Today being Independence Day (which I, as a Brit, and a lifelong monarchist, refer to as The Day of Blackest Infamy and Betrayal) it seems appropriate to write about freedom.
For all its faults, the US still scores high in this regard. As someone who’s traveled a good deal and lived in other countries, I have some solid points for comparison here. The First and Second Amendments—the Rights to Free Speech, Religion, Free Press, and to Assemble and Petition the Government; and the Right to Bear Arms—are pretty much unparalleled. I can also attest, from direct experience, that anyone who wants to go into business for themselves is rather more free to do so in this country than almost anywhere else in the world. Even in the current dire economic circumstances, anyone with a little skill and ingenuity coupled with the will to work can make it here, and for all my own dithering and mistakes, this country’s been very good to me in that regard.
That said, could Americans’ freedoms be improved upon? Hell, yes.
Many years ago, when I still lived in Santa Cruz, I received a parking ticket. On examining it, I was astonished by the number of codes, i.e., regulations which, if broken, would get you a ticket. If memory serves me well, there were over ninety of them.
Or take alcohol. I understand not letting kids drink, but why on Earth shouldn’t responsible adults be allowed to share a beer or a bottle of wine on a beach or in a public park in California? I also never understood why a passenger in a car shouldn’t be allowed to sip a beer, since there are solid laws already in place to cover the driver’s need for sobriety. And the restrictions on buying alcohol are becoming outrageously intrusive. Self-checkout in supermarkets, which has always required a store employee’s direct approval, now forces that employee to check your ID and log your date of birth along with the sale—why? And, worse, where does this end?
Tobacco, now. I don’t smoke, but I fully support the freedom of others to do so. I understand the issues with bars, restaurants, aeroplanes, and similar closed spaces; but there are towns in California, such as where I live in Concord, where you can’t smoke in the street or in parks; and an increasing number of condominiums and housing complexes are banning people smoking not just outdoors but in their own homes. Apart from being heavy-handed, coercive, and undemocratic, this, folks, is just plain stupid.
Then there are the questionable licencing requirements for many professions, among them manicurists and hairdressers. In my old trade as a decorative artist, I was required to be licenced as a painting contractor. However, in most cases the onerous (and expensive) courses a licence applicant is required to take, and the tests they’re required to pass, have very little to do with establishing quality and competence but everything to do with generating revenue both for local authorities and a whole parasitic infrastructure of schools. So with the unhappy example of manicurists, although I agree that someone using blades and sharp objects around people should understand safety and hygiene issues, let’s look at the California course requirements here:
Cosmetologist = 1600 hours
Barber = 1500 hours
Esthetician = 600 hours
Electrologist = 600 hours
Manicurist = 400 hours
… and note that a manicurist isn’t allowed to wax your eyebrows.
And God help you if you’re a licenced professional in one state and want to move to another, because in most cases, there’s no reciprocity. You have to start all over again.
This, friends, is just wrong. All of it.
To my way of thinking, when laws stop honest, competent people making a living at something that isn’t, say, medicine or the Law, without having to pony up thousands of dollars and take a year or two out of their lives, something is very wrong indeed.
I understand municipalities’ needs to raise taxes, but I can’t condone doing so by limiting people’s ability to make a living and by strangling individual freedoms. In my own past case as a decorative artist working alone, why did I have to pass a certification that pretty much exclusively concerned itself with employment law, wages and withholding, employee insurances, and the rest? Since as an artist I mostly fell through the cracks, I was unlicenced for years, and I can’t begin to tell you how many times I was hired to correct or even wholly redo jobs that licenced contractors had botched.
How long until they require artists to be licenced?
Of course, these laws are typically enacted under pressure from various interest groups, or under the wooly-headed idea that they protect the public or the licencee. Bullshit; road-to-hell paving, etc. In the vast majority of cases they exist to generate revenue and to keep lawyers busy.
The solution? Well, I side wholly with the ideal Libertarian (though not the Conservative Libertarian), and these would be my immediate thoughts:
1. Protect the Right To Do Dumb Things That Don’t Hurt Others (Ha!).
2. Apply a unitary, Federal standard (no chance).
3. Limit litigation (not going to happen).
4. Get rid of all unenforceable laws (yeah, right!).
5. Do away with 90% of the laws on the statutes; repeat until you arrive at something close to the Ten Commandments (definitely not going to happen).
Hey, we can dream, can’t we? And despite all the inanities I’ve listed, it’s still a free country, or at least far more so than most. Count your blessings.