Seat belt law goes primary: an anniversary to remember for Northfielder Kathy Cooper

Minnesota’s new primary seatbelt law took effect on Tuesday.  Police can now pull over a car and ticket the driver ($25) if anyone in the car isn’t wearing a seatbelt. (See the Minnesota Department of Public Safety press release for details.)

Nobody’s worked harder to get this upgrade to Minnesota’s seatbelt law passed than Northfielder Kathy Cooper (Rice County Safe Communities Coalition) whose daughter Meghan Cooper-Murphey was ejected and killed in a car accident exactly ten years ago.

Seatbelt law billboardThis graphic is now appearing on an electronic billboard in Faribault on Hwy. 21 by KFC.

Some of the media coverage:

67 thoughts on “Seat belt law goes primary: an anniversary to remember for Northfielder Kathy Cooper”

  1. My daughters went to school with Meghan and Maddy. It was a tragic loss of a young and vibrant girl. A seat belt saved my daughters life a year ago.
    This is an important law for everyone’s safety.
    My thoughts are with Kathy and her family.

  2. Thank you Kathy Cooper for your efforts with the seatbelt law–and for all your other efforts, such as organizing the Mock Crash held at the high school and for your efforts with the Mayor’s Task Force on Youth Alcohol and Drug Use.

    Thanks Griff, for compiling the links–they are worth reading/viewing.

  3. This is a great law. In the early ’70’s, I was on a community volunteer ambulance team in NW Iowa. That was back when EMT’s did not do any invasive type of care. I remember a number of roll-over accidents we were called to on rural gravel roads. The driver of the car would be lying in the ditch, dead, because they simply fell out the window of the car as it rolled and it rolled over them. Many times, the car was still driveable. If there are blue laws that make sense, this is one of them.

  4. I will here re-issue my earlier challenge, initially made elsewhere, to the Mommy-Party geniuses behind this terrible law: Make it safe to go to Valleyfair with your kids without getting beaten down by gangsters, then you can resume worrying about protecting me from myself.

    This new seat belt law is obscenely intrusive, prone to abuse, and a pathetically transparent ploy to harvest fines and surcharges off a population ‘for their own good.’ It is the epitome of emotion-driven legislation, disregarding the basic right of adult citizens to go about their daily affairs without the State breathing down their neck. I am astonished that a governor whose party claims to support individual freedom and limited government, signed this do-gooder crusade into law. I am also astonished that democrats, who spent so much time worrying about a) the ‘patriot’ act, and b) torture, would accept Steve Murphy’s (DFL-28) trite rationale that “but even if it saves just one life, it’s worth it.” (Pioneer Press 6/8/09) This is BS when Dick Cheney says it; it’s no less BS just because it’s your team saying it.

    Making seat belt non-compliance into a primary offense creates a situation in which police can shake down anybody, at will, for any reason or no reason, and then claim that they ‘did not see’ the operator to be wearing a seat belt. This is an excellent source of low-hanging fruit for police (in other jurisdictions, naturally) to pick instead of addressing actual crime, or even actual traffic violations. I find it absurd in a state where, routinely, two and three vehicles continue unimpeded through a red light, that the legislature would undertake an act such as this.

    I wondah rif I can find a job in Noo Hampshah.

    1. I read some of the banter that you folks had going on. The only thing I wanted to comment on was the law wasn’t passed to only save your life, it is to save the lives of people traveling with you. (for example; your family, friends, co-workers etc.)
      If you were to be unbelted and everyone else in the car was belted, it is a huge possibility that you could KILL someone in your car by flailing around and hitting them. So maybe don’t be so selfish! Meghan was a friend of mine, a bright light in a sometimes dark world. Gone way too soon!

  5. Felicity,

    Perhaps you can persuade Mr. Bly to introduce a bill for an act to prohibit my holding this opinion. You do have, after all, a constitutionally guaranteed right not to be offended, right?

  6. Fortunately, I have no RIGHT not to be offended. However, I would hope that as a human being anywhere on this planet you would have the decency to speak politely and sensitively when talking about a law put in place to save lives, particularly when the topic was introduced in the context of a death in our community.

    That doesn’t mean you have to agree with the law. I actually agreed with your point regarding possible misuses of the law. But there is simply no excuse for what you wrote.

    I hope you will take the time to apologize to Ms. Cooper.

  7. Felicity,

    You may certainly hope for anything you like. If you truly believe that this law was put in place to save lives, then you have been had. It is a matter firstly of revenue, and secondly of power-brokers cynically manipulating personal tragedy to extend their reach into our lives. You may welcome that if it makes you feel safer. I do not.

  8. Curt,

    Prohibiting the possession of firearms also would be sure to save lives. Care to get on board with that program? How much of your freedom are you willing to sell off in order to assuage someone else’s grief?

