To my The golden rule of liberty post, Wally asks a great question:
Freedom to choose how we live our lives is certainly something we value as a culture with a strong individualist current. But what if we’re wrong?
It think it’s a great question because the answer is a key reason I appreciate liberty. My answer to Wally’s question is that if we’re wrong about liberty, we haven’t caused direct harm.
This point is overlooked in greater-good cost-benefit analysis. Interventionist and non-interventionist actions are both treated as causing an outcome. But, I don’t believe the liberty-minded action causes anything. We only imagine it does through a trick of the tongue.
Consider these two statements:
1. If we raise the minimum wage, that causes some folks to have a harder time finding a job and some folks to get paid more than they otherwise would.
2. If we don’t raise the minimum wage, that causes more people to be able to find jobs, but at less pay than they otherwise would.
What’s the difference? In #1, some people are made worse off for the supposed benefit of others.
What about #2? While minimum wage advocates want us to bite on the idea that we are standing in the way of some unfortunate souls making more money, the truth is we’re not leaving them any worse off than they were before. We’ve done them no harm.
In fact, we’re not even preventing unskilled workers from earning as much as minimum wage advocates want them to. After all, nothing is preventing minimum wage advocates from hiring unskilled workers at the wage they prefer, is there?
In case that example doesn’t work for you, try this one:
1. If we pass each other on the street and you give me a dollar that you took from another passerby, you make me richer and the other guy poorer.
2. If we pass each other on the street and you don’t take a dollar from another passerby to give to me, you keep me from becoming richer.
In #1, you’ve caused harm to some else, even though it was offset by the benefit to me. In #2, you did not cause harm to me by not causing harm to someone else. You caused me no direct harm.