how about matching it with a little responsibility as well?

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