  9. Kathy Cooper and the Key have joined up for two years now in trying to raise seatbelt awareness. She is an amazing person and I commend her for her actions and beliefs. We (the youth and Kathy) have made a difference as we have seen seatbelt rates rise. If the cynical libertarians ruled the world than Nathan Kuhlman would be quite the asset. Nathan – there are better ways to speak on this issue. We’re not asking you to be the PC darling but just show a little damn sensitivity. The only issue I have with the bill is the potential for racial profiling, youth profiling, etc. Let’s see how it plays out.

  10. Mr. Hinnenkamp,

    Better the cynical libertarians than the cynical authoritarians–or worse, the sincere authoritarians–that we have now.

    Interestingly, your only issue with the law is one of my issues with it as well. However, there is no seeing how it plays out. It is next to impossible to get rid of a law. This nanny-state nonsense is here to stay.

  11. There is always an exception, where buckling up does more harm than good. Friend told me his brother drowned when he flipped the car and landed in a stream, hanging from seatbelt with head under water. He unable to get free.

    Same thing happened to my brother when he missed a curve on way home in California. Fortunately, the water was more shallow and he survived.

  12. I don’t find Nathan’s remarks particularly offensive.

    What I do find offensive is people’s willful ignorance – or knowing diminishment – of the blood spilled and countless lives lost for the (few remaining) freedoms that we enjoy, and further, people’s willingness to squander that sacrifice at the faintest scent of some minimal social benefit (which in this case is quite arguable and miniscule at very best).

    There is simply no justifiable reason to force one to wear a seat belt – and then to make it an offense against the law not to do so – except and unless you refuse to acknowledge natural human freedom, believe that people are incapable of executing judgment on their own behalf, or just simply wish to take those freedoms away – which are authoritarian, elitist, and tyrannical respectively.

    “Experience should teach us to be most on our guard to protect liberty when the Government’s purposes are beneficent. Men born to freedom are naturally alert to repel invasion of their liberty by evil-minded rulers. The greatest dangers to liberty lurk in insidious encroachment by men of zeal, well-meaning but without understanding.”

    • Justice Louis Brandeis

    “By Liberty I understand the Power which every Man has over his own Actions, and his Right to enjoy the Fruits of his Labour, Art, and Industry, as far as by it he hurts not the Society, or any Members of it, by taking from any Member, or by hindering him from enjoying what he himself enjoys. The Fruits of a Man’s honest Industry are the just Rewards of it, ascertained to him by natural and eternal Equity, as is his Title to use them in the Manner which he thinks fit: And thus, with the above Limitations, every Man is sole Lord and Arbitrer of his own private Actions and Property.”

    • Cato

    From the earliest dawn of civilization, people have understood this concept of freedom. We seem to have forgotten – or are actively working against – the notion.

    It’s not yours to say whether I buckle up. It’s not the government’s to say.

    It is simply the government overreaching into the personal decisions of its citizens, and making those personal decicisions a crime.

    That is not libertarian or any other philosophy – it’s just plain common sense.

    “Freedom is not worth having if it does not connote freedom to err. It passes my comprehension how human beings, be they ever so experienced and able, can delight in depriving other human beings of that precious right.”

    • Mahatma Ghandi
  13. Nathan and Duane,

    You both seem to be focused on the seatbelt law as an infringement of your freedom. Personally, I completely fail to understand how wearing a seatbelt makes any difference to your freedom. However, there is another viewpoint that I think is more critical (ignoring the aspect of lives to be saved, which trumps everything).

    The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has evaluated Minnesota with respect to seatbelt use: our state could save nearly $50 million – MILLION – dollars a year by increasing seatbelt use to 90%. Now, I can think of many ways to spend that money – one of which would be not to tax for it in the first place.

    See http://www-nrd.nhtsa.dot.gov/Pubs/811140.PDF Table 2.

  14. For many years, it has been illegal to drive (or ride in the passenger seat) in Minnesota without wearing your seatbelt.

    The new law makes the lack of a seatbelt a primary offense. This means you can now be pulled over for not wearing your seatbelt. (In the past, you would have to commit some other primary offense to justify getting pulled over; then you could be cited for no seatbelt.)

    I understand both sides of this discussion. I see where Felicity is coming from and I see where Nathan is coming from.

    The NHTSA’s data relies on the assumption that more people will wear their seatbelts when the no-seatbelt laws become primary offenses. This is a faulty assumption. From the NHTSA’s own data, you can see that in MN in 2007, more people wore their seatbelts than in many other states WITH primary seat belt laws. (We wore our belts more often than people in Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Connecticut, D.C. Delaware, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Mississippi, New York, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and Tennessee, and all of those state made the lack of a seatbelt a primary offense.)

    Do I think people should wear their seatbelts? Yes. Do I think you should get a ticket if you get pulled over for speeding or reckless driving or DWI and don’t have your seatbelt on? Yes. Do I think that a seat belt violation should be a primary offense? No.

    It’s not a moral issue to me; it’s a legal one. It’s about the 4th amendment and our right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure except in limited circumstances. No seatbelt, absent any other offense, in not sufficient in my mind to justify another 4th amendment intrusion.

