RSS

Freedom Works

December 17, 2012

Economy, Freedom

No Traffic Lights

In the U.S. the boundary of space within which we are free to make our own decisions is shrinking year by year. In daily life we face a bewildering array of restrictions on our behavior. The government now dictates what medications we can purchase, the size of our drink cups, what advertisements we can see, whether we can eat fatty foods, what kind of milk we can drink, under what conditions we can or cannot own a gun, how and who we can marry, how we divorce, what jokes we can tell at work, what kind of medical care we receive, what the interest rate on our mortgage is, what kind of education our children receive, and which legal pleasures such as cigarettes and wine, are to be discouraged through higher taxes. Indeed it is difficult to find a meaningful choice that is not monitored by a bureaucracy and covered by some form of government regulation.

I am not naïve enough to believe that all these restrictions on individual choice have simply been foisted on us by an out-of-control state. I realize that many people feel that it is perfectly appropriate that these activities be regulated by government. The problem remains however, that when government forces people to do what it thinks is right, it prevents them from developing the instinct for learning what is right. Consequently, those who advocate freedom do so not because they side with one sector of society rather than another or because they want to experiment with exotic ways of living; they advocate freedom because it is only when men have the ability to choose wrong, that they can choose right, and so learn to be responsible human beings.

However, it is clear from some of the knee-jerk reactions to the recent Connecticut school shootings that we are not yet ready to welcome freedom with open arms. Furthermore, so many freedoms have been lost, and for so long, that most of us lack the imagination to conceive how things could work any differently. Change on the ground has to be preceded by a change of thinking and to affect that, people need to see how freedom actually works. What’s to be done?

One solution is to work incrementally to reintroduce freedom into our lives and observe how it works in practice. For example, reflect for a moment on what your initial reaction would be to the suggestion that we remove all traffic lights, signs, curbs and lane markings on roads. I think it fair to say that most of us believe  the result would be a chaotic mess at best and an anarchic bloodbath at worst. However, we would be wrong. This is exactly the experiment that has been carried out since 1999 in the city of Drachten, in the Netherlands. The experiment is counter-intuitive and contradicts virtually all conventional thinking about traffic engineering. However, it has also been a stunning success.

Before the invention of traffic lights there was a mutual give-and-take between pedestrians, carts, motor vehicles and bicycles. However, with the invention of the traffic light, the independent responsible judgment of motorists and pedestrians was replaced with a top-down engineered scheme of coordination. When the traffic light was removed it was as if these groups had suddenly been given a larger sphere of activity where they could exercise individual responsibility. Immediately everyone was forced to be more alert and to exercise a higher degree of common sense. The success of this experiment has led to a wave of ‘red light removal’ schemes across Europe and the United States. Freedom works. Let’s try it.

_______________________

“It works well because it is dangerous, which is exactly what we want. But it shifts the emphasis away from the Government taking the risk, to the driver being responsible for his or her own risk.”  Hans Monderman, Traffic Engineer, Drachten

About these ads
, , , , , ,

About Malcolm Greenhill

Malcolm Greenhill is President of Sterling Futures, a fee-based financial advisory firm, based in San Francisco. I write about financial, economic and wealth related issues in the broadest sense of the word. When I am not writing, reading, working and spending time with family, I try to spend as much time as possible backpacking in the wilderness.

View all posts by Malcolm Greenhill

Subscribe

Subscribe to our RSS feed and social profiles to receive updates.

176 Comments on “Freedom Works”

  1. johnrchildress Says:

    Responsibility is hard-wired in all of us if it is allowed to function. Great post Malcolm. Data trumps belief.

    Reply

  2. The Savvy Senorita Says:

    Rules are perhaps made to be broken! I do believe some Governments can be overzealous with their control. We have never lived lives free of control though, none of us truly know how a ‘anything goes’ state would or could function. Would it be chaos or paradise? After all I suppose what causes the majority of problems are people breaking the very rules imposed upon them, without having a say in those rules firstly. Maybe as you have written, by deferring the responsibility to the people, they in turn would be inclined to use their own judgement and think more about how they act / react!

    Reply

    • Malcolm Greenhill Says:

      “I suppose what causes the majority of problems are people breaking the very rules imposed upon them, without having a say in those rules firstly.”

      Great comment. I think you nailed it with this one. James Madison developed your point further when he said:

      “It will be of little avail to the people that the laws are made by men of their own choice if the laws be so voluminous that they cannot be read, or so incoherent that they cannot be understood.”

      Reply

      • The Savvy Senorita Says:

        Thanks Malcolm for that.

        James Madison was indeed correct! The law is removed from what people expect or even think they know!

        Bex :)

        Reply

    • godoftheredeemed Says:

      Whenever Laws and regulations are put between people it causes man to rebel against these laws. We see this many times in history. The more freedom that is taken away, the more rebellion happens. If our freedoms continue to be taken away it will cause a mass rebellion that will start a revolution. When freedom is taken away it causes more bloodshed to take place and more injury. Man has a sinful nature that wants to rebel against the law at any cost. This is Crime. The more laws that are put in front of man cause a rebellion in the heart due to man’s sinful nature.

      Reply

      • The Savvy Senorita Says:

        Yes, rules are meant to be broken! Perhaps injustices also cause people to want to rebel – towing the line doesn’t always return dividends!

        Reply

  3. John (Zoli) Varady Says:

    The Laws of God, The Laws of Man
    The laws of God, the laws of man
    Let him keep them that will and can
    Not I: Let God and man decree
    Laws for themselves and not for me;

    And if my ways are not as theirs
    Let them mind their own affairs.
    Their deeds I judge and most condemn
    Yet when did I make laws for them?

    Please yourselves, Say I, and they
    Need only look the other way.
    But no, they will not; they must still
    Wrest their neighbor to their will,

    And make me dance as they desire
    With jail and gallows and hellfire
    And how am I to face the odds
    Of man’s bedevilment and God’s?

    I, a stranger and afraid
    In a world I never made
    They will be master, right or wrong;
    Though, both are foolish, both are strong

    And since, my soul, we cannot flee
    To Saturn or to Mercury
    Keep we must, If we can
    These foreign laws of God and man.

    A.E. Housman

    Reply

  4. A Gripping Life Says:

    I couldn’t agree with you more. Again, Malcolm, this is a brilliant piece of writing.

    Reply

  5. A Gripping Life Says:

    Reblogged this on A Gripping Life and commented:
    Malcolm is brilliant writer, teacher, philosopher and a good man on top of all that. Here’s a thought provoking post that will challenge your understanding of freedom in the USA.

    Reply

  6. A Gripping Life Says:

    I just reblogged this. I think my readers will enjoy it and be stretched a little in the process. :)

    Reply

  7. Addie Says:

    Rich food for thought. Thank you. (a visitor from A Gripping Life)

    Reply

  8. Harry Says:

    All the restrictions in your first paragraph are normal in a lot of countries.

    Its about time Americans got over their right to own weapons, there is no need for assault rifles in a house, they are for a battle field only.

    I would be more worried about your gov; placing restrictions on what you can do and see on the media, web, etc.

    WE all have our freedom, think of the woman who have none, no rights at all and can be killed for speaking to another man.

    Only a short rant :)

    Reply

    • Tim Starr Says:

      Germany banned carrying guns in public in 1928 to keep the Nazis from taking power. Didn’t work so well. The Nazis banned civilian gun ownership in 1938 to keep the Nazis’ intended victims from fighting back. Worked great. America copied the Nazi weapons law of 1938 in 1968, 30 years later, as an attempt to prevent blacks from getting guns & committing crimes after segregation was (rightly) abolished. Didn’t work.

      Great Britain banned guns in 1997, after the Dunblane massacre. Violent crime & gun crime have only gone up in Britain since then, to the point where total violent crime rates are now higher there than in the USA. Jamaica banned guns after independence, resulting in a huge crime wave.

      There is literally not a single place on earth, in all of human history, where violence has gone down after a gun control measure has been passed. Those places which currently have both gun control and low violence had the low violence first, then the gun control came later, usually followed by increased violence.

      Freedom is won and kept by an armed population, one that maintains parity between the average citizen & the average infantryman. That’s why citizens need the same weapons as soldiers. The US, UK, & the British commonwealth had that when WWII began; continental Europe & Asia didn’t (except Switzerland). That’s why we remained free, while the Nazis & Soviets ran rampant until we stopped them.

      Reply

      • Harry Says:

        Deal with to-day, never mind something that went on nearly 100 years ago.

        After Dunblane the Gov; banned ALL guns and shootings have gone DOWN the same as two other European countries total bans and they have gone down.

        USA has 30 deaths by guns a day, in Britain there might, only might, be one a month they are very rare.

        I don’t know where you get your facts from but they are totally wrong about the UK crime rates , they have been steadily coming down year on year.

        Reply

      • Malcolm Greenhill Says:

        Tim, thank you for this.

        Reply

      • aurorawatcherak Says:

        Harry, there was a mass shooting in Cumbria in 2010, not 100 years ago.

        http://www.nationalreview.com/articles/229929/gun-control-and-mass-murders/john-r-lott-jr#

        Derrick Bird shot twelve people to death and wounded 11 others. A headline in the London Times read: “Toughest laws in the world could not stop Cumbria tragedy.”

