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Question about liberty!

  1. Oct 12, 2004 #1
    Suppose that one lived in a society where the function of the state was minimal and it only provides the forces that will prevent any attempts to limit the individuals freedom i.e the state only consists of; the military and police (liberal theory). However, what will happen to consumer goods such as cigarrets and alcohol which both have negative externalities and hence limit/affect the individuals freedom since it might cause death or sickness to another person other than the user. Should this be (according to liberal theory) a situation where the police would take action? how could this be done without limiting the person (smokers) rights?
  2. jcsd
  3. Oct 12, 2004 #2
    I am not sure that a "pure" libertarian state is possible, but this argument is something like this:

    Libertarian theory generally advocates that negative externalities should be addressed through stronger property rights and the possibility for those negatively affected to demand compensation.

    For example, the best way to protect the environment is to eliminate "the tragedy of the commons". For example, common land that has no owner, has no one who has a strong interest to stop pollution of the land. The same thing can be extended to rivers, lakes and possible the atmosphere and oceans. The last two would probably require advanced technology to trace the sources of pollution or legal solutions like a anonymous reward for employees who provide enough evidence to sue a polluting company.

    Regarding drugs, attempt to prohibit them outright has failed miserably. Look for example at the crime statistics before, during and after the Prohibition, a period that did not stop alcohol from being generally available.

    In "pure" libertarian state, it would be the property owners who would be interested in stopping drug use. For example, road owners probably would forbid and control for alcohol use while driving on their roads, in order to attract other customers. This would not be a violation of the drunken drivers rights, in the same way that, without consent, using someone else's property is not a right.
  4. Oct 12, 2004 #3


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    Staff: Mentor

    The basic theory behind rights comes from Locke and says quite simply that:
    1. Your rights end where the next person's begin.
    2. The purpose of government is for the citizens to trade rights for security.

    #1 is straightforward - freedom of speech is the best example. You can say anything you want until it starts to endanger those around you, ie yelling "fire" in a crowded theater.

    #2 is a little tough. Different types of governments weigh security vs freedom differently - in the US we try to tip the scales toward freedom. Social security and welfare, though, are two good examples where we give up financial freedom for financial security (in theory).

    But the real toughie is weighing #1 against #2. Drunk driving is illegal mostly because its harmful to other people, but wearing seat belts is the law even though it only affects you....or does it? If you don't wear a seat belt, someone else may have to pay to re-assemble you. Plus, if you have a family...

    I guess the simplest way to weigh it toward freedom would be primary vs secondary negative effects: primary effects on other people would remain illegal, secondary negative effects would not. Drunk driving would remain illegal because killing someone else in an accident is a primary effect. Smoking would be legal everywhere because killing yourself is the main primary effect and killing other people is a much smaller secondary effect.
    Last edited: Oct 12, 2004
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