  15. Felicity,

    I think the key issue here is one of action compelled by threat.

    Any action compelled – regardless of whether compliance is voluntary or involuntary – is by definition an action that is not taken freely – and hence, an infringement on one’s freedom.

    In this specific case, the government intends to compel action by its citizens primarily through the threat of citation/fine – and then to enforce that compliance via armed civil servants who are authorized to use deadly force against their fellow citizens.

    I do not believe that the above are refutable – not rationally anyhow.

    When looked at from a perspective based on fact and reason (as opposed to emotional appeal or arbitrary moral judgment), the conclusion is that the government is using the power of police and the threat of deadly force to compel action on something as trivial as wearing one’s seatbelt.

    I find that not only to be a ridiculously escalated approach something the government literally has no control over anyway, but also a gross misapplication of taxpayer resources.

    A completely different approach that would have achieved an even better result would be through civil tort action to encourage auto manufacturers (via an appeal to their own best interests – i.e. avoiding civil liability) to make automobiles inoperative without seatbelts fastened.

    The net result would have been even more people buckling up – except that it would have been done by everyone making free choices in a free society instead of by government fiat in a police state.

    I guess we all have to make our choices regarding how we’d like to be governed – either through respect of the freedom of every individual, or through the force of the state. One of those paths leads to a good place.

  16. Duane: if a person sustains an injury during a car accident (for the sake of argument, one which would have been prevented by seat belt use) would you require the hospital to deny them medical treatment unless they were insured? If the person dies in the accident leaving children, would you deny those children access to state services? What about the enormous loss of revenue from the person’s lost taxes for the years in which they would otherwise live in the state, supporting said family?

    It simply doesn’t work to make this discussion a purely theoretical one when there are so many more variables involved than your right to live dangerously.

  17. Felicity,

    I’m not sure what you mean by “theoretical” when your main points are completely composed of “what if” scenarios.

    Your argument is hypothetical.

    Regardless, in our wonderful socialist utopia, none of the things you suggest would likely ever come to be.

    My argument is not hypothetical. It is factual.

    The police are actually armed. They are actually sanctioned in the use of deadly force. They will actually use the threat of armed force to control citizens’ behavior. Should I drive without a seatbelt and get caught, I will be subject to the threat of force and have my action compelled and/or be punished for my non-compliance (or, quite possibly, beaten and tazed).

    These are either indisuputable facts or the stated intent of the government (and I have no reason to doubt its intent).

    This is regardless of your opinion regarding whether they are a “justified” use of the power of the state via the threat of deadly force.

    What I am saying is that the “justification” is not rooted in – and in fact is antithetical to – the priciples behind the stated purpose of our government, namely, the preservation of indivudual freedoms.

  18. Felicity,

    Just as another thought, and to respond to your “what ifs” more directly (which I think are a quite different discussion)…

    Forcing a 2500 lb steel box on wheels (or in my case a 4700 lb steel box) down a flat surface – attached to a large tank full of explosive fuel, and motivating it to speeds unthinkable even 100 years ago, controlled exclusively by ~120 square inches of rubber in contact with the road surface, where if the vehicle crashed, at 70 mph at constant deceleration would exert over 10,000 lbs of force on the driver and passengers… well, despite the convenience of it all – is kind of insane to begin with.

    Then, to put millions of these same steel boxes on the same flat surfaces, with “drivers” (read: people barely restraining the physical forces of a ton or better of mass accelerating through space) who have varying experience, skill levels, physical handicaps, attention levels, states of vehicle repair, who may or may not have gotten the proper sleep the night before, and may or may not be under the influence of drugs or alcohol… and to make matters worse, include as a variable numerous 20-50 ton boxes driven by people more likely to be under the influence of stimulants than not, and then add in ice, rain, fog, wind, sand, road disrepair, etc.

    Well… you get the picture I hope.

    Present that set of variables to a classical physicist and chaos mathematician, and without a doubt, they would predict massive casualties. Heck, present them to an eight year old and you’d likely get the same prediction.

    I guess under those circumstances, should one undertake such a monstrously risky action, I believe that I as a citizen should have the right to expect that all of my fellow citizens would properly anticipate the potential of something going wrong – and the possibility of grave bodily injury or death.

    In the absence of such basic, common sense, I as a taxpayer, in principle, should not have to compensate those who are unwilling to fulfill their basic accountability to themselves and their families/passengers.

    At the far extent of your argument, Felicity, you imply that somehow motorists that haven’t made such accommodations are blameless and that the state should step in and mitigate the consequences of their willful and determined neglect.

    By creating such an easily accessible “safety net”, it creates moral hazard and only encourages more and more people to engage in such neglect.

    That short changes responsible citizens who not only incur the costs of protecting themselves, but also have to incur the ever increasing costs created by the neglectful.

    It punishes responsible behavior and rewards neglectful behavior – and as any economics 101 course will teach, as a result, we as a society will inevitably get less of the former and more of the latter.