        The shooting in the Clackamas mall in Oregon two weeks ago was stopped when the shooter realized he was being stalked by an armed ordinary citizen. Realizing he was cornered, he killed himself.

        Reply

  9. unfetteredbs Says:

    “Immediately everyone was forced to be more alert and to exercise a higher degree of common sense”– imagine that? I really loved this post– Came over from A Gripping Life. Glad she sent me.
    Great piece!

    Reply

  10. Malcolm Greenhill Says:

    Harry, thank you for this rant:) Until relatively recently slavery was normal in a lot of countries too but that didn’t make it right. The abolitionists were right. America has always been a beacon of freedom – “give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses, yearning to breathe free…” The concern is that this beacon is becoming very dim.

    Reply

    • Harry Says:

      I know all about the American’s wish to have weapons of any kind.
      But the founders did not make the 2nd amendment so that innocent men, woman and children could be slaughtered in cold blood.
      Its happening to often to justify the need for weapons, and they cannot say that all these shooters over the years have had mental problems, but the Gov; will put that story out to make people feel better and safer.

      For a school teacher to have five weapons and teach her son how to use them, why, it baffles any sane person to understand why.

      Reply

      • Malcolm Greenhill Says:

        Harry, if I could wish all guns away, I would. Unfortunately it is not that simple. Strict gun prohibition laws are likely to have the same effects as Prohibition and the Drug War i.e. it will expand the influence of organized crime, and empower criminal gangs fighting over control of the black market, in exactly the same way Prohibition did in the 1920’s and strict drug laws have done since the 1980’s. England has some of the strictest gun prohibition laws but it is still relatively easy to purchase a firearm that has been smuggled in from Eastern Europe. Furthermore, even the strictest gun prohibition proposals do not envisage jettisoning the Second Amendment and attempting to collect the 350 million guns already in civilian hands.

        Reply

      • Tim Starr Says:

        Gun crime has gone UP since the UK gun ban:

        http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1223193/Culture-violence-Gun-crime-goes-89-decade.html

        Every international airport in Europe has had armed guards w/ submachineguns for decades; America only got those after the 9/11 attacks. The Jewish cemetary in Berlin has a 24/7 police guard, armed w/ submachineguns. Mass shootings have happened recently in Germany & Norway, despite their lack of American “gun culture.”

        The only alternative to an armed population is a police state. Europe’s far more of a police state than America, and becoming more so all the time.

        Reply

      • Jackson Williams Says:

        As much as I want my raging idealism to be vindicated by seeing “all guns” getting abolished, it’s impossible. Even if you wanted to (which I personally do not want to happen), it’s not even feasible. As a liberal who was raised in a “gun-culture family”/taught to hunt & shoot at a young age, I have learned to see guns for what they are — merely a tool, and one not to be feared in the hands of rational, responsible people. BUT: I see no need for assault weapons. Their intended purpose is in the name, and I do not see any reason a civilian should own one, unless your house is attacked nightly by bands of marauders. And, to steal a joke that has been making the rounds lately: if you need an AR to go hunting, you’re a terrible hunter.

        I personally believe that we should reinstate the assault weapons ban, increase our focus on mental health & prevention, and then we stop showing these guys on television. As someone who has battled depression & feelings of isolation before, I’m beginning to suspect guys like Holmes & Lanza are looking to be noticed and make their mark on our culture — yeah, it’s an incredibly fucked up & horrifically immoral way to go about it, but these guys want to be “famous.” If we take their names & faces and move them closer to the wastebin of history instead of plastered all over the news for a week, who knows…

        Then again, I’m probably wrong, as I usually am when I’m addressing no one in particular. ;)

        Good read.

        — J.W.

        Reply

        • Tim Starr Says:

          There’s no such thing as an “assault weapon.” That’s a bogus phrase made up by gun-haters to blur the distinction between semi-auto and full-auto guns. Therefore, no one has ever designed an “assault weapon,” and there is no such “purpose” behind the design of any such thing. You might as well be talking about “unicorn weapons.”

          An AR-15 is just a semi-automatic rifle that fires a relatively light cartridge. It doesn’t fire any faster than the .303 bolt-action Lee-Enfield rifles the British Army used in WWI a century ago, but its cartridge is significantly less powerful, with a shorter range and less stopping power. It would be silly to use them to hunt deer, because the bullet wouldn’t be accurate much over 200 yards, and would not be likely to inflict a quick clean kill due to its small size.

        • Malcolm Greenhill Says:

          Thank you for sharing this. I know that many people will agree with your sentiments at this time.

  11. Life in the 50's and beyond... Says:

    Driving with no traffic lights or stop signs might work for a few people but some of the driver’s I encounter could not deal with this freedom. Some restrictions are for our protection. I personally don’t own a gun, and never will.
    I believe mental illness and bahavior disorders are the bigger picture this past week.

    Reply

    • Malcolm Greenhill Says:

      Thank you for this comment.

      “Driving with no traffic lights or stop signs might work for a few people but some of the driver’s I encounter could not deal with this freedom.”

      Periodically traffic lights go out and everyone has to cope. If the drivers you mention can’t handle it maybe they shouldn’t be driving?

      Reply

      • Life in the 50's and beyond... Says:

        Well how do you decide who drives and who doesn;’t, that wasn’t a comment I was expecting. Some people dont agree with seat belt laws even though they save lives ….
        The government cannot protect us from ourselves.

        Reply

        • Tim Starr Says:

          Seat belt laws kill the young & elderly, by making drivers feel safer so they drive more recklessly. They redistribute car-related injuries/deaths from car occupants to pedestrians/cyclists, who are more likely to be children/elderly. They produce a net rise in car-related injuries/deaths per passenger mile driven when they pass, not a decrease.

        • Malcolm Greenhill Says:

          Just because there is no order imposed from above does not mean there is no order:

          http://malcolmscorner.wordpress.com/2012/10/23/anarchy-has-a-bad-rap/

          If government exited the road transportation business insurance companies would probably expand their role because they have a direct interest in reducing accidents. As now they would charge higher rates to poor drivers and would probably take over the DMV function of periodically testing driving skills and vision etc. Different insurance companies would recognize the different driving qualifications of different companies because it would be in their interest to do so, just like different credit card companies cooperate and enable you to use your card at another bank’s ATM.

          As to seat belts, insurance companies would no doubt come up with an acceptable trade-off between safety and convenience, perhaps charging higher premiums to drivers who did not want to wear them.

          The bottom line is that I don’t know exactly how a free society would handle these aspects of life just as the traffic engineer in Drachten didn’t know what would happen until he removed the traffic lights. However, I do have confidence that reasonable people, working together voluntarily to maximize the best interests of all parties, will come up with a better, more efficient solution than a government bureaucracy.

      • joy Says:

        Traffic lights appear after a series of accidents – usually.

        Reply

        • Malcolm Greenhill Says:

          Thank you. Traffic lights certainly work but if you click the links in the post you will see that in many instances, all around the world, there is another solution that can work even more effectively.

  12. Tim Starr Says:

    Assault “weapons” were banned from 1994 to 2004, with no noticeable affect on violent crime. The law expired, crime went down. Meanwhile, the full-auto equivalent of those “assault weapons” remained legal in most of America, with a Federal background check & $200 tax stamp. None of them were ever used in crimes.

    Reply

  13. Harry Says:

    Tim, i don’t know where your getting your information from but your wrong again. your link is THREE YEARS out of date.

    The only time you would see armed police at a British airport is for a security alert and they are seldom, but they were there for the Olympics, British police never carry weapons as the norm.

    I travel to Spain, Portugal, France, Carney Islands, Cyprus for years and i have never, never seen police armed with sub-machine guns never.

    Reply

    • Tim Starr Says:

      Oh, so crime went up in the UK until 3 years ago, then it suddenly started going down? And we’re supposed to just take your word for it?

      I’ve traveled to the following EU airports, and seen guards armed w/ machineguns in all of them: Heathrow, Rome, Berlin, Dusseldorf, Athens, Charles de Gaulle, Prague, etc. I don’t recall seeing any in Lithuania, that would be the exception to the rule, but guns are quite legal in Lithuania, so that fits my theory that the alternative to an armed citizenry is a police state.

      Reply

  14. Dapper Dan Says:

    VERY interestng about the Netherlands. I visited a small town once and realized that many of the intersections had Yield signs on all corners or no signs at all. Almost as if they expected us to be adults and “figure it out.” It was not like that all over and I’m not even sure if they planned it that way but still, it was really cool.

    Reply

  15. Benjamin Salsburg Says:

    That’s a great experiment, but it is a statistic of one. Because it seems to work in Holland in one city, does not mean it would work everywhere. It’s the equivalent of saying that there is an example where someone’s cancer went into remission after eating chocolate so therefore eating chocolate is a cure for cancer. I’ve been to third world countries in Asia where there are no traffic rules and chaos is the result with traffic moving at about 20 miles an hour at best. It’s erroneous to draw conclusions from a single examples without understanding the underlying problem.

    This terrible tragedy in Connecticut will revive the same tired old arguments about gun control. The right will trot out the defenseless lamb argument and the left will push for an assault weapons ban even thought the same ban produced no meaningful result in the ten years it was in force. Both sides are controlled by ideologues who know the answer without looking at the problem. They will try to capitalize on this terrible event to reinforce their ideologies. Ironically the right’s defenseless lamb scenario is closer to the truth then the assault rifle ban.

