Thursday, March 25, 2010

"Freedom Glows"

Randy Barnett (Georgetown) highlights an upcoming event on the National Mall.  I have to say, the "loss of freedom" argument regarding the health care legislation falls a bit flat for me.  That argument holds, I would suppose, for countless laws and  regulations that constrain individual liberty.  I suppose this one is being singled out as particularly egregious. 

In any event, I fully support the planned (peaceful) vigil on the Mall.  It is classic speech, assembly, and petition in a sacred public place (assuming, of course, a permit is issued).  If "the people" want to demonstrate their disapproval of government, this may be a more effective display than the recent disruptive behavior in the House gallery and the communication of threats to legislators.


  1. Sorry, I don't see how you can say that "any law or regulation" can be characterized as a loss of freedom. As an obvious example, criminal laws do not take away our freedoms. Yes, one can make the argument that they take away our "freedom" to hurt others or their property, but I don't think that's what you meant. Other laws may regulate aspects of our lives, but few truly take away our freedoms (in the classical liberal sense).

    I also disagree with your take on the issue of health care legislation. It is a significant loss of freedom in that, for example, we are no longer free to purchase whichever health insurance plan we would like. When I was a student, I had a high-deductible plan (otherwise known as a "catastrophic plan") where I was responsible for annual payments of $5000, after which the insurance would cover me. It was also very cheap - only $32/month. Now, however, I must get insurance that covers me from head to toe and for every single possible ailment. The insurance companies can no longer truly underwrite risk, as the law requires them to differentiate pricing between customers solely on the basis of age and tobacco use (and even those have caveats). I'm 26 years old and have never had a substance abuse or psychological problem, yet I must have coverage against those two possibilities. I'm not a woman, yet I must also be covered for reproductive services. My premium is likely to skyrocket and I can't do anything about it. You don't define that as a loss of freedom?

  2. Fair point. It is true that even criminal laws take away our freedom, but that wasn't my point. I meant to say that it is a fact that many laws constrain individual freedom or liberty. After considering your point, I changed the orginal language of the post.

    Whether one accepts the constraint as legitimate may depend on whose ox is being gored. The right was not too concerned with the freedom that wiretapping might deny some who communicated with foreign sources. And one might argue, with respect to health care, that millions will gain "freedom," while some will have their freedom constrained by regulations enacted for the "greater good." The mantra of "freedom" may be too simplistic to convey a substantive point about what is wrong with the health care legislation. But I cetainly understand its political saliency.

  3. Professor:

    I understood your point, and I think you are correct: any law that regulates our conduct limits our freedom. That's part of the price we pay to live in a society, of course. "Freedom" may be too simplistic a notion to describe the battle over the size and duties of government, but slogans and rallying cries cannot be too long.

    "Remember The Maine"

    "Bread. Land. Peace."

    "Hope and Change"


    Seems like they're getting shorter.