Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Paternalism and Compromisers

Apparently, the Texas Legislature thinks that Texans are nothing more than little children who need the paternalistic strong arm of government to dictate their actions. A law that will take effect on September 1 allows the police to arrest anyone who refuses to evacuate when ordered to do so.

As it stands, officials cannot compel people to evacuate, only warn that those who stay behind won't have any emergency services at their disposal.

The Corpus Christi Caller-Times reports the new law gives county judges and mayors the power to authorize use of “reasonable force”.

And just what is reasonable about jailing people because they refuse to leave their home? It may be silly--perhaps even suicidal--to stay in one's home during a hurricane, but individuals have a right to make such a choice.

Advocates of the law would argue that such individuals invariably need to be rescued, which puts the rescuers in danger. The solution to this is quite simple--don't rescue the fools who stay in their home and become trapped. If they want the freedom to make such decisions, which they have a moral right to do, then they should be held accountable for those decisions.

This is another example of the actions of a few being used to justify the wholesale violation of the rights of all Texans. Rather than hold individuals responsible for their actions, the state legislature simply outlaws the offending action.

Such hostility to personal liberty is hardly limited to hurricanes and evacuation orders. According to the Chronicle, the legislature has also outlawed hand-held cell phones in "active" school zones across the state. Telephone companies, who had fought an ordinance in West University that bans all cell phone use in school zones, supported the new law:

Kerry Hibbs, an Austin-based spokesman for AT&T, said in the wake of the West U. debacle that the company opposed only the “hands-free” portion of the ban on cell phone use in school zones, and was in the early stages of working on a statewide law prohibiting handheld conversations in school zones.

It is of course, so much easier to toss aside the rights of one's customers than it is to stand on principle. To stand on principle would require that one actually hold principles, as well as possess a spine. Having suffered an embarrassing defeat when West U passed their ban, AT&T would prefer to compromise and influence the drafting of legislation, rather than oppose it.

This is the same type of appeasing, range of the moment thinking that has doomed Houston's sign industry since the 1980s. The industry began by protesting restrictions on outdoor signs, then only opposed those that "went too far", and today finds itself about to be driven out of business.

The sign industry thought that it could compromise in regard to its own rights, and now has few of those rights remaining. AT&T thinks that it can compromise in regard to its customers rights in the mistaken belief that it will somehow protect its own interests. It may be right--for today. But the violation of the rights of anyone are ultimately an attack on the rights of everyone. Sadly, that is a lesson that few businesses have learned.

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