    If you look at what happened, it seems the school had a better then average security system in place and the staff was trained to respond to an emergency of this type. The missing piece was that there was no trained armed security personnel to confront and challenge the perpetrator. All he had to do was breech the physical security barriers and start killing. Neither side is interested in solving the problem of making schools safe from a rare but deadly assault by a lunatic with a weapon. Instead each will use this tragedy to move their agenda forward. If we can afford to guard our airports and our borders we can afford to guard our schools.

    Reply

    • Malcolm Greenhill Says:

      Ben, thank you for these comments. Don’t forget to click the links I provided. Also try this Wikipedia link:

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shared_space

      This is definitely not a statistic of one. ‘Shared spaces’, as these mixed usage areas have come to be called, are all over the world now including: Cambridge, Mass near Harvard Square; West Palm Beach in Florida; Davis Street in Portland; Giles Circus, Ipswich, England; Exhibition Road, Kensington, London; Brighton, England; and Auckland, New Zealand. If you read about them more closely you will see that the idea was certainly not to implement shared spaces indiscriminately without prior detailed study.

      Reply

  16. El Guapo Says:

    Wandered over from Grippy.
    I wonder how many of those limits are gov’t, in response to demands of corporations.

    Reply

    • Malcolm Greenhill Says:

      Shrewd comment. Certainly banks, unions, corporations and other entities, have done their best to capture regulators, skew legislation in their favor and run off with billions of taxpayer’s money. As a result the rule of law (the essence of which is that everyone is treated equally) is rapidly disappearing.

      Reply

  17. Ritu KT Says:

    I couldn’t help nodding throughout the post. Great post. Congratulations on being Freshly Pressed.

    Reply

  18. TAE Says:

    Drachten, a city of less than 50,000 people.
    I wonder about the bike-to-car ratio as well – it’s the Dutch after all.
    I’ve seen a lot of traffic lights disappear in Germany.
    They were replaced with traffic circles, roundabouts.
    While I agree that there are nonsensical, if not harmful regulations out there, getting rid of all of them and relying on common sense…good luck with that.
    I’d be curious to see the US experiment with that, though. Goodbye superpower.

    Reply

    • Malcolm Greenhill Says:

      Thank you for stopping by. Nobody’s suggesting getting rid of all regulations but rather incrementally replacing the regulations imposed from above by ones we generate ourselves. This is the difference between an order imposed from above and a spontaneous order which no one person or entity created (think the internet).

      http://malcolmscorner.wordpress.com/2012/10/23/anarchy-has-a-bad-rap/

      Reply

      • TAE Says:

        You’d have to “empirically point me” to a market that is truly anarchic with a “spontaneous order”. There might be some dynamics that can be described that way, but to think that the whole thing works that way…ever heard of WalMart? BP? Shell? The list continues.

        Also, there are places that have to be protected from market-mechanisms, but that is just my opinion.

        If you are arguing that policy makers are corrupt and too far removed from the populace to actually legislate in the populace’s interests, that civil society must be nurtured, that being educated is important…I’d agree, and there are surely places where common sense can replace petty regulation, but I do wonder if the availability, use, storage and transportation of military-grade weapons is such a place.

        Scrap that. I do not wonder.

        Reply

        • Malcolm Greenhill Says:

          “If you are arguing that policy makers are corrupt and too far removed from the populace to actually legislate in the populace’s interests, that civil society must be nurtured, that being educated is important…I’d agree, and there are surely places where common sense can replace petty regulation,…”

          Yes, I’m saying that and more. Spontaneous orders regulate most of our activities in daily life and we just lack the imagination to see how they can be used in other areas. As to military-grade weapons there is also an order in international relations where there is no single entity regulating the relationship between nations. There has been no global conflict for 67 years so there is order there too (think maritime law).

        • TAE Says:

          “under what conditions we can or cannot own a gun”
          This.
          Excuse me if I put this into the context of the last couple of days.
          And yes, anarchy rules the world, and the global market to an extent. However, there are forces (think: US, “the West”; think: Walmart, Wall Street) that are undoubtedly ruling the mechanics of it.

        • Malcolm Greenhill Says:

          You are absolutely correct. Banks, corporations, unions and other entities have all managed to wrest control of various aspects of government to fleece taxpayers of billions of dollars. But the essence of the rule of law is that everyone is treated equally. Re-establish the rule of law and you have gone a long way to equalizing the playing field.

        • TAE Says:

          Agreed.
          Thank you for staying respectful with me. I have been sensitized for certain topics these days, and I’m most likely having a daily culture shock.
          “Less regulation” and “guns” in the same post, article, you name it, gets me off the hook.
          I am incapable of comprehending.

        • Malcolm Greenhill Says:

          Your welcome. Please visit again.

  19. Rotten Ray Says:

    I think you are a bit on the extreme end of the spectrum. Some rules are needed and those rules have to have some common ground. The government shoving rules down our throats is wrong, but sadly, the people seem only to willing. Rules work when people have a say in what those rules are, but sometimes the people get it wrong too. No rules does not work. Even in the traffic intersection, there are rules.

    Reply

  20. Malcolm Greenhill Says:

    Thank you. Please read my reply to TAE. I am talking about replacing one kind of order with another and certainly not recommending chaos as a policy.

    http://malcolmscorner.wordpress.com/2012/10/23/anarchy-has-a-bad-rap/

    Reply

  21. newstart777 Says:

    really enjoyed the introductory paragraph.. quite gripping and definitely identify with it.

    Reply

  22. Ajay Kaul Says:

    The maturity of a society is judged by the laws it does not need, not by the laws it has. Coming from a third world background, I do believe that maturity of society is the key to freedom.There are fewer laws in the third world, but the average citizen can sometimes be too caught up in self than others, leading to greater chaos. But as society matures, governments also need to look at laws that can be relaxed.

    Reply

    • Malcolm Greenhill Says:

      “I do believe that maturity of society is the key to freedom.”

      So true. But we often think the only form of law is statutes. In developing countries there may be fewer statutes but there is certainly law in the sense of tribal law, village law, community standards etc.

      Reply

  23. chunter Says:

    Four-way stop signs explain how most people use freedom and responsibility. Congratulations on FP.

    Reply

  24. lostinmist Says:

    Not to endorse or refute the specific positions taken vis a vis guns and traffic (or the dropping through the cracks of community as the Lanza’s apparently did, which you did not mention. I have written a poem on similar ideas:

    http://lostinmist.wordpress.com/2012/12/16/bioelectric-hologram-network/

    Hope you enjoy it.

    Reply

  25. Being June Says:

    “The problem remains however, that when government forces people to do what it thinks is right, it prevents them from developing the instinct for learning what is right.”

    I think this is the pinnacle of your already stellar piece. I wonder if this doesn’t begin in childhood; many of us nowadays hover over and direct our children – rather than allowing them to (within reason) learn from experience and develop, as you put it, an instinct for learning what is right.

    I thoroughly enjoyed this. Got me thinking. Thank you for sharing.

    Reply

    • Malcolm Greenhill Says:

      Thank you. What a great point you raise. I’ve always felt there is a sense in which you can’t really teach anyone anything unless they experience it themselves. You can guide them and point them in the right direction but the freedom to fail is certainly at the core of education about the really important things in life.

      Reply

  26. Callum J Hackett Says:

    I don’t want to veer the conversation in too tangential a direction, but I think your comments inevitably bring up the question of free will – you assume a priori that we are capable and responsible, but are we really? Even if we do have free will, we are each subject to a host of biological and psychological mechanisms that lead us to make decisions we might otherwise regret. A simple example of this is obesity. Many obese people are not happy with their life decisions, but they still give in to their innate biological impulses, and more than this, we don’t see that a similar number of people from all walks of society make these regrettable decisions, instead we see that obesity is deeply tied to demographic factors such as socioeconomic status and mental health – this is not the sign of a capability to act freely and responsibly, it is a sign of our decisions being determined by things beyond our control over though, in the moment, we sense the illusion that we are in control.

    This has ramifications all over the place – when you’re tired, you act differently than you would if your brain chemistry was different; when you make a bad choice to start smoking, you can’t just stop if you become clinically addicted; and we all have an absolutely woeful ability to understand statistics which is why we prioritise rare, meaningless but visceral events, and neglect long-term, ultimately more damaging trends (e.g. the vastly disproportionate action over 9/11 when a much bigger number of people die prematurely from heart disease every year).

    With this picture, it ought to be obvious that we need restrictions, and we need restrictions precisely so that we can live the lives we want to live. If we want to live happily, healthily and fulfilled, we need to be protected from our biological impulse for gradual self-harm, we need to be shielded against corporate interests which take advantage of our poor thinking skills, and we need laws to mandate us to do things like putting on a seatbelt which we might not otherwise do because we have a false view of its costs and benefits. The real question is not so much what restrictions we have in place but how they are made, and I would certainly not deny that the current system of government is corrupt and damaging, though we are nevertheless ultimately responsible for it and we need a mass movement to enact to radical reform. After that, the only way to put in place restrictions that will (counter-intuitively) set us free is to mandate evidence-based policy.

