Saturday, December 23, 2006

Good Strategy for Promoting Liberty

I think Radley Balko is onto a great strategy to promote liberty. It's basically the same strategy non-libertarians (statists, alarmists, public healthists, public safetyists, etc.) have been using for years. The strategy? Focus on the personal victims of whatever evil you're trying to expose. Think about it...for smoking ban advocates, it's stories about the poor single-mom waitress who has lung cancer despite never smoking a day in her life after working at a restaurant (where smoking is allowed) for 30 years. For the MADD crowd, nothing's more effective than the infamous "Happy Birthday" commercials where a home video of a child's birthday party is shown while a narrator informs viewers that the child was killed by a drunk driver. For food safety alarmists, it's not the fact that 15 out of 300 million people got sick from eating bad spinach, it's that the old man is in critical condition at a local hospital after eating a salad.

Libertarians and free market advocates know they're right in the grand scheme of things. It's not even close. Look at things like global standards of living, then look at levels of economic, social, and press freedom. On the macro level, it's clear that greater liberty equals a better society for all. On the macro level, the few people who actually care enough to objectively consider the macro-level generally accept this idea.

But on the micro level, where most of the people (most of the voters!!) make their decisions, the non-libertarians dominate. When was the last time you saw a local (or even national) news story that focused on the abuse of power by government and/or how government hurts people's lives. Rarely. And if there is such a story, it's usually couched in terms that make the government's co-conspirators (such as a money-hungry corporation) look worse than the government. What's far more likely is a story about how some business or landlord is ripping people off, how someone died because of "gun violence," or some victim-laden story about the "digital divide" or the growing gap between rich and poor. And almost inevitably the stated or implied solution to such problems is more government action.

Anyway, back to the lecture at hand. "If it bleeds, it leads." That's the de facto axiom of news broadcasts. Why? Because people sympathize with personal stories. It doesn't even really matter what the story is; if there's a personal story with a likable person as a victim, it's perfect for the news.

And I think that libertarians are finally realizing this. Radley Balko is leading the charge at using personal stories to illustrate how government policies and government corruption can ruin the life of a real, actual person with a face and a name. Finally libertarians are understanding that what sells are personal stories on the micro level. You can talk all you want about how increased economic liberty will lead to a better society for all, but that point gets lost on most of the audience. What really gets people are real-world examples of individual victims.

No comments: