Friday, June 2, 2017

Freedom - To Make Bad Choices

You can't have freedom, unless you have the freedom to make bad choices.

In recent years, many on the far-right have decried what they see as the "Nanny State" - the idea that the government is telling them what to do, or at least incentivizing them or punishing them through laws and tax deductions and credits.   Michelle Obama says "eat right and exercise more!" and people shout this down, saying, "Don't tell me what to do or eat!"

But of course, she isn't telling anyone what to do, just making suggestions.  But apparently even making suggestions these days - on the Left or Right - is considered tyranny.   I am certain my last two postings, for example, will be met with howls of protest from the Left for "blaming poverty on the poor" when in fact, all I am saying is, you can't unpoor the poor unless they change their minds about things.

And we can't force people to change their minds, so there will always be poor people with us - as Jesus said.  In fact, forcing people to change their minds is indeed tyranny.   If you are to live in a free society, you have to allow people the freedom to make really stupid decisions and the freedom to fail, utterly.   That is the definition of freedom.

For example, I know a number of people (myself included) who make bad lifestyle choices.   My Mother, for example, chain-smoked True cigarettes for 40 years of her life.   She also subsisted, for the last 20 years of her life, on a diet of cheap white wine and vanilla ice cream, and rarely left the bed or her recliner.  It isn't hard to figure out what a diet like that will do to you.  She had emphysema and congestive heart failure and died at age 72. She also chose not to treat these conditions, but instead stayed home, and eventually got into home hospice care.  These were the choices of a well-educated adult woman.

Now, in a Communist Country, your body is property of the State, and the State needs healthy workers to run the machinery and farm the fields.  Abusing your body is a crime against the State - although I guess that was never really enforced in places like Russia, where drinking Vodka and chain-smoking was a way of life.  But in theory, that's how Communism is supposed to work.  You don't have choices in life, and you can't make shitty choices as a result.

And shitty choices abound these days.   I have pointed out before that gambling is a really, really bad idea.  And I am "against" it, in that I don't think it is a solution to economic problems (it does not create jobs, it just dissipates wealth) nor is it a wise personal choice.   However, I realize that attempts to make gambling illegal (which it was, nationwide, for the first 18 years of my life, other than in Nevada) merely drives it underground.

Make no mistake, it is a horrific life choice.  People gamble away their life savings, their children's college fund.   It ruins marriages and families and can utterly wreck human beings.   But if we are to have freedom, you have to have freedom to choose.  Otherwise, you really don't have freedom, you have people living their lives according to proscribed rules.

Of course, that is the key question - which rules do we decide are important enough to make into laws?  Should a drug be legal, or is it dangerous enough to the mind that it will ensnare enough people and ruin their lives?   If enough lives are shattered, doesn't that harm the country as a whole?  And of course, does the "rights" or freedoms of one person intersect the freedoms of another?

Since we are not an utterly heartless country (despite what you read in the comments section on YouTube or Reddit) we provide health care and welfare for those who have ruined their lives through poor decision making.  In recent years, however, we decided that maybe smokers should help pay for the damage they cause to themselves and by extension society at large by taxing the shit out of cigarettes.   When you get lung cancer or emphysema and end up on medicaid, your "right" to smoke has intersected with my "right" to keep my money in my own pocket and not pay for your indigent care.

It is the same argument made with regard to helmet laws - whether you agree with that argument or not.  A guy with a massive head injury, usually uninsured, is a huge burden to society.   Shouldn't he be "forced" to wear a helmet?   An interesting argument, and now that medical care is covered by government-subsidized plans, does this change the argument at all?

What got me thinking about this was in my last two posts, we talked about the poverty mindset and how hard it is to change this.  You can't force people to think differently than they do.  You can't create investors out of consumers without changing how they think about things in life.  You can't force the guy in the trailer to give up his lite beer and sip Chardonnay instead.  That's not freedom.

For example, in a recent Reuters piece, an author examines the idea that some folks believe that debt will outlast their lives.  According to a survey by Northwestern Mutual Life, 14% of Americans believe that debt is a life-long condition.   They profile one lady who is my age (57) and has $20,000 of student loan debt she cannot seem to pay off.   She joked the loan would still be there when she died.

This is an attitude, not a condition.   I am just guessing here, but I'll bet she has a smart phone and a cable plan.   And likely a car that cost more than $20,000.   $20,000 is not a lot of money in a country where the average new car now costs over $34,000She has a good-paying job according to the article.   If you put your mind to it, cut back on spending, make sacrifices in life, you can pay off this amount of money in a few years.

But that requires making different choices, and as the article illustrates, a lot of people prefer to make the minimum payments and then spend more on their personal lifestyle.  I did that at one time, too.  It was a lousy choice and no one coached me to do otherwise.

So while it puzzles me that a guy would live in a trailer home surrounded by crap in his yard, this does represent "freedom" in this country - freedom to make what I perceive to be a bad choice in life (he no doubt thinks otherwise!).    We could force people to make different choices, but it likely would be nearly impossible to enforce, and moreover, would negate the concept of freedom - freedom to fail, freedom to make crappy choices, freedom to be stupid, in fact.

What I think browns-off a lot of people is that the same people who say they want freedom to make bad choices often are the same ones who decry the welfare state and yet, when their bad choices catch up with them, are the first in line to collect government assistance.   You see the irony here.   But then again, being poor and voting for Donald Trump is part of that freedom package.

So I guess this is why I am not one of those on the left who wrings their hands and "feels sorry" for "those less fortunate than ourselves".   They have the freedom to choose, and if we subsidize bad choices, not only are we making a foolish move (by encouraging bad choices) we are, in a way, negating freedom.

You can't have freedom to win, unless you have freedom to lose.