    Reply

    • Malcolm Greenhill Says:

      Thank you for this thoughtful response. The fact that we have biological impulses and cognitive biases does not mean that we act irrationally all the time. If that was the case we could never drive or cross the road without having cars hurtling into us. The question then becomes is it better to protect people from their own impulses and biases or let them become aware of them and learn to manage them? Clearly I believe the latter approach is preferable. I might also add that it is somewhat condescending to say:

      “With this picture, it ought to be obvious that we need restrictions”

      It is not obvious at all. In fact it assumes that those who are going to do the protecting are somehow free of all the impulses and biases that plague the rest of us. Furthermore, you say:

      “we need to be protected from our biological impulse for gradual self-harm, we need to be shielded against corporate interests which take advantage of our poor thinking skills, and we need laws to mandate us to do things like putting on a seatbelt which we might not otherwise do because we have a false view of its costs and benefits.”

      Who are these people that are going to protect us from ourselves? Presumably they are politicians and educational elites. Forgive me for having a healthy degree of skepticism about such people. I definitely side with John Stuart Mill when he said:

      “It is better to be a human dissatisfied than a pig satisfied”

      Reply

      • Callum J Hackett Says:

        I would agree that we do not act irrationally all the time and that we must ask if it is better to protect people from their impulses or to educate them, but do you think people don’t know about the effects of junk food? That kind of awareness is ubiquitous, and that makes it clear that education is not enough. It is not condescending for me to say we need restrictions – I say it of myself, it is a universal – it is instead a recognition of the faulty nature of human psychology. Nevertheless, I would share your concern about who has the ability to make such restrictions – indeed, no one is more capable than anyone else, and I wouldn’t trust governments such as we have them today, but you don’t seem to have taken account of my final sentence. This is precisely why I made it explicit that government policy must be evidence-based – we have to appeal to science and rationality to know where to take society; using uneducated, irrational intuition, superstition and ideology (which is what we mostly do today) will only lead us further down the road of illusory freedom, and thus the needless suffering of millions of people just to prop up a comforting charade.

        Reply

        • Malcolm Greenhill Says:

          Callum, you say:

          “that makes it clear that education is not enough.”

          Why does the fact that we are not all perfectly rational make it clear that we need someone to protect us from ourselves? The whole point of the post was to make clear that we can only learn to be responsible human beings if we are allowed to make mistakes. Yes, this does mean that some people will dine at McDonalds every day and have a shortened lifespan. But others will choose not to and become more responsible in other aspects of their lives because of that fact. What could be more important than helping people become responsible agents?

          You want to help people make the right choices but if they are made to do something what choice did they have? Do you remember the film, The Truman Show where Truman Burbank lives his entire life in front of cameras for a T.V. show although he is totally unaware of this. Would you want to be Truman Burbank, living a near perfect life, and protected from anything that could harm you including yourself?

          As to ‘evidenced-based policy’ I am not skeptical of science but I am skeptical of the way science has become politicized.

      • Callum J Hackett Says:

        I am making a quite simple observation that, for some people, education will not be enough for them to live happily and healthily. Your counter-argument seems to be that those people, perhaps weak of mind in your eyes (suggesting that you’re not taking the point about a lack of free will on board; this is not a question of will-power, it is biology), can live their unhappy, unhealthy lives so that the rest of us can maintain the delusion that we are free – I’m not satisfied with that; I want the necessary steps for *everyone* to be maximally happy and healthy. This doesn’t mean I’m asking for our decisions to be made for us, and I’m not asking for us to be put in pens with cotton-padded walls, I’m asking for there to be strict regulations upon corporate bodies whose major interest is exploiting human foibles for financial gain.

        Reply

        • Malcolm Greenhill Says:

          Callum, thank you. I want you to know that I appreciate this discussion. In an earlier comment, Michael Edelstein, a clinical psychologist, remarked that he teaches compulsive eaters to eat “green salads over pizza”. You conceded that this was possible saying “Yes, you’re right about that, it’s not something that is utterly hopeless from a choice point of view”. Now you seem to be backtracking and saying “for some people, education will not be enough for them to live happily and healthily”. All of us have the ability to make choices but for some of us the choices are relatively easy and for others they are excruciatingly difficult (think about the hunger striker who chooses to resist one of nature’s strongest drives). However, it does not follow that a person automatically becomes unhappy because the choice is difficult. Even the hunger striker might feel ecstatic if he or she is going to die for a just cause.

          You say that you are asking for “strict regulations upon corporate bodies whose major interest is exploiting human foibles for financial gain”. You deny that this is equivalent to taking decisions for other people, but if you regulate away certain options and alternatives that is exactly what you are doing.

          There are always some corporations that choose to act badly some or all of the time and most of us do our best to avoid them. However, you don’t want us to have any choice about the matter because you will regulate all these ‘bad’ corporations based on the latest scientific paradigm. Unfortunately, it is not so simple. These scientific paradigms, particularly with respect to health and food, don’t have a great track record. Remember when it was thought that dairy products were so good for us, that breast feeding was bad for the baby, that sun tanning was healthy etc. Is it not better to let people make their own choices (you have already conceded that we can all make choices) based on the knowledge available to them and their own needs and preferences? Do you really think that science is not influenced by government and corporate funding so that the latest scientific paradigm may represent nothing more than the views of some powerful lobbyists who succeeded in channeling large sums of corporate or taxpayers’ money into one avenue of research rather than another? I believe that our freedom to walk away from a particular corporation’s products, however difficult that choice may be, is a better safeguard of our interests than your one size fits all policy of uniform regulation based on the health paradigm de jour.

      • Callum J Hackett Says:

        I appreciate the discussion too, Malcolm!

        You’re right that there’s a conflict between my statements to you and my statements to Michael, so let me try to distinguish between two things: when we try to make rational, beneficial choices, there is education, and then there is training. Education regards information that is readily available – this is what I referenced when I said that information about junk food is ubiquitous, and yet we still have an epidemic, ergo education is not enough. Training, on the other hand, takes that knowledge and applies it in a therapeutic context to empower people to make better decisions – now, I don’t have an economic model for this, so I’m open to being proved wrong, but I would suspect that it is financially implausible to give every citizen the necessary training for every decision that might pose some harm, which is why I said to Michael that it could be more cost effective and better for citizens for certain harmful decisions to be made impossible.

        With regards to making decisions for people, that depends how you frame it. The image brought to mind when we say “the government is making decisions for us” is a totalitarian one that people rightly get jittery about, but the government regulates all kinds of things all the time, lots of them to our benefit, and if that should count by your definition as “making our decisions”, then you can call it that, but it doesn’t make it bad. At the same time, we often have the illusion of choice where it does not exist – for example, we cherish the idea of a free press and our ability to turn our noses up at what we dislike, and yet could you imagine a media body any more subservient to government and enterprise?

        Also, let me make it clear that I fundamentally *do* want us to have a choice about our regulations because – let me stress this as much as possible – *regulations should only be made by a democratically elected government*. If a regulation is enacted, it should be enacted precisely because it was favoured by the popular vote. The government should not be an imposition that we feel powerless to direct, and that’s why we need serious electoral reform. Surprise, surprise, the reason we find the government so untrustworthy with these regulatory decisions is that the government is at the whim of corporate interests.

        Finally, on the “paradigm du jour”, let me first call your attention to Isaac Asimov’s essay, ‘The Relativity of Wrong’ (you can find it for free with a quick Google search). Scientific knowledge changes, but it changes by refinement, not by serious revolution except in rare cases, normally in places like fundamental physics. But while I would totally accept that research can be at the whim of corporate interests as well, I have two key rebuttals: first, this is not an argument against science itself so much as the bodies that control where science takes us, and thus we should change those biases, not discount science; and second, many people such as yourself who criticise evidence-based policy do so without offering a coherent alternative. Quite simply, if not science… then what? Today, we operate on political ideologies that frequently ignore the facts that surround us, and which appeal to emotion rather than intellect – that’s not exactly working out well. Science is the best tool we have – sure, it’s not guaranteed that it will be used properly or without bias, but we’ve just got to do our best to try to ensure that it is, because nothing else is going to get us anywhere as fast or as well.

        Reply

        • Malcolm Greenhill Says:

          Callum thank you. You say:

          “it is financially implausible to give every citizen the necessary training for every decision that might pose some harm”

          As a result:

          “it could be more cost effective and better for citizens for certain harmful decisions to be made impossible.”

          So, because it is too expensive for the state to solve everyone’s problems we have to prohibit all citizens from certain actions in case they might harm themselves. The particular decisions to be prohibited are to be decided by politicians advised by the best scientific evidence available. I really don’t know where to start.

          Why do you believe it is the government’s responsibility to solve everyone’s problems? Even today the government is not the only source of help available to people who are unable to solve their own problems. Before the state attempted to monopolize the social welfare function the latter was provided by a plethora of voluntary organizations such as unions, churches, cooperatives, philanthropic foundations, charities, friendly societies, corporations, friends, relatives, neighbors, etc. Your failure to even mention this option leads me to believe that you think only ‘experts’ in the therapeutic field are qualified to help people unable to help themselves, a view which smacks at elitism.

          In an earlier comment you said:

          “This doesn’t mean I’m asking for our decisions to be made for us,”

          Now you say:

          “the government regulates all kinds of things all the time, lots of them to our benefit, and if that should count by your definition as “making our decisions”, then you can call it that, but it doesn’t make it bad.”

