Book Notes: Economic Freedom and Cars

Though the United States has not adopted central economic planning, we have gone very far in the past fifty years in expanding the role of government in the economy.  That intervention has been costly in economic terms.  The limitations imposed on our economic freedom threaten to bring two centuries of economic progress to an end.  Intervention has also been costly in political terms.  It has greatly limited our human freedom.

What amazes me about this quote is that it didn’t appear today on Red State, National Review, or the Weekly Standard.  Instead, it is buried deep in this weeks reading of Free to Choose.  My copy was updated in 1979.  This quote was written thirty years ago, before the latest EPA rulings, the newest auto safety requirements, and long before Obama care.

In this section of our reading, the Friedman’s argue that many of the taxes and controls the government put into place limit our very freedom.  Under the guise of protecting us, the government has gotten more and more involved in limiting our freedom.  While we still live in the free-est country in the world, the “soft tyranny” of the government threatens to remove more and more of that freedom.

Take cars.  In writing Free to Choose, the Friedmans make the passing comment that, “Our physician is not free to prescribe many drugs for us that he may regard as the most effective for our ailments, even though the drugs may be widely available abroad.  We are not free to buy an automobile without seat belts, though, for the time being, we are still free to choose whether or not to buckle up.”  I don’t believe there is anywhere left in the United States with even that small degree of freedom.  Today, when shopping for a car, you have to purchase one with not just seat belts, but air bags, and the correct government approved gas mileage.  Where does government get the authority to determine the very  mileage my car must achieve?  Each of these “safety” measures drives up the price of the car.  Higher and higher gas mileage requirements not only drive up the cost of the car, they make the car less and less safe.  There is only so much you can squeeze out of modern engines.  In order to achieve a higher miles per gallon rating after that, you have to make the car lighter.  The lighter the car, the less safe it is in a collision with a tractor trailer or a concrete barricade.

Once you have your car, you are still not free to use it as you see fit.  The law requires that you buckle up and that you turn your headlights on when it rains.  Some cities and counties even mandate how many people can be in the car in case of a teenage driver.  In the latest safety craze vs. freedom, you can’t text message in your car.  Want to use your GPS, apply make up, shave, or catch up on the morning paper?  Those are still legal.  But should you text your wife that you are heading home from work, watch out!

There is a chance that reading this you believe that these safety precautions are good.  I am not arguing that.  I am arguing that the government has decided that you aren’t capable of deciding what you can do in the car.  The government has decided it can better determine how many kids are in the car with your teenage driver than you.

As with most soft tyranny, these encroachments started one step at a time.  Imagine someone introducing a bill in the 1970’s that would force auto manufactures to include all of today’s safety requirements.  Imagine a bill being introduced that would include all of today’s laws about how you use your car.  The public would have lit their torches and handed out pitch forks.  However, by introducing one law at a time, the government continues to cut into our freedoms.

It may seem a silly thing to wail at, but by introducing these safety laws, the government has steadily driven up the price of cars.   By making cars more and more expensive, they have reduced the number of people who can afford to buy a new car.  The recent “cash for clunkers” program further reduced the number of people who could buy a used car.  Isn’t a car the ultimate symbol of our freedom?  The ability to drive anywhere we want in the country at moment’s notice allows us a freedom enjoyed in few places.  However, that freedom lessens the more laws that are passed the less freedom we have, and the less freedom to move around the country we enjoy.

Being part of any society requires that you surrender a certain amount of freedom.  However, when the government enacts these “safety” requirements, they take a portion of our freedom without asking and without a real need for it.  We have seen how far the government has advanced since 1979.  How far will it advance over the next thirty years?

For Next Week: I plan on covering all of chapter 3, and up to “Medical Care” in Chapter 4.   That’s around page 112 in my copy.  Have a great week!