One of the great things about mobile devices is that thy turn wasted time into productive time. I’m currently sitting in line at the Memphis Vehicle Inspection Bureau, where I’m waiting with my engine running, AC running, and stereo playing (U2′s “War,” if you’re curious). Times like this are opportunities to reflect on arguments for and against government.
First, inspections like these are all-or-nothing. They’re pRt of a broader war against marginal reasoning. I have too often had to pay ponderous sums to fix cars that just barely failed inspections in Tennessee and Missouri.
The obvious response is that I’m a malcontent deserving of scorn because I’m upset about being inconvenienced for the greater good. Here, interventionists are making a clear mistake by assuming that their policies produce their desired results. I won’t go into detail, but it isn’t that hard to imagine that these inspections are, on net, bad for the environment (they’re good for mechanics and car companies, which would be an interesting Baptists-and-Bootleggers investigation). First, the infrastructure has to be built and maintained. Second, I (and every other driver in Memphis) has to sit for a pretty long time with a car running (or perpetually having to stop and re-crank). Third, getting a car fixed produces additin intrusions on air and water quality. It’s not an environmental free lunch. And I haven’t even brought up the burden on the poor.
This raises a point about rhetorical strategy. Moral arguments for liberty are sufficient, but I don’t think they’re usually necessary. Most of the proposals for intervention that I see claim that a particular intervention (mandatory inspection of older vehicles) will produce a desired result (cleaner air). Often, it’s easy to show that these policies are not merely ineffective, but counterproductive. The case for intervention falls apart quickly when we establish the unintended-but-inevitable consequences.
As a matter of rhetorical strategy, I think this is pretty robust. In discussions of the TSA, for example, those who are telling us to “bend over” are basing their recommendation on an incorrect understanding of the net effects and the tradeoffs. Whether you have the right to touch my junk or threaten me with jail for failing to have my vehicle inspected is, I think, of secondary importance once we establish that the interventionists’ desired consequences will not materialize.