    Is that a reasonable outcome in a free society? I think not. One person’s social benefit is another’s forced expropriation.

    Ultimately I am not a complete ogre, and practically speaking, I believe that there should be some minimal protections for people to prevent death, starvation, etc. and I am willing to pay for these through taxes (although I’d prefer to pay for them to charities who won’t them as political levers). I believe that such protections make us all better off.

    However, when such protections are framed as a right of citizens as opposed to the failure of responsibility to one’s fellow citizens that they really are, I find it so morally objectionable and rationally dissonant as to compel me to spend my Saturday morning writing things like this.

    I am not sure when we abrogated the concept of duty to one’s fellow citizens by first and foremost ensuring that one is not a burden on them. As someone who firmly believes in that notion, I see that my sense of duty is constantly exploited to the benefit of those who refuse such duty.

    Where is the social justice in that?

  19. David Hitz, I do not know you, but I see that your name must have come from hitting the nail on the head and at the same time doing it in a pretty Ritzy way. Good job!

  20. Duane & Nathan- As I heard someone say before, it is not against the law to be stupid. The social trends you are pointing out (and they are valid) cannot be changed by legislation, but perhaps this level of enforcement will remove some of the hidden financial liability we all carry right now in increased taxes we pay. You could possibly call it the reverse trickle down theory.

  21. Duane,
    I think you are getting to the truth in describing the automobile. My concern with DWI and seat belt laws is they misdirect attention away from a transportation system (which would be hard to privatize and will likely stay public) that is unbelievable dangerous. The road surfaces and infrastructure are in a state of massive decay and politicians want to make auto death about poor individual decisions. This seems a deflection of responsibility. Does anyone here doubt even for a moment that if the transportation system were “private” that the government would step in and shut it down tomorrow?

    I do not understand why the government wants to take on health care when 50,000 people die every year on the road system. I mean if everyone is so worried about health then why not demand that this system (which arguably must be public) be fixed so that it can run without killing 50,000 people annually.

    1. David,

      It is ironic that 150 years ago, public corporations were rare and were chartered to take on projects for which the government had insufficient capital resources.

      Now, in our modern society, the government has to take on projects for which private capital resources are insufficient.

      That says something remarkable about the growth of the power of government – and the diminishment of private wealth in modern times.

      Back then, people were suspicious of corporations because of the moral hazard and potential for creating great public harm without personal liability.

      Now, people think nothing of the even greater moral hazard involved in the concentration of wealth into the hands of government bureaucrats who can also create massive public harm – but, unlike corporations, have zero financial disincentive to avoid it.

      Even beyond this is the political corruption that occurs when you mix limited liability companies with government bureaucrats and lawmakers.

      Our lenient DWI laws, for example, are a product of the lobbying efforts of insurance companies such as Titan and Progressive who actively lobby against more stringent laws (I know this for fact – I designed a high-risk rating plan for an insurer). Stricter laws would keep their most profitable customers off the streets.

      I agree that our public infrastructure is crumbling. But it will be unlikely to be fixed on the scale it needs to be because we’ve already incurred $104 trillion in unfunded entitlement liabilities – along with $11 trillion in actual debt outstanding – and, according to the president’s budget another $12 trillion by 2020. Issued debt will be 100% of GDP by 2014.

      Just to put that into perspective, that’s $1,050,576 per taxpayer and growing – without even a footnote for infrastructure.

      Good luck with the roads.

  22. Britt: Thank you for your analysis. I commuted to downtown Minneapolis for 18 years and would not think of traveling without my seatbelt.

    However, I do believe this law, which makes wearing a seatbelt a primary offense, will result in abuse by law enforcement officials who may falsely claim that they “thought” the driver was not wearing his seatbelt, and thus pull people over in a manner that will result in unreasonable searches by law enforcement. How in the world can a driver or passenger defend themselves against an officer who claims they were not wearing a seatbelt?

  23. This law will help the smugglers more because they will be wearing seat belts while someone driving 20 miles an hour 6 blocks away will be pulled over for a seat belt violation.
    Yes people in the 1960s and the 1970s were more free than they are now and these same people who didn’t wear their seat belts, got drunk and stoned want to take peoples rights away.
    Next thing you know they will edit or ban old films that show drivers not wearing seat belts or people riding bikes without helmets.
    New Hampshire is the only state left that is truly free and unlike Minnesota, New Hampshire’s citizens fought to not have this law!

    1. Randy,

      You’re right on. This will deviate police resources from protecting the public from more serious criminals.

      Nobody has yet taken into account the rape that is allowed to continue, the robbery that will go unsolved, or the reckless drunk that will drive right by while the cops are tasing some poor shnook because he didn’t buckle his seatbelt.

      Just simply outrageous.

  24. John George,

    You are first and foremost an authoritarian, so it is hardly surprising you would come down in favor of this law.

