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Kids and Dangerous Houses: Should the Government Step In?

in Liberator Online, Libertarian Answers on Issues by Mary Ruwart Comments are off

(From the Ask Dr. Ruwart section in Volume 20, No. 1 of the Liberator Online. Subscribe here!)

QUESTION: I favor liberty and minimal government intrusion. But I’m wrestling with the issue of dangerous housesprotection of children within the home. I’m struggling a little to find a happy medium between a total “hands off” approach that would balance my rights, as homeowner, to leave big nasty kitchen knives lying around, electrical sockets exposed with metal objects stuck in them, big holes in the ground, staircases with boards missing, etc. (I know some of those are silly/extreme examples but legislation typically makes no distinction between the sensible and the surreal), with the rights of children in the house.

Obviously an adult could see that such a place was a deathtrap and make an informed decision to visit or not. But what about children? What about my own children, who wouldn’t be able to make an informed decision whether to continue to live in the house because they wouldn’t know any different and wouldn’t have the freedom to leave anyway. And what about my children inviting their friends back to my house? Their friends wouldn’t necessarily understand the dangers or be able to make an informed decision whether to accept the risks.

MY SHORT ANSWER: You’re right: regulators can’t possibly know what a homeowner should do to child-proof a home. Nor would they have enough resources to inspect every place that houses children even if they did.

Keeping a child safe is part of parenting; some parents will do a better job of it than others. No parent can anticipate every safety hazard, but on average, they’ll do better than bureaucrats. Children of parents who are chronically drunk, high, or just plain neglectful will almost always have more accidents than children of attentive, sober ones. Neglectful parents will ignore regulations; attentive parents won’t need them, as they’ll be constantly trying to anticipate potential problems. As hard as it is to accept, we will never have a society where every child lives in an accident-free home; perfection just isn’t an option in human relations.

From a libertarian perspective, we might ask how we can have a society where fewer parents are neglectful, since regulations aren’t going to help much, if at all. In a society with less government interference in the marketplace, jobs would be more plentiful, the average paycheck would buy more, and people wouldn’t be kept from the work they prefer by regulations that shut them out.  People would be less frustrated and have more free time, so “drowning one’s sorrows” in booze or mind-altering drugs would be less attractive. (For details, see my book, Healing Our World; the 1992 edition can be read for free at ruwart.com).

Most of us can get a sense of this by asking our grandparents and great-grandparents how they were raised. Wealth creation was slower back then, times were harder, and children were expected to do dangerous jobs, like working on the farm with animals and machines. Spanking and even frank beating were thought to build character. On average, harsh conditions produce harsh childhoods, although there are exceptions. Long hours in the fields or factories left our elders too tired to be as attentive as they might have otherwise been.

Must we wait for government to subside before children can be protected in their homes? Not at all! If you feel moved to teach others how to child-proof a home, it’s easy to share such information on a personal blog, Facebook, etc.  First-time parents are especially eager to learn such things.

Although government is seldom, if ever, the answer, individual initiative almost always is.

LEARN MORE: Suggestions by Liberator Online editor James W. Harris for further reading on this topic:

* “Wage War on Poverty with Libertarianism“ by Jacob Hornberger. Poverty is not the only reason for unsafe housing. But higher incomes generally mean safer homes, better education, higher standards of living, and so forth. In this article the president of the Future of Freedom Foundation tells how libertarian policies could achieve that.

EXCERPT: “There are five libertarian keys to ending or greatly alleviating poverty. These keys apply not only to the United States but to every other nation in the world. If any nation wants to end poverty or at least to drastically reduce it, what follows is what it should do. Any nation that adopts the following five principles will, in both the short term and long term, achieve rising standards of living, especially for the poor.”

* “The Nanny State“ by Adam Young, Mises Daily, August 6, 2001. This short article explores how markets can provide better, more innovative safety for families than regulation.

EXCERPT: “Many calamities are preventable — not by bureaucratic means, but by simple attentive parenting and common sense — but nothing can take away the inherent risk of calamity that exists every day of our lives. An irrefutable fact of reality is the unpredictability of the future and all the accidents that result. The problem here is to balance risk of harm with the prospects of success, and that is something only the private sector does well. …

“If government regulations did not crowd out private testing and rating services, then rating guides, reports, and private-sector safety consultants would be more available, comprehensive, and affordable than they are now. State regulation breeds irresponsibility and blame shifting. Tangles of regulations impose costs that price competitors out of the market and prevent the invention of new designs and superior and cheaper products which, under the existing regulations, would become technically illegal.

“The free market would encourage entrepreneurs to create rating and safety systems that would perform the dual role so claimed, but never actually delivered on, by the government — namely, providing consumer safety and respecting consumer choice. Only products tested by the market can find the right balance. Anyone who has looked through baby-product catalogs knows that safety is extremely important in this market.

