“There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch.” While we nod our heads in agreement at this idiom, rarely do we consider just how far-reaching it is. It’s very easy to recognize that a good or service offered for free is anything but. Rarely, however, do we evaluate the intangible cost of laws on our society.
As an example, consider the societal cost of raising or lowering the speed limit on a stretch of highway. If it is lowered, we save lives, but at a cost of additional commute times. If it is raised, commute times drop while highway fatalities increase. You can also find a societal cost in legalizing a behavior. A real hot button locally is liberalization of liquor laws. It seems like an easy thing to say yes to. After all, shouldn’t an adult be able to drink whatever they want whenever they want in whatever quantity they want if they don’t affect others? Our eastern neighbor, Nevada, has taken this approach to alcohol to the extreme. Any kind of alcohol is available in venues from liquor stores to grocery stores to gas stations all day, every day. They subsequently have one of the highest rates of DUI in the nation, soaring auto insurance premiums, and severe issues with alcohol abuse. It’s very difficult to ignore those adverse affects.
Many libertarians will often argue that this societal cost is non-existent. In their mind, individual liberty outweighs any potential negative side effect that may occur. Unfortunately, the irresponsible among us who would abuse liberty often ignore responsibility. This irresponsible behavior often leads to loss of life or liberty for another party. Putting an overemphasis on individual rights over collective rights (or the converse) is what leads to this imbalance of liberty and responsibility. It is incumbent upon each of us to consider the far-reaching consequences of the laws and policies we promote and ask if we are truly prepared to pay the real cost of such laws.
So where do we draw the line? That is up for the people as a whole to decide. A great thing about out nation is that we have the freedom to congregate with like-minded people and make the government of our choosing. If you do not like the particular balance between individual and collective rights struck in your locale, vote with your feet. Just don’t forget that everything has its price.