          Callum, your reasoning is becoming quite Orwellian. Just because a coercive act has beneficial consequences does not make it any less a coercive act. I will leave aside for the moment any discussion of all the wonderful things you say government does for our benefit.

          You say:

          “we often have the illusion of choice where it does not exist – for example, we cherish the idea of a free press and our ability to turn our noses up at what we dislike, and yet could you imagine a media body any more subservient to government and enterprise?”

          I give the average person more credit than you. Most people know how the press works but we still have a free press to the extent that nobody is prevented from writing or publishing what they wish. The blogosphere is testimony to people’s skepticism with respect to the mainstream press. If you lived in the former Soviet Union or in Eastern Europe before the fall of the Berlin Wall you would definitely not be so critical of press freedom in the west.

          You say:

          “The government should not be an imposition that we feel powerless to direct, and that’s why we need serious electoral reform. Surprise, surprise, the reason we find the government so untrustworthy with these regulatory decisions is that the government is at the whim of corporate interests.”

          Interesting observation. You have spent hours trying to persuade me to let the government implement sweeping legislation to prevent citizens from harming themselves, and you now say that the government can’t be trusted because it is at the whim of corporate interests. How about this? You let me know after your revolution has taken place to cleanse the government of any corporate taint and we will then resume our discussion. Until then it seems pointless.

          Lastly, as I said in response to an earlier comment I am not against science just against the politicization of science.

      • Callum J Hackett Says:

        Thanks for the discussion, Malcolm, but now I’ve been called an Orwellian elitist, I think it’s clear to both of us that further exchanges will lead nowhere. I would like to clarify, however, that I did not touch upon non-governmental avenues of support because they were not the focus of discussion, but that does not mean I don’t see a valuable place for them in society – you assumed far, far too much about my position, having developed a preconception of an apparently totalitarian regime that I didn’t outline in the least as I barely mentioned any specific policies at all. My statements were instead largely based on a certain understanding of human biology and psychology which, it would seem, you do not share – that puts you at a disadvantage as my thinking is therefore more informed by current scientific understanding of the human mind. Your position is an ideological one, not a rational one, as every statement you made was founded on the assumption that the most optimal state for society is the one with maximum individual freedom. You take that to be self-evident, characterising any alternative as necessarily oppressive, and while that’s certainly seductive despite the fallacious appeal to emotion, you don’t actually attempt to justify this assumption, yet once we delve more deeply into the possibility that free will does not exist, and that *some* choice may be anathema to well-being for *everyone*, such an assumption looks extremely simplistic. Thus, you were left with no tool in your discursive box other than to say that the kind of society you supposed I was advocating didn’t look very nice on principle, completely avoiding the question of actual human welfare informed by actual human psychology. You care far too much about unjustified ideological principles, no doubt inculcated by American exceptionalism, and far too little about the nature of the human condition and how this might form a more nuanced picture of an ideal society.

        Reply

        • Malcolm Greenhill Says:

          Callum, needless to say I disagree with most of this but will let you have the last word. I too have enjoyed our discussion and look forward to reading more of what you have to say on your blog. Best wishes for the holidays and I wish you and everyone reading this a happy, healthy and prosperous New Year.

    • Michael R. Edelstein Says:

      Hi Callum,

      I read your thoughtful comment with interest. Intuitively your position seems to make sense. It feels as if, when we’re attempting to diet while eating another slice of pizza, we can’t control ourselves.

      Yet if this were the case, then clinical psychologists like myself would be out of business. To the contrary, I teach compulsive eaters how to use the free will they have to choose, for example, green salads over pizza.

      You’re correct, biological impulses and similar influences all play into an individual’s food choice. The major point here is these factors all influence the compulsive eater’s behavior, but never control it. The thoughts in their head at the decision point is the ultimate control. I teach my clients how to change their thinking thereby learning to refrain from self-destructive eating.

      I agree with you, “we need restrictions.” We’re better served when we generate these restrictions for ourselves, rather than having the State do it to us.

      Michael R. Edelstein, Ph.D.

      http://www.ThreeMinuteTherapy.com

      Reply

      • Callum J Hackett Says:

        Yes, you’re right about that, it’s not something that is utterly hopeless from a choice point of view, though what percentage of obese people are in therapy? And how would we combat every human foible in this manner? I think it would be more cost effective to make such predicaments largely impossible in the first place.

        Reply

  27. adversarialart Says:

    State Property; The Beginning. Of the End.

    Reply

  28. day9686 Says:

    Taking rules away, driving or otherwise, would initially cause some chaos. But as in the Netherlands case, eventually we would come together as a society with our own self imposed rules. We live in a society where the majority of our rules are written. But any society, however chaotic it may look to an outsider lives under a social agreement of what is acceptable behavior and what is not. Whether they are written down or not, rules and laws on right and wrong always exist.

    Part of what makes this country great and unique are low barriers to entry and a high level of transparency. Travel to a country where laws are held in peoples minds and not on paper, and it makes it much more difficult to function as an outsider.

    Our laws aren’t perfect, they may be over reaching, but in, the same way a law can provide an incentive, the lack of that same law also provides an incentive to someone else.

    To compare gun control, soda taxes, and traffic signals greatly oversimplifies the issue.

    Reply

    • Malcolm Greenhill Says:

      Thank you for this comment. You raise some interesting points.

      “To compare gun control, soda taxes, and traffic signals greatly oversimplifies the issue.”

      While gun control, soda taxes and traffic signals are very different, all three involve human interaction and what we are exploring here is basically two different modes of human interaction. One is a top-down type of order and the other a ‘spontaneous’ order. I tried to distinguish these in an earlier post:

      http://malcolmscorner.wordpress.com/2012/10/23/anarchy-has-a-bad-rap/

      Reply

  29. toughlittlebirds Says:

    “But it shifts the emphasis away from the Government taking the risk, to the driver being responsible for his or her own risk.”

    Fine in theory, but what about the driver being also responsible for others’ risk? I don’t mind when people want the freedom to get themselves in trouble; the problem is when people demand the “freedom” to put others at risk. Drive 120 mph while texting if you’re alone on the road; carry an assault rifle if you’re the only person for miles around; forgo health insurance for yourself. Go ahead. But it is not okay for you to decide that others should bear the risk of being run over, shot, or otherwise injured or killed by your actions.

    It’s like this: if I want to expose myself to a dangerous disease, that’s fine. If I want to do that and then lick your face? Not fine. I should not have the “freedom” to hurt you. Especially if you are a child.

    Reply

    • Malcolm Greenhill Says:

      Katie, thank you. Nothing changes as far as liability is concerned. If you drive dangerously or under the influence you still get a ticket. If you injure someone or wreck someone’s car you are still liable. The only thing that has changed is that there is no traffic light telling you when to go or when to stop. You have to use your own judgment. If you click the links in the post you will see that the accident rate is actually significantly lower without traffic lights.

      Reply

      • toughlittlebirds Says:

        Certainly, in cases where evidence shows reducing regulation also reduces injury, then that is fantastic, and bravo for the innovators who think of these and test them.

        My concern is that these cases are not generalizable. Even one of the articles you cite mentions that the proponent of red light abolishment “believed the idea was only a good fit in the right contexts. Highways, obviously, are not the right context.” That is, even this driving example does not extend to all kinds of driving. The optimal amount of regulation may be different in different contexts; you cannot say, “No-traffic-lights works, so no-gun-restrictions will work too.”

        You say dangerous driving is still illegal in the no-traffic-light situation. That’s awesome. How would that be extended to other contexts? In driving, bad drivers drive dangerously for a long time, and sometimes kill people. This means we have a lot of opportunity to identify and punish dangerous drivers before they kill people. Unless you can come up with a similar way to prevent shootings by spotting those likely to murder *before* they do, I don’t see how you can argue that low-traffic intersection driving laws should serve as an example for legislating firearms.

        Reply

        • Malcolm Greenhill Says:

          Thank you for this thoughtful comment. In my post I said that most of us have forgotten how freedom works and consequently we lack the imagination to see how things might be different. I gave the example of the traffic light experiment as an example of how we can test whether freedom works in a particular situation. Such a small scale experiment in say, a single village, has the advantage that it is relatively easy to monitor and understand and also does not commit anyone to a massive nation-wide experiment in social engineering. You are absolutely right that you cannot say, “No-traffic-lights works, so no-gun-restrictions will work too.” All I’m suggesting is that if we want to build a society containing responsible human beings we should experiment in incremental steps with solutions to social problems that involve expanding human freedom rather than contracting it.

        • Tim Starr Says:

          We have “highways” w/out red lights. They’re called “freeways.” They also lack intersections. They work just fine.

      • toughlittlebirds Says:

        Re: Tim Starr’s comment
        Haha, yes, I live in California so I am aware of these mythical freeways. Sorry, I was using “no-traffic-lights” as a (misleading) shorthand; actually it wasn’t just traffic lights that were removed, but also “signs, curbs and lane markings.” Would you want to drive on a freeway without lane markings? Eek.

        …and I’m not sure I agree that freeways “work just fine,” come to that. Every evening the traffic report warns about accidents and pileups. I would never call the freeways in my area safe.

        Reply

  30. beingeternal Says:

    Very gripping. Very informative!

