Thursday, July 06, 2006

The freedom to assume risk

In its benevolence, government at all levels has uncountable regulations and statutes just for what we ingest. It's the tip of the iceberg that the FDA's legions must approve pharmaceuticals and inspect and/or supervise food production. New York City, for example, has decided that milk's usual expiration dates are too long. Once fluid milk is pasteurized, it's legal to sell it only within 96 hours of 6 a.m. on the next day (which is about three days earlier than what most dairy producers stamp on the containers). I have never heard an explanation for this that satisfied me. This New York Times article quotes an "Assistant Commissioner of the Department of Health" as saying, "There are too many variables, and we have no guarantee that proper care has been taken." In other words, just like Ronald Reagan warned, that guy is from the government, and he's here to help you.

Do delis not keep their refrigerators cool enough, in an effort to save money, making their milk riskier? (The doors are also opened and closed so frequently that a constant temperature is virtually impossible to maintain.) Does the city government not trust the trucks' refrigeration systems? Who knows. What I do know is that I'm intelligent enough, and my olfactory senses are of sufficient acuity, that when I open the bottle or carton, I can usually tell if it's spoiled. If there are curdles when I pour it out, yeah, most anyone would know it's gone bad.

Moreover, businesses build success upon gaining consumers' trust. Thus I generally will trust an established dairy's expiration date, and more so if I buy it in a reputable store, until I'm given reason to avoid it. If I keep my refrigerator on the coolest setting, but a certain brand still consistently sours very soon, then I'll simply stop buying it. A&P's milk is fine, but I don't like the Byrne Dairy milk that I occasionally picked up at Rite Aid. It could be the milk, the transportation, or Rite Aid's refrigerators. I don't know, nor do I care to find out: for me, it would be a very heavy cost in time to determine why. Since I rarely bought milk at Rite Aid anyway, it's cheaper that I buy only other brands at other stores.

Let's talk some more about trust. People apparently trust Arlie Stutzman, an Amish dairy farmer, to the extent that they buy his raw milk in unlabeled containers. Some participate in his "herd share," receiving milk in return for paying for cows' upkeep. The fact that this commerce is completely voluntary and harms no one is not good enough for the Ohio Department of Agriculture, who entrapped Stutzman in a sting operation. According to Jeffrey Quick, Stutzman got his milk license (a license is when the state gives you permission for something you already have a God-given right to do) back in April, but his latest court appearance is for running a herd share.

That's irrelevant, though, and with all respect to Stutzman, so is his defense based on "freedom of religion." The freedom to "share" (actually a better word is sell or trade) is not grounded in religion. Indeed, it's a dangerous precedent to base a basic right on freedom of religion. It's almost like Stutzman and his lawyer are grasping for straws, when they should argue something more fundamental. Then again, maybe they fall back on religion because the proper argument would be lost on most Americans, who have grown up believing government must protect us from ourselves and our mistakes. The real issue is the right of the individual to choose to engage in voluntary commerce that harms no one, free from others (especially government) hindering him. Hindering ranges from outright prevention to regulation, though bureaucrats and their lackeys like to claim that regulation allows you to do the same thing, only under government's direction.

Government tells us that only it can properly educate our children. Government tells us that only it can properly plan (via zoning laws and permits) where we can live and how we may build our houses. Apparently the necessity of state supervision extends to buying milk, too. I always thought it was a simple process, but according to government, only it can protect us from unsafe or fraudulent products -- on the one hand "persuading" us from childhood through public schools' indoctrination, and on the other, coercing merchants through criminal penalties. It does not matter that people buy Stutzman's milk in purely voluntary, peaceful transactions. Nor does it matter that Stutzman does not misrepresent his milk, like selling week-old milk that he claims was milked that morning, or telling them that it's pasteurized. Yet Stutzman isn't promoting his raw milk as anything but an unpasteurized product straight from his own cows. There's his herd, there's his machinery, so what you see is what you get.

Since there is no coercion or fraud, then beyond whatever marketing Stutzman may do, it becomes the consumer's responsibility to discover raw milk's properties and then determine its suitability. Stutzman is not forcing anyone to buy his milk; in fact, he was initially reluctant to sell to the Ohio undercover agent. However, government is ever populated by the socialist busybodies whom Bastiat described in The Law:
Moreover, even where they have consented to recognize a principle of action in the heart of man—and a principle of discernment in man's intellect—they have considered these gifts from God to be fatal gifts. They have thought that persons, under the impulse of these two gifts, would fatally tend to ruin themselves. They assume that if the legislators left persons free to follow their own inclinations, they would arrive at atheism instead of religion, ignorance instead of knowledge, poverty instead of production and exchange.

According to these writers, it is indeed fortunate that Heaven has bestowed upon certain men—governors and legislators—the exact opposite inclinations, not only for their own sake but also for the sake of the rest of the world! While mankind tends toward evil, the legislators yearn for good; while mankind advances toward darkness, the legislators aspire for enlightenment; while mankind is drawn toward vice, the legislators are attracted toward virtue. Since they have decided that this is the true state of affairs, they then demand the use of force in order to substitute their own inclinations for those of the human race.
Instead of Patrick Henry's exhortation that "liberty ought to be the direct end of your government," the members of government establish themselves as a worse nightmare than any micromanaging supervisor or nagging babysitter. It's really time we stopped calling them "leaders," because that only reinforces their fallacious belief that they are They Who Know Better Than Us.

Bastiat would no doubt sigh and shake his head over what our federal government, states and local municipalities do, all in the name of "public health" and "good government," which are euphemisms for "saving the people from themselves." He would remind us of the conclusion of The Law that our Creator hardly left us helpless:
God has given to men all that is necessary for them to accomplish their destinies. He has provided a social form as well as a human form. And these social organs of persons are so constituted that they will develop themselves harmoniously in the clean air of liberty. Away, then, with quacks and organizers! A way with their rings, chains, hooks, and pincers! Away with their artificial systems! Away with the whims of governmental administrators, their socialized projects, their centralization, their tariffs, their government schools, their state religions, their free credit, their bank monopolies, their regulations, their restrictions, their equalization by taxation, and their pious moralizations!

And now that the legislators and do-gooders have so futilely inflicted so many systems upon society, may they finally end where they should have begun: May they reject all systems, and try liberty; for liberty is an acknowledgment of faith in God and His works.
God created man and endowed him with certain unalienable rights, also endowing him with the requisite abilities to acknowledge, use and enjoy those rights. So ask yourself: are you going to deny God's gifts of reason and faculties, or leave the direction of your life to a select few?

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