Friday, February 4, 2011

New At Say Anything: The Role of Government: The Purpose of Laws

Is North Dakota becoming a nanny state? There's sufficient evidence that that new state Congress is working to push North Dakota in that direction. Between new rules for divorce, adding layers to the process of getting a driver's license and wanting to teach abstinence in public
2011 is shaping up to be a banner year for those who believe the role of government is to protect society from every evil that might befall it.

Few would argue that the government has no role in protecting its citizens. The question is, where should that line be drawn? Is there a place it can be drawn that would satisfy all? Probably not. Let's try anyway.

To my mind the first stroke in the sand would fall between two pretty broad categories of harm: the harm that individuals can visit upon themselves and the harm that individuals can visit on others. This would mean that laws against murder, rape, robbery, and many others would fall on the "right" side of this line.
Killing or injuring another, abusing them, taking their property: all these things visit lasting harm on the other and would be the kind of actions that a citizen would expect to be outlawed in a just society.

Where this side of the line gets a little blurry is in the cases where harm is alleged but hard to prove. Discrimination is a prime example. As long as the system is set up to be fair and the burden of proof is both reasonable and on the accuser rather than the accused, I think we can say discrimination is something society would want laws against. Note that the fact that we need to worry about discrimination at all is another topic; it exists so the only question is, is it something for which the government should legislate sanctions.

What laws would be on the "wrong" side of this line? Well, if we define the wrong side as those laws that attempt to protect a citizen from himself, I can think of a few examples. Mandatory seatbelt laws (which North Dakota has enacted) would be one. A law that mandates that passengers in a vehicle wear seatbelts make sense to me; the passengers aren't in control of the car and thus are subject to the decisions of the driver. Should the driver have to wear a seatbelt? No, not if we judge the law using our bright line. The driver can harm no one but himself by not wearing a seatbelt (notwithstanding some farfetched scenario). There have been many recorded cases of an individual being injured or killed because they didn't wear a seatbelt. I am aware of no case where a person was injured because someone else wasn't wearing one. The same argument applies to motorcycle helmets. Passengers would be required to wear them in our bright line legal landscape, drivers would not.

What if we apply our bright line to the laws mentioned at the beginning of this article?

(Click here to read the rest of this article at Say Anything.)

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