    Reply

  31. billtman Says:

    Thanks for your thoughts on this idea but sorry, I’m having a bit of a difficult time accepting your premise. You say “Freedom works. Let’s try it” meaning, you would advocate getting rid of the laws that govern us and let people have the choice to do the right thing. Human beings are so different from one another in the way they think, their life’s philosophy, their chemical, biological and psychological make up, their moral compass, that this would be totally impossible.
    For one thing, you say in your post that government decides what we can say, what we can eat, what we can drink, who we can marry etc. as if the government is some inanimate object out there somewhere, out of our control, imposing laws on us. Government is not an inanimate object and it has not done that on its own. We, the people made it clear to those whom we have elected that we want some rules. These rules help us to live together in relative peace. You seem to imply that we all are guided by the same moral compass and that in a totally free society void of rules we would all learn how to get along together and that we would all be a peaceful happy society. I think this is a very naïve and dangerous philosophy.
    Let’s take your idea of removing traffic lights as an example. You say that “before the invention of traffic lights there was a mutual give-and-take between pedestrians, carts, motor vehicles and bicycles.” And, that “independent responsible judgment” was taken away from motorists and pedestrians by the invention of this control device. While your statement is true, you must consider that when the traffic light was invented there wasn’t near the traffic on the roads that we have now. There were still carts and buggies, automobiles had very small engines in them and didn’t go very fast. In the city where I live there is a main thoroughfare, not an interstate highway mind you, this is just one main artery with many intersections. There are four lanes in each direction. In the morning and evening rush hours there are eight lanes of headlights and tail lights as far as the eye can see. Traffic would be impossible without some sort of controls. This is with most of the drivers trying to stay within the law. If one or more drivers with a moral compass somewhat askew entered that fray without traffic controls chaos would certainly ensue. Guess what, government didn’t force these controls on us. We asked our government officials to put them in place when we elected them to office. We asked for this because of the few who would not only steal our freedom from us but would cause many deaths with their reckless behavior. This is but one example.
    Let’s talk about guns for a moment since you brought up the issue regarding the “School Shootings in Connecticut” One mistake that many people are making right now when they have a “knee-jerk reaction” is that the government is going to take our guns away from us. That has not been proposed by a single person of authority. What is being talked about, though, is placing some better regulation on gun ownership and the responsibilities of gun owners. Here again, moral compass comes into the discussion. It would be great if there were no need for gun controls. In that perfect universe, gun owners would be responsible and we wouldn’t be having all these mass killings using military grade semi-automatic weapons. But, alas, we do have folks out there who don’t value human life, who march to a different drummer so to speak who need to have these controls imposed upon them. I know what you are probably thinking, If a crazed person wants to kill they can do it without a gun. True, but with a semi-automatic weapon 20 people can be killed in the time it takes to kill one or two with another method.
    Don’t for a minute think that rules and controls being placed upon the lives of the people is a new thing or that they are not needed. The human race has been doing this for all of recorded history and with a good result, we’re still here.

    Reply

    • Malcolm Greenhill Says:

      Thank you for these comments. You raise so many issues but unfortunately most of them don’t relate to my post. You say that I:

      “…advocate getting rid of the laws that govern us and let people have the choice to do the right thing.”

      I did not say that. What I actually said was:

      “One solution is to work incrementally to reintroduce freedom into our lives and observe how it works in practice.”

      You say that I think that that “government is some inanimate object out there somewhere, out of our control, imposing laws on us”, but what I actually said was:

      “I am not naïve enough to believe that all these restrictions on individual choice have simply been foisted on us by an out-of-control state. I realize that many people feel that it is perfectly appropriate that these activities be regulated by government”

      You say that I imply that “we all are guided by the same moral compass”. Please let me know where I implied this. You state that where you live “Traffic would be impossible with some sort of controls”. You may be right. If you click the links in the post you will see that nobody is suggesting that traffic lights are removed everywhere.

      As to your reference to the school shootings I have said all I want to about this in reply to an earlier comment from Harry. I don’t wish to spoil a great discussion with any more acrimonious comments either for or against firearms regulation. I am sorry if you are not satisfied with my reply on this issue.

      Finally you say:

      “Don’t for a minute think that rules and controls being placed upon the lives of the people is a new thing or that they are not needed.”

      Please see my reply to an earlier comment by day9686. It is not a question of living without rules but about which rules to live by.

      Reply

    • Tim Starr Says:

      “Military-grade semi-automatic firearms” is a laughable term. The .223 cartridge was designed to be LESS lethal, because wounding enemy soldiers is more costly to the enemy than killing them. They don’t shoot any faster than a 19th-century lever-action rifle, and you can get a higher rate of fire with a shotgun.

      The fastest way to kill people is with explosives, not guns. The Columbine & Aurora shooters both made bombs, too. IEDs have probably killed more US soldiers in Iraq than AK-47s. Depriving these loons of guns will simply drive them to use more lethal weapons.

      Reply

  32. jaynefranks Says:

    Hi from a small village with abusy A road going through the middle of it in the UK. Two years in the making and our village now has a shared road scheme. Lots of people said it would not work but it does. You do have to stop and think and take turn. You have to respect others decision making even if their actions are not what you would do yourself or want you would like to find yourself involved in. No one vehicle is regarded as more important or gets treated as if they are, we simply have to tolerate and respect each other and get on with life. And as a result thevillage seems more content. People talk to one another because of its novelty and visually the junction looks more attractive.

    Reply

  33. Malcolm Greenhill Says:

    Jayne, thank you. I was hoping that this wonderful community of bloggers would touch someone around the world who actually lived in a ‘shared space’. There is nothing like a view from the trenches when you are involved in a theoretical discussion about abstract concepts.

    Reply

  34. rohan7things Says:

    My dad has a saying, “Rules are there for those without common sense”. When you develop compassion, decency and common sense there is no need for a set of top down rules.

    Very good post!

    Rohan.

    Reply

  35. NicoLite Великий Says:

    I’ve take the time to read some of the comments, and “responsibility” seems to be a recurrent theme. We cannot be responsible if we aren’t free, and we can’t be free when the state – or some other institution – restricts us.

    What I haven’t read anywhere is how consequences fit into your equation. To my mind, without consequences, people are just as incapable of taking responsibility as when their choices are restricted by law. People will just do with what they believe they can get away with. In the most harmless of transgressions, that is smoking Cannabis, in one of the worst cases, it is a bloodbath of 6-year-olds. Now don’t say the consequences of the elementary school killer’s actions were his death; it was self-inflicted, he planned that all along.

    Back to the traffic lights: It works so well in the Netherlands, because in Europe, it’s hard to get away with anything. Sure, there is insurance coverage for crashes, but your insurance rate rises when you take advantage of the coverage – I think you are all familiar with the concept. If you fled the scene to avoid paying at all, you would most certainly be found out, and you’d really be SOL. This is not only true for Drachten, it would work likewise in Berlin, Warsaw, Munich, Vienna, [enter City in European Union].

    It wouldn’t, however, work in places with low police coverage and/or high police corruption. Laws and rules need to be enforced appropriately if they are to be followed, and even if there is no additional punishment, there needs to be some form of assurance that damages are repaired or paid for.

    Reply

    • Malcolm Greenhill Says:

      Thank you. You are absolutely correct that when the rule of law is not enforced society doesn’t function very well. However laws and governments are two different things. Please see my earlier post which attempts to explain this:

      http://malcolmscorner.wordpress.com/2012/10/23/anarchy-has-a-bad-rap/

      Reply

      • NicoLite Великий Says:

        Luckily, when writing, I have enough time to devise a good riposte ;)

        In 1949, the FRG – Federal Republic of Germany – was engineered. The political system, the social order, it was all designed to work as a bulwark against communism. It worked so well, that Germany has become one of the wealthiest countries in the World after being bombed to the stone age – and I mean the paleolithic.

        It’s naive to say perfect, or ideal, but life is good for people in Germany. Objectively, for 99%, subjectively, some 85%. The only thing that could really use a do-over is the German law: close to a million paragraphs in some hundred books. No way anyone, not layman, not lawyer, not judge, could know and understand it all. Those that affect us most are boiled down to do’s and dont’s in a culturalistic fashion, and they are rarely accurate… and now I digress

        My POV, of course, is very European, but a strong state, the rule of law, and the support of the people, that is how societies work best

        Reply

        • Tim Starr Says:

          West Germany was considerably freer of centrally-imposed rules than Nazi Germany or East Germany. That is why West Germany was so successful that it was first able to recover from WWII and then able to absorb East Germany.

        • NicoLite Великий Says:

          Are you giving me credit or criticizing me?

        • Tim Starr Says:

          Criticizing. You credited Germany’s “strong state” for its post-WWII success, but its pre-1945 state was much stronger, as was East Germany’s. So, clearly state strength was not the key to its success.

        • NicoLite Великий Says:

          There is never a single factor that is “key” to a success. There are, however, obvious reasons for failure: In Eastern Germany, it was the alignment with the Soviet Union, and in the Third Reich, it was a Megalomaniac with a Dirty Sanchez for a moustache, also, killing the Jews, “Queers”, et al. wasn’t helpful.

        • Tim Starr Says:

          Yes, there is always a single factor for failure: Socialism. National Socialist Germany was socialist, East Germany was socialist, West Germany was not.

