Half Full?

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Over at Spiked is an article that does something very odd (in a good way) by modern standards: It finds fault with a political debate for failing to address the concept of rights.

[D]ebating the effectiveness of such measures is really beside the point. What has received far too little discussion is whether it is morally and politically acceptable to have our choices manipulated on the basis that Government Knows Best. The report only briefly touches on this, acknowledging that "in some circumstances, changing behaviour will be considered controversial," and adding later: "As a general point, we accept that regulatory interventions which restrict choice may be judged more acceptable if there is good evidence that they will be effective in tackling an urgent issue which is having significant detrimental effects on the population." [minor format edits]
Rob Lyons closes by lamenting that:
It is a testament to the low horizons of modern politics that the hottest idea around is changing our behaviour. It is alarming to note that the only discussion considered worth having is not about our rights or autonomy but about how successfully we can be manipulated.
It is good to see the concept of rights being brought into this discussion, but as laudable as this is, the first thing a fan of the welfare state will do is point out all the things the government is doing "for" us. (Such an individual will likely not distinguish between legitimate tasks of government (e.g., police) that needn't be financed via taxation; and illegitimate redistribution schemes that, by nature, must be financed by some kind of looting.) Indeed, many people who simply haven't considered the issue before will come up with that objection.

To make a truly convincing case that the government has no right to dictate how we live, one must at least mention that it also has no right to take money from anyone, and that this means that none of us has the right to loot given to us by the government. Otherwise, this mention of rights and autonomy too easily (and reasonably) looks like a mere attempt to have one's cake and eat it, too.

-- CAV

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