    Felicity Enders,

    Clearly you do not understand the impact of this law on my (and your) freedom. I don’t think I am going to be able to explain it to you. You statists who invariably know better have your victory since this inane piece of social engineering now has the force of law behind it. Enjoy! Don’t let my quixotic protestations impede your celebration. Take care you have your papers in order when you yourself get pulled.

    Curt Benson,

    still waiting to hear back. Cat got your tongue?

    Seat belt noncompliance exacerbates the results of crashes, but it does not by itself cause crashes– as do speeding, inattentive driving, impaired driving, following too closely, failure to obey traffic signals etc. The existing law enforcement apparatus can’t or won’t address actual moving violations that have a real causal role in traffic injuries and deaths. (viz. the de facto 95 mph speed limit, the ‘optional’ red light, idiots tailgating motorcycles on the Interstate) It is beyond ridiculous that that same apparatus is now being asked to/given discretion to detain motorists ON SUSPICION of not wearing a seat belt.

    I don’t think I can participate further in this thread without getting mean. Big thanks to Duane and Britt and Jane for well-tempered argument, and to the several people who have contacted me offline since this thread began.

    1. Nathan- In 1769, a Frenchman (who else?) concocted a self propeled steam powered tractor type of vehicle to move artillery equipment. He purportedly ran into a stone wall with the thing, and is credited with causing the first automotive accident. As I said before, it is not against the law to be stupid, but wearing a seat belt is protection against injury if one of those stupid people run into your vehicle with their’s. I think I would rather live in a society governed by laws, imperfect as they may be, and imperfectly enforced as they might be, than in a society where there are no laws at all. Also, you might be surprised at the amount of mercy that has tempered my authoritarianism over the years. Just ask my wife and kids.

    2. John George,

      I believe, with the passage of this law, it is, in fact, illegal to be stupid.

      Weimar Germany was goverened by laws – and Hitler’s ascension to power was codified by the parliment – and the drafting and execution of the “final solution” was perfectly legal.

      Imperial Japan was a nation of laws.

      The USSR was goverened by laws – under which 20 million of their citizens were sent to gulags and/or summarily executed.

      Maoist China was a nation of laws.

      Iran is a nation of laws. Venezuela is a nation of laws. And so on.

      Just becuase there are laws does not mean they are good ones – or that the people enforcing them won’t bash your head with a truncheon at the slightest provocation… Just look up “police beating” on YouTube – you might be shocked.

      I’d rather be free and lawless than lawful and oppressed.

  25. Nathan, your tone here is increasingly offensive. In addition to namecalling (“authoritarian” “You statists”), your comments continue to be laced with sarcasm (“hardly surprising you would come down…”).

    I’m fine with a heated debate on this issue here and if you’re angry about the law or angry with people here while discussing it, that’s fine, too. You just need to find a way to be angry without the sarcasm and put-downs and hostile tone.

    1. Griff- Just for the record, I choose not to be offended by Nathan’s comments. I have been called worse. I think you do a pretty good job of enforcing your guidelines, and I want you to know I appreciate it.

  26. Gee, I ‘have’ to wear a seatbelt. By the threat of ‘deadly force’ I must wear it. Good God, I’m not the boss of me! It must be time to eliminate the state!

    1. Nathan, I think William Siemers’ comment #29 was sarcasm directed at the state, not at a person. I could be wrong.

      Josh, I missed it earlier but you violated two of our Guidelines in one sentence in your comment #12 above where you wrote: “If the cynical libertarians ruled the world than Nathan Kuhlman would be quite the asset.”

  27. Duane H.- Being “free and lawless” sounds great until someone violates your freedom, and then you have no legal recourse to bring correction.

    William S.- I suppose the threat of being run into by a 3500 pound mass of plastic and metal wielded by a “stupid” driver is a pretty good threat of deadly force. I think one of the things at issue here is whether we are allowed to make these decisions on our own, and suffer the consequences of that decision, without threat of invasion by the courts. I normally lean this direction, but as I opined in my post #4, “If there are blue laws that make sense, this is one of them.” I am realistic enough to know that this will not eliminate the problem of people not using their seatbelts, but if it would affect 5-10%, I think it is worth it.

  28. John George,

    For me it is not the law itself because the law is a relatively minor thing – and something I already do all of the time.

    It is rather the arrogance or potentially the lack of understanding of people who passed the law.

    If the government can take away these simple liberties for such inane things, then why would it be any more difficult to take away more important liberties when it comes to more important things?

    Free and lawless – given that complete hypothetical, nobody could take my liberty because I would take the appropriate measures to ensure that did not happen. I would have no legal recourse, but in that case, my own threat of deadly force would replace that of the state’s – as would be necessary for anyone who valued their life or property.

    We all engage the state to protect our freedoms – and that is the only valid objective of the state. It is so that we can mitigate the effects of all-out anarchy. The armed force of the state is the proxy for our own – and an overwhelming one. It ensures that if someone does wrong us that we can use that overwhelming force in righting the wrong.

