Thursday, July 8, 2010

From Pancakes to Nightmares

With Congress proposing a seemingly endless litany of inane bills, it is no surprise that many get little public attention. Fortunately, we have that bastion of investigative reporting, The Onion, to inform us of HR323, known as the IHOPs Should Stay Open All Night So We Can Get Some Pancakes Act. In addition to mandating the operating hours of IHOPs, the bill would also allocate $2 million to study whether pancake batter is the same as waffle batter.

In a blatant display of political power, the bill's sponsors have made it clear that the purpose is to fulfill their own whims. They want to be able to eat pancakes at any hour of their choosing, and the judgment of others is to molded by force to satisfy that desire. This of course, is nothing new.

Houston politicians for example, want to make the city "greener." So they have mandated that citizens use biodegradable leaf bags, tightened the building code, used stolen money to caulk the windows of the elderly, and numerous other "eco-friendly" activities. They want to "protect" neighborhoods, so they erected arbitrary barriers to the construction of the Ashby High Rise and want to strengthen the preservation ordinance. They don't like the "visual blight" of billboards and "attention-getting devices" so they have engaged in a decades long war to rid the city of the former and simply banned the latter.

And the atrocities are not limited to Houston. In Washington, politicians force mortgage companies to make loans to people that the lenders do not believe can repay the loans, and then those same politicians blame those same mortgage companies when those same lenders do not repay the loans. In Washington, politicians have long shackled doctors and insurance companies with mountains of regulations, and then blame those same doctors and insurance companies when they must charge for the time and resources required to meet Washington's mandates.

Similarly with the IHOPs Should Stay Open All Night So We Can Get Some Pancakes Act. IHOP will have to raise its prices and then the company will be blamed for making pancakes unaffordable for the middle class. And the Washington, in its infinite wisdom, will enact some kind of pancake price controls.

You may laugh at The Onion's satire and believe that it is absurd to force IHOP to stay open all night. But if you accept the principle that government may force the citizenry to act contrary to their own voluntary judgment, it is precisely the kind of absurdity that will, and has, become a reality.

One man's absurdity is another man's "public interest." What one man regards as vital to the "common good" another may regard as absurd. When men are free to act on their own judgment, they can pursue ideas that others deem absurd, but they may not compel others to support or act on those ideas. Freedom--the absence of coercion--sanctions each individual's moral right to act according to his own judgment, so long as he respects the mutual rights of others.

However, when the power of government can be used to coerce individuals to act contrary to their own judgment, some are forced to act in support of ideas they consider wrong, evil, absurd, or all three. The result is far worse than the fictional absurdity of HR 323; it makes life--here in the real world--a nightmare for those whose lives are destroyed in the process.

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