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Responsibility and Freedom go hand in hand

Posted by Chance on May 4, 2006

I have for a long time believed that freedom and responsibility go hand in hand. Examples are evident in everyday life, especially in the transition from childhood to adulthood. When you are a kid, people tell you what to eat, when to go to bed, what you do with your time… but you also have no responsibility. You have someone to feed you, buy you clothes, and as you grow up into a teenager, you take on more responsibility, and with that, more freedom. You have a car you can drive around, but this is an age where most have to get a job to support their time hanging out with friends. Finally, as an adult, you can spoil your appetite with cookies, you have your own place, and you can stay out as late as you want. However, you have to pay that rent or mortgage, and get up every day for that job to pay your rent or mortgage. Now, I am just referring to responsibility for oneself, when you take care of children, you have all the responsibility, and no freedom.

I have been trying to find a corollary on the national level. The government has taken more responsibility in feeding us, helping us save for retirement, educating us, etc… Now, I believe with this responsibility being shifted from our shoulders to that of the government, somewhere, there is a payoff in terms of personal freedoms. To be honest, however, I always had problems finding what that was.

The obvious thing is increased taxes. We take less of our money home. However, I have issues equating keeping more of our take home money directly with freedom. For one, saying that keeping our money is a right is a debatable statement, simply because we all have our own idea of what a fair amount is to give in taxes. Only those who believe “all taxation is theft” have a concrete line in the sand, but I disagree with this concept, simply because Christ and Paul affirm the right of a government to collect taxes, and by issues of practicality. The point is, how much we are taxed and what it is used for is so open to debate among people, that using the idea of less taxes as freedom is not always effective. Secondly, when I think of freedom, I typically think of liberty in choosing our own behavior and path for our life. Now, I am not saying that taxes are not a freedom issue, its just that I believe that when we give up our responsibility, we sacrifice freedom in the broader sense, not just in less take-home pay.

However, of late, I have found the payoff. When government foots the bill, they have more of an interest in our behaviors. Once simple example is helmet laws for motorcycles. This links to a news story in which politicians justify having a helmet law, since the state of Tennessee pays the medical bills of many of those injured. In the link, Glen Dean asks

Isn’t it convenient the way government justifies taking away your liberty? Can you not connect the dots here folks? Are you not able to see how a government’s policies of taxing and spending ultimately makes you less free?

Another example is fast food taxes or food restrictions, in which the government bribes us or penalizes us to eat healthy. After all, if they are paying our Medicare or Medicaid, don’t they have an interest in reducing those bills by making sure we eat right. Walter Williams discusses the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) and how they justify their actions:

CSPI has long called for excise taxes on fatty foods, cars and TV sets. Their justification is that obesity adds to Medicare and Medicaid health costs. They want some of the tax revenue used to fund exercise facilities and government fitness campaigns.

Now, some may be okay with passing seat-belt or helmet laws for people’s personal safety. But this is a slippery slope. Some of us are even fine with passing anti-smoking legislation, but then it gets into fast food and TV watching, and it makes us less comfortable. It can also get into the safety of our own home (John Stossel had a piece on 20/20 about regulations in at-home offices).

So there you have it. As we pass the responsibilities for the choices we make onto government, our personal freedoms go as well. Now, many may ask, “Is the freedom to eat all the fast food we want and ride a motorcycle without a helmet really freedoms we want?” That goes along with freedom. Freedom includes the ability to make bad choices, as well as good ones.

Now, you do not have to believe in the abolition of welfare alogether, and that is not even what I am proposing, I am just pointing out that as the welfare state grows, our liberties shrink. The idea that when one loses responsibility, they lose freedoms, is a truism that cannot be denied.


One Response to “Responsibility and Freedom go hand in hand”

  1. The Prophet said

    Good Post.

    My biggest problem with taxation is on cigarettes. I don’t smoke, but it seems like Gov’t officials seem to use the excuse “What’s another dollar to adults who smoke, if it means kids can’t afford them?” The classic example of government making decisions for other people.

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