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It Was My Choice

Why this column is ending.

by James Leroy Wilson
May 1, 2002

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It Was My Choice_James Leroy Wilson-Why this column is ending. It all starts with individual freedom. Some people - most people - have been raised to believe that personal freedom should be abridged for some greater moral purpose. The error made by both the left and the right, is that there is a distinction between economics and the moral choices of personal behavior. The left believes that, provided everyone's basic "economic needs" are met, that society should let people be free in their sexual, intellectual, and artistic pursuits. The right believes that the leftist economics do not work in either theory or reality. Regulations and wealth redistribution, conservatives claim, do not elevate the poor, or of society as a whole, and work only to stifle initiative and innovation. Yet, moving away from economics, the right claims that there is a role for the state to reward virtue and punish vice. Sexual promiscuity, pornography, gambling, and substance abuse could, if left free, cause our society to crumble, and therefore must be banned.

The truth, however, is that there is no distinction between "economics" and anything else. Yes, economics in the narrow sense is about financial calculations - what to do with one's own money. But such calculations are made in our minds all the time - our minds do little else. For how we spend our money, and whether we spend it or save it, is a choice. It is the direct action resulting from a decision about how we want to live - what we want, which is what we think, rightly or wrongly, will further our happiness.

Economics is the pursuit of happiness. The pursuit of happiness is the purpose of life. The economist Ludwig von Mises pointed out that even in a utopia, where every desire and pleasure can be satisfied, a person would still engage in "economic" planning, for the simple reason life itself has limited time and one must choose which desires could be fulfilled. Economics - choosing - is in the broadest sense the mind dealing with the reality of scarcity. Both money and time is scarce, and we each have to choose what to do with what we have. And be personally responsible for the consequences.

When government tries to make the choices for us, a form of "social distortion" arises. Prices of illegal commodities shoot through the roof. The genuine economic burden of government rises as resources that could be put to constructive use are used instead to merely comply with regulations or with the tax code. When the income from one's labor is taken away, and one's pleasures are banned, how can we expect a responsible and virtuous citizenry? People are not allowed to choose for themselves.

I have written in this column about loyalty, and about patriotism. I have written about fundamental realities of distinction and identity, of "us" and "them." I wrote as a conservative, then as a libertarian. All the time writing without pay, even though it was an "economic" decision to write the column. My judgment was that I am better off writing the column than not. This remained true for eighteen months.

No longer.

The best use of my time is to be engaged directly in the political process. It is one thing to write a column criticizing the government and its policies, and to attack the depressing, pessimisitc attitudes that justify contraints on our freedom. But my column isn't stopping the politicians. So it is best to become one.

Government, by holding a monopoly of violence over an area, can either be the chief protector of freedom, or it can be its chief attacker. Where it is the chief attacker - through excessive taxation and through punishment of non-violent, non-fraudulent behavior, it must be stopped. So that's what I'm going to try to do.

It's been a pleasure writing this column, and I thank Mark Johnson for the opportunity.

The editor wishes to thank Mr. Wilson for his hard work, inspired words, and dedication in his tenure as a columnist for the PO.

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