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Adam Smith and “natural liberty”…

Adam Smith via Krugman regarding banking regulation:

“Such regulations may, no doubt, be considered as in some respect a violation of natural liberty. But those exertions of the natural liberty of a few individuals, which might endanger the security of the whole society, are, and ought to be, restrained by the laws of all governments; of the most free, as well as or the most despotical. The obligation of building party walls, in order to prevent the communication of fire, is a violation of natural liberty, exactly of the same kind with the regulations of the banking trade which are here proposed.”

Following the same logic in theory the prohibition against murder, theft, or rape are similarly a “violation of natural liberty”.

The point is, a civil society is going to have lots of provisions that in theory violate “natural liberty”. So it’s not a question between a totalitarian intrusive government and a completely “free” libertarian government, it’s a sensible middle ground.

Yes, it does want to favor freedom over control, but when an individual liberty greatly threatens society, some sacrifices are in order.

Of course, and this is a completely fair point, “Who decides what greatly threatens society?”

This is an enormously sticky point. The fact is it’s probably something that will never be entirely fixed in stone and will have to be constant conversation through the life of the union. Just as the balance of “freedom of the press” and “state security” are always at constant struggle, so will the balance of freedom of the few to protection of the many.

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