    But the state governs by laws. Laws either compel action, prohibit action, or expropriate money for the purposes of the state. Otherwise the laws govern nothing and are mostly meaningless. However, all three of these things are quite the opposite of liberty. Compelled action is diluted slavery. Prohibited action is a removal of choices. Expropriation via taxation is theft.

    We agree to these slight (at least in the beginning they were slight) infringements on liberty because the state performs things that we cannot do by ourselves in the context of a nation, for example, protection from foreign invasion – that work to preserve not only our liberties but work to preserve the system whose purpose is to secure our liberties.

    We also agree to the laws because they provide a set of conventions by which we can all exchange value with each other, and a form of civil redress when that value exchange goes awry.

    The nature of the state is force. Without force, the state is meaningless and all laws are meaningless. If all the police had were a bag of cotton balls at their disposal, I would suspect, they would be unsuccessful – and even the limited objectives of the legitimate state would be unfulfilled.

    That being said, in an historical context, we are so far away from a state with legitimate objectives that what I’ve written above sounds quaint and anachronistic. We are so close to dictatorship and state intervention in every activity and decision we make (I can’t think of one that remains absolutely free) that the objectives of the Founding Fathers are not only not met, but have been completely obliterated.

    The law no longer means what it says and is applied arbitrarily (2nd amendment for example). Common law has no force (Chrysler and the payoff to unions over secured creditors). The police beat and tase people in the streets for exercising their right to free speech and peaceable assembly. We have “no-knock” police raids where the wrong people are killed. We have wire-tapping, internet monitoring, and some sort of license (read: state sanction) required for just about every activity. We have 20 million illegal immigrants who are allowed to persistently circumvent the law.

    In other words, we have what is, in essence, a failed state – or at least a state that has failed in its original purposes. And, in the very near future, a bankrupt state.

    So, in the context of what’s really going on, yes, a seatbelt law is relatively minor.

    However, it is the popular perceptions that allow such a law to be passed that are dangerous to liberty in all forms – because if people are unwilling or unable to recognize this law for what it is, they will be unlikely to recognize greater infringements. Eventually, it will become too late to reverse course (it may already be).

    1. Duane- What we would hope to achieve, and I’m not saying we have done a good job of it, is that balance between lawful liberty and anarchy. On most applications, I agree with your general stance. I just would prefer not to live in fear of innocently offending my neighbor and being blown away for it. Just knowing human nature as I do, and seeing what came out of the great social upheaval of the ’60’s and ’70’s, I think we have legislated ourselves into a point of no return. Change forced from the outside in is really not change at all. Change a person’s heart and you have something real and lasting. It is a little like the frog in the boiling pot of water. It has come on very subtly.

    2. John,

      I agree with the boiling frog – at least for the last 150 years – except that now it is blatant and corrupt.

      There has not been a (federal) law that has been passed since the new administration has come to power that is not an outrage to human liberty and self-governance – abhorrent to a free society – and intended to do nothing more than forward an ideological agenda that ends with dictatorship and tyranny – where it is no longer contracts and laws that govern us, but contacts and relationships.

      Laws are no longer laws – but rather are political payoffs that entrench constituencies into dependency on what become their wilfully adopted masters. They not only alienate massive segments of the population from any benefit, but impose harsh consequences, and then require them to pay for their own subjugation.

      Laws that have dramatic and potentially devastating impact are passed that are not even read by lawmakers – let alone understood.

      If that isn’t the government making war against its people, then I don’t know what is.

      I think that balance that you idealize is gone forever – and people are drunkenly, willfully, gleefully running towards slavery to the state.

      It is simply the implementation of a new feudal system, except that instead of lords, kings and the church, we now have banks, “czars” and the ideal of “social justice” – where anyone who objects to being enslaved is marked as being full of “hate”.

      It is Orwell’s 1984, Huxley’s Brave New World, Kafka’s The Trial and Rand’s Atlas Shrugged all coming to pass at the same moment in history.

      God help us all.

    3. Duane- Your last line of 31.2

      God help us all.

      is my hope. Maybe we can have coffee sometime and expound upon it further. Until then, please buckle up, if only for self preservation.

  29. “We must not let our rulers load us with perpetual debt. We must make our election between economy and liberty or profusion and servitude. If we run into such debt, as that we must be taxed in our meat and in our drink, in our necessaries and our comforts, in our labors and our amusements, for our calling and our creeds…[we will] have no time to think, no means of calling our miss-managers to account but be glad to obtain subsistence by hiring ourselves to rivet their chains on the necks of our fellow-sufferers… And this is the tendency of all human governments. A departure from principle in one instance becomes a precedent for[ another]… till the bulk of society is reduced to be mere automatons of misery… And the fore-horse of this frightful team is public debt. Taxation follows that, and in its train wretchedness and oppression.”

    • Thomas Jefferson
    1. Sorry – that was the wrong quote. Somehow I not only pasted it but submitted it… these darn computers! (I own a software company – how ironic)

      It’s a good quote – but really mostly irrelevant to the current discussion.