        • NicoLite Великий Says:

          The only socialist thing about the 3rd Reich was the S in the NSDAP. This misconception is also partly responsile for the antisemitic accusations against OWS: The Nazi’s saw the Germans as the workers and the Jews as the parasitic businessmen, or, as we would now call them, the 1%. Why only partly? It is true that also the Bolshewiks – the true socialists – deported Jews to their Gulaks in Siberia as well. I think going into the origins of European Antisemitism is too much of a digression for now. Also, I didn’t say single factor, but obvious factor. I don’t deal in what-if’s, but I dare say, without the arms race, the Soviet Union might still exist. 10,000 Nuclear Missiles are very expensive to produce, after all, and they are only the tip of the Weaponsberg

  36. Lloyd Lofthouse Says:

    As for red lights and stop signs, in China it doesn’t matter if there are stop signs or red lights, the drivers don’t stop. Also, in China there are a lot more accidents and people getting killed and injured by cars and trucks.

    You also mentioned the government has rules on who we can or cannot marry. Really? Are you talking about an eighty year old marrying a three year old girl or men marrying men or women marrying women?

    There are states in the US where same sex marriage is legal.

    Reply

    • Malcolm Greenhill Says:

      Thank you but I’m not sure what your point is. You say:

      “As for red lights and stop signs, in China it doesn’t matter if there are stop signs or red lights, the drivers don’t stop. Also, in China there are a lot more accidents and people getting killed and injured by cars and trucks.”

      If drivers are reckless and not inclined to obey rules and laws there will be more accidents irrespective of whether there are traffic lights or not. Also, I was referring to gay marriage laws. As you know from 1996 until a few months ago marriage was explicitly defined in federal law as a union of one man and one woman. I realize that this has now become a state issue.

      Reply

  37. Jackson Williams Says:

    Reblogged this on Bored American Tribune. and commented:
    — J.W.

    Reply

  38. davisjasonr Says:

    Reblogged this on Jason Davis and commented:
    Well written and thoughtful explanation as to why freedom works.

    “The problem remains however, that when government forces people to do what it thinks is right, it prevents them from developing the instinct for learning what is right. Consequently, those who advocate freedom do so not because they side with one sector of society rather than another or because they want to experiment with exotic ways of living; they advocate freedom because it is only when men have the ability to choose wrong, that they can choose right, and so learn to be responsible human beings.”

    Reply

  39. Ray Davis Says:

    Reblogged this on The Affirmation Spot and commented:
    Wonderful post I came across this wonderful post on freedom. I enjoy ideas that open the thinking. This blog post succeeded.

    Reply

  40. Sword of Apollo Says:

    That’s a very interesting experiment; thanks for posting about it.

    I don’t think that system would work well in a large city like Los Angeles or Chicago. But that, of course, doesn’t mean that roads need to be run by the government. Private roads in a large city would typically have obedience to certain traffic rules as conditions of use by customers. For homeowners on a street, the rules would be written into each customer’s usage contract.

    Reply

  41. My Heathen Heart Says:

    I couldn’t agree with you more, Malcolm – and it’s not just occurring in the U.S., either. Australia has become the biggest “nanny state” in the world in that respect, choking and stamping out freedom to such a degree, that those who visit Europe for a few months, and experience genuine freedom of choice taken for granted over there, come back to Australia shocked at the difference. Kids here are largely growing up ignorant of how to make right choices and learn these things for themselves, because every step of life is now increasingly dictated. The media here has a lot to answer for, too. Something has to change.

    Reply

  42. aurorawatcherak Says:

    I work for Department of Transportation and it is a growing trend to remove traffic lights and stop signs in favor of roundabouts and better driver education. Generally, communities don’t like it, but so far the statistics show that accidents don’t increase. I read an article in a trade publication a few weeks ago where the number of traffic stops by police decreases as well. I mentioned it to my boss, who is a high-up official and he said, with a grin, “Yes, my goal in life is to retire some cops.”

    The majority of laws are on the books as job security for the police. They aren’t there for public safety. They’re there because someone wants the ability to control someone else.

    Example — here in Alaska a lot of us burn wood to heat our homes. A couple of years ago, we had a bunch of newbies start burning wood because the price of heating fuel went through the roof. There were calls to start fining people for burning green wood because they were annoying their neighbors. My neighbor was smoking us out. He didn’t know what he was doing. I could have called the government to complain, but instead, I walked over, knocked on his door, had a pleasant conversation about the joys of reading a fine book by the fire and then offered to swap him some of my dry wood for his green, which I put in my next-year pile and — viola — the problem was eliminated without bringing the government into it. When I shared this story at a public meeting, some people nodded, but a lot of people said it simply wouldn’t work. Apparently, they had failed to notice that I had already done it and it had indeed worked!

    Reply

    • Malcolm Greenhill Says:

      Thank you for this informative comment and what a great story. Maybe your neighbor will remember how you handled that issue the next time he thinks of getting government to solve a problem.

      Reply

      • aurorawatcherak Says:

        It used to be really common here in Alaska for neighbors to talk about issues or … hey, what a lovely concept, not think that what happened on their neighbor’s property was any concern of theirs until it came across the property line. Sadly, with the influx of people from the “Lower 48″ we’ve had to struggle to keep that pioneer spirit. Alaska has a lot of government — all of our resource revenue is filtered through the State of Alaska because the US Congress decided Alaskans shouldn’t own their mineral rights individually. We’re basically a socialist state in that regard. But our government has, for the most part, been run by folks who get the Alaskan spirit of “leave your neighbor alone”. They pass the resource money to communities and individuals without a lot of strings attached. So far ….

        We definitely have a minority of people in Fairbanks who think their neighbor’s business is their business and are trying everything they can to make government do what they see as the “public good”. Our borough (that’s like a county) mayor agrees with them, but so far, he’s found getting Interior Alaskan voters to vote the way he wants is a lot like herding cats.Oddly, as with the national scene, voters still re-elected the big government, intrusive manager type while also voting against growth in government at the proposition level. It’s really bizarre to watch. It makes no sense at all. It’s like electorate schizophrenia.

        Reply

  43. Travis B. Says:

    Truth be told I haven’t read the last few comments, but one that did get my attention was the one that stated we all occasionally act irrationally. Just because one person considers an act irrational, doesn’t quite mean it is. Simply comes down to what someone believes in, and how they act upon it. People will act stupidly when they believe they’re right, they will go to any extent to prove they are right at the same time. When someone believes they are right, they will act through with it, sometimes harming others in the process. Just because this “freedom” works for some people, others will likely end up causing more harm than good.

    Reply

    • Malcolm Greenhill Says:

      If someone is going to act stupidly or criminally it doesn’t matter whether there is a law against that type of behavior or not. They will just do what they are going to do. The point is that we want more people to act responsibly and the only way to do that is to give them the freedom to learn what it means to be responsible.

      Reply

      • Travis B. Says:

        Even if someone learns how to act responsibly, doesn’t mean they’ll act on it.

        Reply

        • Malcolm Greenhill Says:

          Thank you for this, but your comment and many others in a similar vein share the misconception that without a top-down directed order there would be no order but chaos. But there is no top-down direction of the internet but there is order and if someone acts irresponsibly it is dealt with by the interested parties and/or the various self-regulatory bodies governing internet protocols. There was no top-down direction in the development of the personal computer and mobile devices but it happened and the market continues to innovate without such top-down direction. Language, culture, markets, mores, customs and even law are example of such ‘spontaneous’ orders. If you are having difficulty grasping the fact that the typical army today and the internet represent two completely different types of order I urge you to read an early post of mine which elaborates on this distinction in more detail:

          http://malcolmscorner.wordpress.com/2012/10/23/anarchy-has-a-bad-rap/

          I am not recommending chaos but a type of order which permits a greater degree of individual freedom, and consequently one which encourages the development of individual responsibility. This type of order is just as, and even more capable, of handling irresponsible behavior in an efficent manner. Just try sending me an obscene comment on this blog and see what happens:)

  44. missemmapeel2012 Says:

    Freedom. I’m not sure I trust the American definition of the word.

    Reply

    • Malcolm Greenhill Says:

      Yes. The definition of freedom has morphed from negative liberty (freedom from coercion) to positive liberty (the freedom to do or become something). There is some sense in the positive definition e.g. that the hungry man is not free, but the bottom line is that nowadays ‘freedom’ often seems to mean the opposite of what it once did.

      Reply

  45. Pooja LoPriore Says:

    Reblogged this on S U A R I * सुअरी and commented:
    Great Read and Inspirational

    Reply

  46. Rhea Dorn Says:

    Have you been on the road in India – no rules that anyone follows, no lights, no right of way, fantastic deadly accidents.
    The Israelites developed a system underpinned by a belief in an all powerful Yaweh who set down quite specific rules.
    A bee hive has a complicated pattern of rules in order to survive and produce the best life for those in the colony whose function is for the perpetuation of the hive. It all depends upon the survival of the queen.
    Children thrive when guided by rules and regulations and are not left to do whatever.
    The Plymouth colony regulated land use, personal affairs, and public space.
    We have joined together for protection but also to enhance our lives. Government is not some other hovering above. It is us.
    Freedom is an illusion.

