Review of Klein and Clark (part 3)

As I mentioned in my previous two posts, as part of their framework for determining whether a proposed law, regulation, or public policy is pro-liberty or anti-liberty, Daniel Klein and Michael Clark identify 11 types of government action in their 2010 paper on “Direct and Overall Liberty.” Here, I am reproducing their taxonomy in its entirety below (the labels in bold are Klein and Clark’s), along with an illustration or brief description of each category:

1. Thoreauvian coercion (pp. 50-52): protesting an unjust law by breaking that law (e.g. Rosa Parks)
2. Coercive hazard (pp. 52-54): paternalistic laws designed to protect people from risky situations, such as seat belt and helmet laws
3. Disarming or defusing private coercion (pp. 54-55): laws that regulate or forbid the ownership of weapons
4. Controlling pollution (pp. 55-56): air and water pollution laws
5. Restrictions to prevent rip-offs (p. 56): laws against counterfeiting, consumer protection laws, occupational licensure, etc.
6. Subsidizing against coercive taboos (pp. 56-58): the example Klein and Clark give here is public funding of stem-cell research
7. Taxing to fund liberal enlightenment (p. 58): public schools, student loans, etc.
8. Coercively tending the moral foundations of liberty (pp. 58-59): paternalistic laws designed to promote traditional values (e.g. Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No” P.R. campaign against drug use)
9. Logrolling for liberty (pp. 59-61): party politics
10. Stabilizing the second-best (pp. 61-63): adopting an illiberal policy at time T1 to avoid a worst outcome at time T2
11. Military actions (pp. 63-64): use of military force overseas to topple dictators and promote freedom overseas (e.g. the war effort to defeat Nazi Germany in the 1940s or the illegal U.S. invasion of Panama in 1989 to arrest strongman Manuel Noriega)

If I read Klein and Clark’s paper correctly, the purpose of this comprehensive taxonomy is to narrow down which areas of government action are more likely to lead to restrictions of our overall liberty–or conversely, produce greater levels of liberty overall. Although this taxonomy is somewhat quirky, I want to make a larger point here: there is a common thread that ties together all these disparate categories. Specifically, what all 11 areas have in common is the use of government coercion (or the threat of such coercion) to remedy a harm.

Working backwards, i.e. starting with item #11 (military actions), the harm to be avoided might consist of some perceived threat overseas, such as radical militants plotting to commit acts of terrorism against innocent civilians. Next, with item #10 (stabilizing the second best), the worst outcome to be avoided might be the possibility of a violent insurrection. With item #9 (logrolling for liberty), by contrast, the harm is having to accept the bitter with the sweet; for example, a politician who reluctantly supports an anti-liberty policy (such as authorizing the sale of F-15s to Saudi Arabia) in order to get a pro-liberty law enacted (school vouchers).

Moving on: with item #8 (coercively tending the moral foundations of liberty), the harm to be avoided are the inevitable evils that might result when “people have too much freedom” (to quote Klein and Clark). Additionally, with item #7 (taxing to fund liberal enlightenment), the harm to be avoided is citizens’ lack of appreciation of the benefits of liberty, and similarly, with item #6 (subsidizing against coercive taboos), the harm to be counteracted are attitudes about certain taboos (such as stem-cell research or human cloning) that “lend themselves to coercive governmental actions.” (Klein & Clark 2010, p. 56.) Likewise, the next four areas (items #2, #3, #4, and #5) also involve the prevention or reduction of harms. With item #5 (restrictions to prevent rip-offs), the harms to be avoided are scams against the public, while with item #4 (controlling pollution), the harms in play are various forms of pollution, such as carbon emissions, toxic waste, lead poisoning, etc. With item #3 (disarming or defusing private coercion), the harm to be avoided is the possibility of dangerous weapons falling into the wrong hands, and lastly, with item #2 (coercive hazards), the harms at stake are risky behaviors, like riding a motor bike without a helmet.

[That leaves item #1 (Thoreauvian coercion). Although, as Klein and Clark concede, this area involves “actions by private parties” (p. 51), not the government, protests against unjust laws are often inspired by harms perpetrated by the government itself. In the case of Rosa Parks, for example, the harm was racial segregation in public transportation, a system of apartheid enforced by municipal laws and the local police.]

Now that we have identified the common thread tying together all 11 areas of Klein and Clark’s taxonomy of governmental actions, the two concerns I raised in my previous post (see here) can come into sharper focus. To the point: if my intellectual hero Ronald Coase (pictured below) is right, i.e. if harms are a reciprocal problem, then any governmental action designed to prevent or reduce an existing harm will itself create a new set of harms. Why is Coase’s insight relevant to debates about liberty? I will explain why in my next post.

Ronald Coase and the Misuse of Economics

About F. E. Guerra-Pujol

When I’m not blogging, I am a business law professor at the University of Central Florida.
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1 Response to Review of Klein and Clark (part 3)

  1. Pingback: Recap of my review of Klein & Clark | prior probability

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