  30. I didn’t experience any force or violence in getting my water out of the tap this morning. Undoubtedly when municipal water was first proposed there were those who oppossed it as a dangerous extension of government power…perhaps even as a loss of liberty.

    Same with public schools.

    Same with public parks, national, state and local.

    Same with laws promoting safe food and drugs.

    Same with roads…city,township, county, state and interstate. (In fact I think I have read that opinion in this thread. A good trick…use libertarian philosphy to oppose taxes to improve roads and then use their condition to prove that government can’t maintain them).

    1. William, I am not sure what you mean by “good trick?” My thought is that building our own transportation system is tough (because crosses so much land). If we agree this is an activity of government that we cannot each do on our own then let’s create a system that does not kill 50,000 annually. Is it fair to direct our government to address this issue before expanding their role into health care etc? Let’s get the basics done right … walk before we run.

    2. I’m what you might call a water man, [Nathan] – that’s what I am. I can swear to you, my boy, swear to you, that there’s nothing wrong with my bodily fluids. Not a thing.

  31. William,

    You did experience force and violence, because the cost at which government can deliver the service is significantly higher than that at which the private sector could deliver the same service.

    Those funds, which you might have used to purchase a meal for your family, have been expropriated (at the threat of force) and paid into waste.

    In addition… public schools have been an abject failure by any empirical standard.

    The FDA has also been an abject failure – both failing to detect poisoned food supply – while at the same time keeping well-tested, life saving drugs off the market at the behest of politicians who are paid by drug companies to quell competition.

    I would imagine that our food supply would be much safer were the food suppliers subject to civil liability instead of being exempted from it by meeting arbitrarily set “minimum safety standards”.

    I don’t know how anyone can argue for more regulation or more government given the demonstrated failures…

    Just look at the SEC (Madhoff, Ping, Sanford). How about Freddie and Fannie and the Federal Reserve Bank – who in a combination of their efforts erased 60% of the world’s wealth.

    There are 89,000 government agencies – all with similar failures.

    Let that number sink in for a bit: 89,000.

    I have to question the sanity of anyone who thinks we need more.

    There are legitimate purposes for government… but about the only things I actually agree with in your examples are the public parks and roads.

  32. The public schools have not been an abject failure. Experiencing some tough times, I agree…but the history is one of success.

    The FDA is woefully underfunded at present, but still performs reasonably well.

    Anyway…how about this

    link text

    1. William,

      Somalia is an example of anarchy – not of libertarianism – the two are incompatible.

      Here’s something I’ve written as part of a book I am writing:

      Libertarianism is life affirming.
      Its fundamental premise is that all
      people are of equal value, that all
      people have equal choice to seek what
      is best for themselves. The
      libertarian belief is that the only
      legitimate purpose of government is to
      affirm that choice, to protect it –
      from both internal and external
      threat, and to provide the means of
      justice so that when that choice is
      encroached upon by any other person or
      group of persons, the appropriate
      recompense will be made.

      In other words, the purpose of
      government is to intervene, and except
      in cases of exigent threat, to
      intervene only retrospectively, when
      some transgression against liberty has
      occurred – and reason can be applied
      in the measured application of force
      for the purpose of providing justice
      to the harmed.

      The “greater good” in libertarian
      terms is the balance struck between
      things that can be agreed to be of
      universal good and the confiscation of
      value from the citizens by threat of
      force in order to provide that good.

      A libertarian democracy would require
      a majority closer to 90% in order to
      pass any law. There could be no
      lesser valid corroboration of the
      universal will of the people.

      The statists would argue “well, then,
      no laws would be passed”. The
      libertarian would respond, “That is
      the point”. Every law that is passed
      and carried out by force either
      restricts or prohibits some choice by,
      compels some action of, or confiscates
      value (and therefore choices) from the
      governed. Therefore, all laws are by
      definition, infringements on the
      natural freedom of humans, and should
      only be allowed to exist insofar as
      threatens some equal or worse
      universally perceived evil were the
      law to not be made.

      That doesn’t sound very much like Somalia to me.

    2. I rented a truck about a year ago from a Somalian. He told me the economy there was doing great because their was no government to stop people from engaging in commerce. He was concerned about the lack of schools. On the whole, his general opinion seemed to be people were fairing better economically in the failed state than they had before.

  33. I dont know dude, the post office and the military do a pretty good job, and they are run by the government.

    1. For the military, if a $38,000 hammer is an example of a good job, then I need to lower my standards. I agree that they accomplish their mission – but I don’t agree that they do it efficiently.

      The post office is actually only half-way decent because – in some twisted mistake of actual reason – private competitors have been allowed to exist. But they are by no means efficient.

  34. “All right – but apart from sanitation, medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, a fresh water system, and public health, what have the Romans ever done for us?”

  35. “A libertarian democracy would require
    a majority closer to 90% in order to
    pass any law. There could be no
    lesser valid corroboration of the
    universal will of the people.”