    Reply

    • Malcolm Greenhill Says:

      Rhea, you are under the mistaken impression that I am recommending the elimination of rules – far from it. Please see my response to Travis B. earlier today. As to your comment that “Freedom is an illusion” I beg to disagree. Freedom is the core western value but Alexis de Toqueville, in his classic work ‘Democracy in America’, describes how freedom can disappear even in a democracy:

      “… after having thus successively taken each member of the community in its powerful grasp and fashioned him at will, the supreme power then extends its arm over the whole community. It covers the surface of society with a network of small complicated rules, minute and uniform, through which the most original minds and the most energetic characters cannot penetrate, to rise above the crowd. The will of man is not shattered, but softened, bent, and guided; men are seldom forced by it to act, but they are constantly restrained from acting. Such a power does not destroy, but it prevents existence; it does not tyrannize, but it compresses, enervates, extinguishes, and stupefies a people, till each nation is reduced to nothing better than a flock of timid and industrious animals, of which the government is the shepherd.”

      This type of despotism is not obvious but there are elements of it in our society today.

      Reply

  47. sally1137 Says:

    Malcolm,

    Excellent post, and comments. I found you on the Freshly Pressed recommendations, and agree with you wholeheartedly. I appreciate your calm and rational writing style.

    When I was a little girl, my mom let me play outside barefoot in the dirt. I got dirty. If I stepped barefoot on gravel, it hurt. I learned not to do that. I learned to stay away from bees; that peas were best eaten standing in the garden; that mother cats will move their kittens if you play with them too much. I had enough freedom to learn what would hurt me, with the gentle guidance of my mom.

    As children, we need that guidance to develop common sense. I fear that common sense is sadly lacking in many of today’s adults. However, government cannot save us from ourselves, or rather from those among us who have no common sense.

    I’m planning to click “follow” and look forward to perusing your other posts. Thanks and best regards.

    Reply

    • Malcolm Greenhill Says:

      Sally, thank you for this great comment which cuts to the chase on the issue of freedom and personal responsibility. Also, isn’t it strange that what seems just plain, old fashioned common sense at a personal level suddenly becomes naïve and unsophisticated at the macro level? For example, while personally we all know the consequences of debt and most people try to avoid excessive levels of it, in political circles, on both sides of the House, this is considered naïve and unsophisticated.

      Reply

  48. Raunak Says:

    Malcolm, I couldn’t agree more! We are just not giving the innate intelligence, compassion and goodness of human beings a chance.
    great post!

    Reply

  49. zefitz Says:

    We tend to believe that government (by the people & for the people) should be on our side. Govern is to rule. Without rules it would be Anarchy: positive and negative forces running in all directions. However, there is a potential for betrayal; when government takes side opposite to our interest. Let’s take food industry as example: giving green light to GMO without obligation to label. This is our life – not any force (except natural) should control our longevity. Maybe it can be justified globally, under the pretext of saving the world from hunger? We have no say about it, just like animals.

    Reply

    • Malcolm Greenhill Says:

      Thank you for this comment. The point of the post was to encourage people to avoid the knee-jerk reaction to look to government to solve our problems. Rather, I suggested that we explore solutions that expand human freedom rather than contracting it. Only by so doing can we encourage the development of responsible human beings.

      I would also argue that government actions are inimical to our interests much more often than people think, as a result of a phenomena which economists have called ‘the unintended consequences of human action’. For example, on the question of government enforced labeling, let’s examine Proposition 65, a California ballot initiative that voters approved in 1986 requiring warnings on products known to cause cancer or birth defects. In retrospect this proposition appears to have benefited nobody but litigators. Prop 65 requires proprietors of restaurants that serve olives, bread and chicken to warn customers that they sell cancerous products because each of these foods (and hundreds of others) contain trace amounts of substances known to cause cancer in rodents. It’s not that these substances are somehow added by evil food companies to olives, bread, and chicken. Rather, the substances occur naturally in these prepared foods. However, the seller does not have much choice, he or she has to label or be sued. Consequently, in addition to enriching litigators in the state, Prop 65 has created the absurd practice of food sellers in the state over-warning (to avoid litigation) to such an extent that the warnings lose any meaning they might otherwise have had. I suspect that there would be similar unintended consequences to government mandated labeling of GMO products. An alternative solution which would expand human freedom would be to get the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to reconsider its opposition to voluntary labeling that would permit non-GMO producers and sellers to openly tout their products as such.

      Reply

  50. unifiedforjobs Says:

    Here is some truth you might be interested….Who knew Glenn beck knew their plan.

    http://wp.me/p2SZKE-9B

    Reply

  51. moneyfyi Says:

    Nicely said. Here is a column that appeared in Toronto recently. http://www.torontosun.com/2012/12/28/a-little-year-end-musing
    Thomas Sowell often sees things quite clearly
    Best for 2013

    Reply

  52. eideard Says:

    As a car geek my whole life I disagree with extrapolating the Drachten to much of the world and especially most of the United States.

    I spent decades on the road in much of the US. A air piece in Europe. I can name the metro areas with aggressive and skilled drivers [NYC] vs aggressive, skilled and deliberately rude [Boston]. There were driving habits turned into acceptable regulations, for example, where the Feds had to step in because too many tourists were being killed.

    It was acceptable if you were 2nd or 3rd in line at a stop sign and the first driver went – and it looked clear enough to you – you could could proceed ahead right on his rear bumper.

    It was still legal during rush hour – when I left MA – to drive at the speed limit on the shoulder of the road. Explain that one to a tourist who stops his RV at the roadside to check a guidebook.

    OTOH, I live now in the Southwest where no one can figure out a 4-way stop sign or a rotary. Where the state just completed an overpass and cloverleaf for $6.8 million because of the number of people killed annually = because they couldn’t gauge how to cross 2 lanes of truly sparse traffic to get to the median on a state highway and then either turn onto the lane going left – or worse, wait for the next break in traffic and cross the whole road altogether.

    I trust drivers in Italy with my life. I wouldn’t trust drivers in France with any situation requiring distance judgement of an approaching speeding car. I wouldn’t trust drivers in the UK with a riding mower.

    Reply

    • Malcolm Greenhill Says:

      Thanks Eideard, but if you click the links in the post you will see that nobody is suggesting “extrapolating Drachten to much of the world”. Hans Monderman, the Drachten traffic engineer responsible for the original experiment, specifically states that prior detailed assessments have to be made at each possible location and that the no traffic lights idea will definitely not work everywhere. The point is simply that we can look to expand freedom in even the most unlikely areas because most of us have forgotten how freedom works. A lack of top down order frequently does not lead to chaos but to a different type of order. In an earlier post you called this claim “sophistry” (http://malcolmscorner.wordpress.com/2012/10/23/anarchy-has-a-bad-rap/). I beg to differ.

      Reply

  53. hunt4thought Says:

    Reblogged this on huntforthought and commented:
    Came across this wonderful blog post and just had to share the original poster’s knowledge.

    Reply

  54. hunt4thought Says:

    I stumbled upon this article, and I am so glad I did. Your thoughts on freedom resonate greatly with mine. I had to reblog this!

    Reply

  55. captainalb Says:

    I agree wholeheartedly! I think part of the problem is that through the incremental dumbing down that has been in progress for at least the past 60 years, we no longer think about the benefits of freedom, or the obscenity of its alternatives. It is going to be a long hard fight to regain the freedoms “guaranteed” to us, but it is a fight worth fighting.

    Reply

  56. lawrenceemery Says:

    Reblogged this on Lawrence Emery and commented:
    Camus makes a very interesting point in his book, “The Fall.” He begins to discuss how many people talk of freedom, but in reality seek slavery; in slavery the burden is a collective oppression, but in freedom, a man bares the responsibility of action and consequence. He hypothesizes that “…The essential is to cease being free and obey, in repentance, a greater rogue than oneself. When we are all guilty, that will be democracy.” Maybe this is where we are at, making ourselves guilty, freeing ourselves of judgement by associating with worse evils than our own. Maybe as individuals we seek out the oppressive rule of a tyrant government to, in turn, turn over the responsibility of moral and ethical decisions. I fear we as a people may never wake up from this sedation, and that it will be from behind razor wire that we see the true nature of our leaders.

    Reply

  57. Holistic Wayfarer Says:

    “The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely I have a delightful inheritance.” Ps. 16.6 I was just talking about this with a friend. In the spiritual sphere, what we perceive as restrictions are actually our great good, and the wanton “freedom” that might look attractive grave danger. Your example plays out in the tangible world, too.

    Reply

  58. Malcolm Greenhill Says:

    http://ofradix.net/2013/01/03/the-calendar-says-lets-start-again/

    “Introducing freedom and true choice at a very young age will prepare every human being to become a good citizen and responsibly consider choices and their consequences.”

    Othmar, thank you. Your point is well taken. This is one of the most important qualities we can pass on to our children.

    Reply

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Freedom Works « coolstoryglo - December 20, 2012

    […] Freedom Works. […]

  2. The calendar says, let’s start again | OFRADIX - January 3, 2013

    […] I read a post about freedom. “Freedom Works” talks about the patronizing attitudes by governments that inhibit true learning of decision making […]

  3. Freedom Works | Young Canadian Voice – Hopeful? - January 23, 2013

    […] Freedom Works. […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,617 other followers

%d bloggers like this: