Friday, April 3, 2009

Political Legacies and Freedom

Politicians love to create legacies. Eleanor Tinsley was Houston's queen nannie. Kathy Whitmire was Houston's first female mayor. Bill White has been Houston's greenest mayor. Peter Brown wants to be Houston's planning mayor. Annise Parker wants to be Houston's first mayor named named after an herb.

Invariably, the legacies created by politicians involve an expansion of government power and controls. Tinsely for example, is remembered for her "quality of life" issues--restrictions on signs and indoor smoking. White will likely be remembered for pushing through green building codes. Politicians cater to special interest groups for political support, and as payback they push the agenda of that group.

What is interesting and revealing is that politicians almost universally ignore the largest "group"--the individual. While the green bloc, or the nannie bloc, or the pro-herb bloc may be large, each necessarily excludes many voters. For example, the green bloc excludes those who advocate unbridled pollution; the pro-herb bloc alienates those who prefer bland food.

I will admit to a tiny bit of sarcasm in the preceding paragraph. But the essential point is valid--politicians cater to groups, each of which has a narrow interest. To build sufficient political support, a politician must appeal to many different groups, and often these groups have competing interests.

Rational individuals however, do not have competing interests. All rational individuals have the same fundamental interest, whether they know it or not--individual liberty. The freedom to act according to one's own judgment, free from interference and coercion is an interest shared by all rational individuals. Those who do not share this interest are either criminals or statists (which is criminality on a much larger, albeit legalized, scale).

In general, I regard political legacies as second-handed--they are focused on the opinions and evaluations of others. Such politicians derive their self-worth from the accolades and praise of those they serve. But there is an exception. Those who advocate individual liberty, and its moral foundation of rational egoism, are not concerned with the opinions or praise of others. They advocate for freedom because it serves their own personal interests. In fact, freedom is the only social condition in which they can pursue their personal interests.

I believe that most individuals want to be left alone by government. They do not want to be told what kind of car to drive, or what kind of beverages to consume, or how many Big Macs they can eat, or how much insulation to put in their attic. Most individuals simply want to be free to pursue their values. Yet they often find themselves sucked into some political cause that seems to be motivated by benevolence and good intentions, and in the process, advocating policies that limit individual freedom. If a politician truly wished to establish a legacy, it should be as an advocate of individual rights, including property rights.

In "The Monument Builders", Ayn Rand writes:
No human rights can exist without property rights. Since material goods are produced by the mind and effort of individual men, and are needed to sustain their lives, if the producer does not own the result of his effort, he does not own his life. To deny property rights means to turn men into property owned by the state. Whoever claims the 'right' to 'redistribute' the wealth produced by others is claiming the 'right' to treat human beings as chattel.

The legacy builders do not hesitate to trample on the rights of individuals. They will tell you that you cannot erect a sign on your property, or you cannot allow smoking in your restaurant, or you must install low-E glass. They will force you to act against your judgment and in defiance of your values. No matter the cause, no matter what irrational argument they use, their legacy is built upon the premise that might makes right. Their legacy is built on the premise that you may not live your life for your own personal happiness, but for the "general welfare".

I disagree. So did Thomas Jefferson and the Founding Fathers:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

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