    It is not a democracy when 90% of the people could be held hostage by 10%.

  36. By that reasoning, it’s also not a democracy when 52% of the people can be held hostage by 48%… or any proportion by any other proportion.

    I don’t see that the 48% of dissenters in the past presidential election are in any way holding the 52% hostage.

    I think you’ve got it the wrong way around.

  37. So Democracy is not longer the will of the majority under a Liberatarian state?

    Duane…As I see it, libertarianism and anarchy are right next to each other on the political continuum. In fact some anarchist philosophy is taken quite seriously, if not revered, by some leading libertarian thinkers. Please see the heading “Anarchism” in the Cato Institutes Encyclopedia of Liberatarism.

    You revile the ‘force’of government, but what of the ‘force’ of corporations (and I might add, wealth)? Has it not historically worked to diminish the rights of working people and average citizens? And you advocate a system that would certainly lead to the empowerment of corporations and the wealthy. So…we will need 90% approval to enact a progressive income tax, or rights to organize, or minimum wage, or social security??? Fat Chance!

  38. P.J. O’Rourke was only half joking
    when he wrote, years ago, that
    “Republicans are the party that says
    government doesn’t work, and then they
    get elected and prove it.

    the best quote from that article

  39. William,

    90% is a majority – just not a simple majority. The U.N. Security Council requires unanimity – 100% – in order to pass a resolution. Most corporate bylaws require a super-majority of 66/75% in order to authorize new shares and dilute existing shareholders. It requires 60% to break a filibuster in the Senate. It requires 66% of both houses and 75% of the states to amend the Constitution.

    All of these are majorities – and all are democratic or quasi-democratic. The thing they have in common is that they impose higher requirements because of the perceived importance and impact of change. In other words, you have to convince more people that an action to be taken is right and just and won’t harm them.

    Libertarianism treats natural human rights as important enough to not be diluted via a simple majority and to require the consent of as large a proportion as possible to avoid the danger of having one’s neighbors relinquish one’s rights for them.

    I don’t see that libertarianism and anarchy are even close.

    Anarchy repudiates government and law in all form. Historically, most anarchist strains have been communist – and not only repudiate government, but also private property.

    Libertarianism respects the power of the state and recognizes that it is necessity – and, in fact, good. However, it recognizes the power of the state for what it is – and the tendency among humans to want to control each other by force.

    Corporations are not a libertarian construct… As I wrote in an earlier treatment elsewhere about the history and conception of corporations:

    It was well recognized even at the time that limited liability companies were basically a cost externalization machine – particularly when it came to mining, logging, railroading and industrial production. Limited liability companies also functioned as both wealth creation and wealth concentration machines.

    The view was at the time that the immediate gains in standards of living across all sectors of society were worth the price imposed on society at a later date, and were worth the concentration of wealth, partially condoned by the state, because then, at least, citizens of all classes would have the jobs and wealth to be taxed in order to mitigate those future costs.

    The libertarian argument is that the entire notion of a limited liability company is in and of itself a distortion of the free market. It separates owners from managers and morality from money and creates perverse incentives for managers to externalize as many costs as possible, while concentrating as much wealth as possible.

    However, the wealth creation capability of the limited liability company is staggering, and the improvements to the standards of living of all people where these entities are allowed to participate in free markets cannot be argued.

    As a purist, I think the notion of the limited liability company is distasteful and prone to great risk for society.

    As a pragmatist, I recognize the need for laws to mitigate the cost externalization capabilities of these companies to at least keep a reasonable check on the perverse incentives created for them.

    The central problem I have with the liberal argument is that there is no distinction made between those companies that are cost externalizes (banks, auto companies, mining firms, loggers, drugs, consumer products, etc.) versus those companies that are innovators and wealth creators without being cost externalizes.

    So, no, I do not advocate a system that leads to the empowerment of corporations and wealthy. I advocate a system where money is irrelevant to political power (which is not what we have now, I don’t think you’d disagree).

    The only way the empowerment of the wealthy that you suggest could happen with a 90% majority is if 90% of people were wealthy… and then, what the heck is anyone complaining about anyway?

    Progressive income tax, unionization, minimum wage and social security have been treated elsewhere at great length… but if you cling to all of these things so strongly at the face value of the rhetoric used to support them, and won’t consider the possibility that all of these things are potentially irrational and might actually hurt us all, then there’s really nothing to discuss further.

    I am unsure of where your trust in government comes from. If anything, the current economic collapse should convince you that maybe it is misplaced.

    Unless, of course, you actually believe the rhetoric that it was greedy banks to blame – as opposed to the government that created the conditions (more like encouragement and endorsement) where such greed could flourish (and then failing completely to recognize and correct the mistakes).

    The government is still telling the banks to lend more, and citizens to borrow more. Does that really strike you as sound advice?

  40. P.J. O’Rourke was only half joking
    when he wrote, years ago, that
    “Republicans are the party that says
    government doesn’t work, and then they
    get elected and prove it.

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