“If safety, as arbitrarily and remotely defined by bureaucrats in Washington, is to be imposed regardless of the cost, then why not take the next step? Parents themselves should be trained and licensed by the government, all in pursuit of the ideal of ‘safety.’ Forget the Nanny State; we need a full-time Parental State. It may sound absurd and dangerous to liberty, but one wonders how many politicians and bureaucrats today could marshal arguments against the idea.”


Short Answers to the Tough QuestionsGot questions?  Dr. Ruwart has answers! If you’d like answers to YOUR tough questions on libertarian issues, email Dr. Ruwart

Due to volume, Dr. Ruwart can’t personally acknowledge all emails. But we’ll run the best questions and answers in upcoming issues.

Dr. Ruwart’s previous Liberator Online answers are archived in searchable form.

Dr. Ruwart’s latest book Short Answers to the Tough Questions, Expanded Edition is available from the Advocates, as is her acclaimed classic Healing Our World.

National Service: Should Young Americans Be Forced To Serve the Government?

in Liberator Online, Libertarian Answers on Issues, Libertarian Stances on Issues by Mary Ruwart Comments are off

(From the Ask Dr. Ruwart section in Volume 19, No. 12 of the Liberator Online. Subscribe here!)
National Service

QUESTION: I believe we shouldn’t be forced to participate in some kind of national service. However, some of my friends say we owe some duty to our country for being born here and living here. What about a citizen’s duty to country?

MY SHORT ANSWER: If “doing our duty” is equated to providing “service,” who decides what is service and what is not? If young Steve Jobs had been forced into some type of national service instead of being left alone to tinker in his garage, he might never have invented the personal computer. The resulting increases in everyone’s standard of living would have been lost or delayed because of a bureaucrat’s uninformed decision about what was good for the country.

Freedom is what is good for a nation, especially one that wants to help its poor. More freedom means more wealth creation and less poverty. Government interference, even well-intended, backfires. (For some examples and more detail, see my book, “Healing Our World.” The 1992 edition is available as a free download at www.ruwart.com. The updated 2003 edition is available at the Advocates online bookstore.)

Most people give generously of their time and money if this is the voluntary custom. For example, tipping is not mandatory, but almost everyone does it. Before government got involved in social welfare, almost everyone helped a less fortunate neighbor individually or as part of a formal organization because that was the custom. You were either a charity case or a provider of charity; few people wanted to be in the former group.

To return to this way of charitable thinking, the government should stop forcing people to “give at the office” through taxation and resist the temptation to force people into service. Doing so will only create resentment towards those in need, leaving little sympathy for the poor when their “help” disappears in the shifting political tides.

LEARN MORE: Suggestions for further reading on this topic from Liberator Online editor James W. Harris:

* “Shhh… Don’t call Obama’s national service scheme a ‘draft‘” by Jerome Tuccille. National service is seemingly off the front burner, but don’t let down your guard; the idea continues to circulate. This article, written in 2008 when the idea was being more strongly pushed by both Democrats and Republicans, points out the insidious nature of the concept.

EXCERPT: “Under Barack Obama’s plan, a refusal to participate in a national service program touted at the federal level will be punished by the withholding of high school diplomas by the school district in your town. And without that diploma, few colleges or employers will even bother to look at your application.

“It’s a softer sort of authoritarianism which requires no draft boards, muddles the identity of the ‘bad guy’ and produces no martyrs in handcuffs for the evening news. You just can’t get a job if you don’t do as you’re told.”

* “National Service? Puh-lease“ by Michael Kinsley, TIME, Sept. 04, 2007. Liberal journalist Kinsley does a great job of gutting the whole “national service” notion. Ignore the couple of paragraphs in the middle about democracy and taxation; the rest is brilliant and marvelously written.

EXCERPT: “Problem number one with grand schemes for universal voluntary public service is that they can’t be both universal and voluntary. If everybody has to do it, then it’s not voluntary, is it? And if it’s truly up to the individual, then it won’t be universal. What advocates of this sort of thing generally have in mind is using the pressures of social conformity and the powers of the state indirectly to remove as much freedom of choice as possible, while still being able to claim that everyone who signs up is a ‘volunteer.’”

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Short Answers to Tough QuestionsGot questions?  Dr. Ruwart has answers! If you’d like answers to YOUR tough questions on libertarian issues, email Dr. Ruwart

Due to volume, Dr. Ruwart can’t personally acknowledge all emails. But we’ll run the best questions and answers in upcoming issues.

Dr. Ruwart’s previous Liberator Online answers are archived in searchable form.

Dr. Ruwart’s latest book Short Answers to the Tough Questions, Expanded Edition is available from the Advocates, as is her acclaimed classic Healing Our World.