We seem to have no problem as a society saving people from themselves in some areas of life. Prostitution is illegal, drug usage is illegal in most places (though I suspect that marijuana will be legal, or at least decriminalized, everywhere in 10 years), etc.
And yet, if you propose doing the exact same thing in other realms of society, you'd be labeled some sort of evil totalitarian (is smoking pot really any more unhealthy or dangerous than eating a Big Mac every day?).
These patterns aren't really logical or based on evidence or science. They are based more on custom and ideology, and an unthinking willingness to continue to make logically baffling distinctions.
We seem least willing to intervene in the economic realm.
An article in the New York Times last week on subprime auto loans prompted this post. Not only do the loan companies in question charge outrageous rates (up to 30%). But now they have devices to shut down people's cars because they are a few days late paying. And these same devices are capable of playing Big Brother and tracking where the borrower drives.
If the government did this, people on the left and right would go insane. Why is it okay for private lenders? What's next— your doctor checking an iPhone app to tell him every time you have a drink or smoke a cigarette? Your employer fitting you with a health monitoring device so that he/she knows that when you said you were sick last week you were really hungover, or sneaking in a round of golf?
Some would argue that if lenders were not allowed to charge such high rates and install such devices, they wouldn't give this class of borrowers loans. As a result, these people might not be able to get cars, and thus, might struggle to work, care for their kids, etc.
But in a society where we apparently have no problem with the principle of saving people from themselves (after all, isn't that what we're doing by making drugs and prostitution illegal?) maybe we need to save people from taking out loans that they can't pay, or will struggle to pay?
Prostitution might pay better than what people could make doing other things (working in Walmart, flipping burgers at McDonald's). But we don't say, okay, it's your life, do with it what you want.
But if we need to permit someone's privacy to be invaded so that they can get a car loan, we're okay with that? It doesn't make sense. Maybe we need to provide adequate public transportation so that people can function in society (i.e. get to work) without cars, instead of permitting them to take on loans that they shouldn't get it.
I've never heard anyone present a cogent argument as to why it's more appropriate to limit people's personal choices than it is to intervene in the economic realm of society. (If the argument is that choices like taking drugs end up costing society, well so do the decisions to eat fast food, drink soda, etc.)
As such, if we're so open to restricting people's freedoms, why are we so reticent to intervene in the economic realm as companies take advantage of our vulnerabilities? Another Times article on shocking hidden health care costs reinforces this question. Why isn't it illegal for the assistant surgeon on a procedure to swoop in and charge thousands to the unwitting patient?
Now, as I explained a few weeks back, a lot of the reason government doesn't act in the economic realm is the power held by special interests in the political process. But here, I'm talking more about public opinion. Where is the outage? Where are the demands for change?
We need to rethink our inconsistencies. If we want to be a more libertarian society, and let people make their own choices and suffer the consequences, fine. So long as their behavior does not affect others, let people do as they wish (and I say that as someone who has never tried any drug, nor has any desire to do so).
But if we want to protect people from making bad choices, and being taken advantage of, then why don't we intervene in the economic realm where people, arguably, face the most risk?