Those who defend liberty are often challenged to supply exhaustive descriptions of what would happen were some aspect of our increasingly government-dictated lives returned to individuals’ voluntary arrangements. What would happen if government didn’t educate our children? If Social Security didn’t provide for retirement? If Medicaid and Medicare didn’t provide health care? If the USDA, FDA, FAA, etc., didn’t ensure our safety? If the EPA didn’t deal with pollution?
Anyone put on the spot with such questions must recognize that they are rhetorical traps. They are used to put an impossible burden of proof on voluntary arrangements, to allow proponents to dodge having to defend against criticisms of coercive policies.
Answers to such questions are beyond our knowledge. But that does not mean government as ubiquitous answer wins by default. It only means that detailed prediction of what would happen if some government-imposed constraints on freedom were eased is beyond anyone’s comprehensive knowledge.
Therefore, the first part of the answer to “What, precisely, would freedom produce?” is “No one knows.” But failing to answer that unanswerable question in no way detracts from the justified confidence that voluntary arrangements will do things better. In fact, why we can’t answer that trick question helps explain why freedom works so well—it allows previously undiscovered beneficial arrangements that serve people more effectively to develop, even though no one may know exactly what will result in advance.
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Contributed by Gary M. Galles of FEE.org.