Sunday, April 29, 2012

Radley Balko is Mostly Useless Part 2

After Ray Lahood mused about using technology to cut down on people using their cell phones while driving, I discovered the Libertarians consider distracted driving to be a birthright. In fact, this became the prime example in my "Why Libertarians Are Idiots" arguments.

Cell phone blocking technology is illegal in the United States. But if it were legal, we would see it deployed in many different ways. The government may require it in cars to cut down on distracted driving, yes, that's true. But many other private entities will deploy it for other reasons: restaurants to provide a nice dining atmosphere, movie theaters to ensure silence during the film, convention centers, sporting events, political events.

Indeed, if cell phone blocking technology were deployed, I suspect it would be deployed in these venues before the government starts demanding they're installed in cars.

What will the Libertarians say about the movie theater blocking your cell phone signal to ensure a quiet house? My guess is that they'll support it. We'll hear about property rights. We'll hear about rational choice. We'll hear about efficient markets and all the other hoodoo they believe.

But if the government blocks your cell phone signal to cut down on road deaths, then we'll hear nothing but crying over coercion and Big Brother is Watching You and all kinds of other nonsense. Not because they're against cell phone blockers in principal, just when the government does it.

If your philosophy allows private entities to infringe freedom to ensure silence, but does not allow public entities to infringe the very same freedom to avoid preventable deaths then I say your philosophy is "mostly useless." It provides no guide to life more complex than "government bad, private good," which sadly many Libertarians may feel is not an unfair distillation of their views.

All of this is a lengthy preamble to this bit on Radley Balko's blog:
The Obama administration is pushing a federal ban on any use of a cell phone while driving. So I’ll be unfolding a map over the steering wheel when I get lost instead of pulling up my phone’s GPS. Much safer.
Here's an idea: Figure out where you're going before you leave. Lost? Need to use your GPS? Pull over and use it. Get a passenger to do it. Do the smart thing. If you're behind the wheel, focus on driving. If everyone did that, we wouldn't need laws like this. Right?


Chris said...

Don't forget to ban eating in the car - in fact, shut down all the drive thru's at the fast food joints, cuz let's face it, stuffing a Big Mac in your grill while driving is likely to be worse than using your cell phone. Oh yeah, talking with the people in your car? That's been shown to be highly distracting as well. Shall we go on?

hamiltonfix said...

Hi James,

Libertarians don't think "government bad, private good" but rather "coercive actions bad, voluntary actions good."

It looks like your unfamiliar with libertarian philosophy, so I have an anecdote that illustrates your misunderstanding.

I have a friend who is a recovering alcoholic. He has completely banned alcohol from his home, and doesn't even allow people who have been drinking to enter. I think alcohol is fine, but if I don't like his rules then I don't have to visit his home. This is fine to all libertarians.

If the federal government to make his rules about alcohol apply to all homes then clearly libertarians would be upset. It isn't just that government is bad, but different people have different ways of living. Voluntary associations allow us to live together peacefully, and forcing my preferences on someone else is wrong.

hamiltonfix said...

*You're. Forgive my typo in the second sentence, I wrote this on a phone.

HeavyG said...

I wasn't going to bother leaving a comment after coming across your post but given the paucity of comments on your blog in toto I thought I'd give you a little reader love.

Apparently you have many examples of "Why Libertarians Are Idiots" and I can tell from your well reasoned, fact based thinking in your post that you are indeed a thinker of the first order!

I'm not a Libertarian but I am a libertarian-leaning fellow. A few decades ago I was an actual Libertarian Party member but as I got older I realized that being a member of any party just wasn't me. However, I still keep up with issues and in touch with current "Libertarian" and "libertarian" thought and I must say I must have missed the proclamation that said that libertarian thinking considers distracted driving to be a birthright.

Is that something you read somewhere or did you just make that up?

Distracted driving has been a problem since the first car was driven down out of the factory. Distracted driving is not something that just came along with the advent of the cell phone. Drivers have from the very beginning engaged in behaviors that endanger themselves and others when they are heading down the road.

I'm curious - do you have any fact based evidence that shows that the use of a cell phone while driving is any more hazardous than driving while:

- drinking your coffee
- reading a book
- fiddling with the radio
- fiddling with your iPod
- chatting with your friends
- eating your lunch
- getting a blow job
- arguing with your wife/partner
- checking out the hotties as you drive down the road
- feeding your child in the back seat
- playing with your dog
- etc., etc., etc.

Do you have any evidence that can prove that by preventing cell phone use in a car that there will be fewer accidents/mayhem/damage/deaths?

I don't like it when I'm driving around town and I see people yacking on their phone or texting nor do I like it when I see people engaging in any of the behaviors I mentioned above - and I've seen all those behaviors more than once. In fact, most of them are observable daily.

Me, and I would venture most, libertarian thinking folks do not view operating a motor vehicle on a public thoroughfare to be a birthright. I'm all for far stricter driver training and licensing requirements.

Me, and I would venture most, libertarian thinking folks do not like legislation that is really just pandering to the "emotions du jour" in order to look as if The Government Is Doing Something Important.

Do you really support using cell phone blocking technology in each and every car? Do you understand how radio waves work? Do you understand that a cell phone blocker would also create a radius outside the car where "lawful" cell phone usage would also be blocked? Do you think cell phone usage inside a car is so hazardous that even usage by a passenger needs to be blocked (how would an in-car blocker discriminate between driver and passenger phones)?

Clearly what we need are more rules and regulations based on "feel-goodism" rather than actual fact based empirical evidence. Unfortunately, advanced thinkers such as Ray LaHood and yourself are far too common.

What I find particularly amusing in regards to your "Why Libertarians Are Idiots" position is that in another of your recent posts you decry government essentially handing out a subsidy/welfare check to a private business (Gaylord Entertainment) for a private business project.

Why…that is a very Libertarian position (meaning we libertarian thinkers are opposed to governments handing out corporate welfare) for you to take so maybe there is hope for you yet!

James said...

First...thanks for the comments.



Not sure I follow your logic. If the government doesn't ban all driving distractions, they can't ban any? By focusing on the cell phone users, they're neglecting the eaters and the talkers?

Bottom line: It's not a good idea to use your phone when you're driving. I don't need the government to tell me that, but some people apparently do.


Quite a lengthy response, and you do make some good points. No, I don't support cell phone blocking technology. I actually think it's a good thing the government bans it, not just in cars, but in movie theaters, restaurants, and other venues. The signal must not be impeded!

And yes, as you can see, I too have many Libertarian tendencies and think many Libertarian ideas are good ones.

I will not, however, ever become a doctrinaire Libertarian because their thinking is too formulaic. Their distrust of the government and aversion to coercion leads them to all kinds of wacky positions.

Ever listen to a Libertarian tell you we don't need Civil Rights laws? I have. Ever listen to one explain why we don't need net neutrality laws? Yep, same here.

Many Libertarians run ideas through the Libertarian flow chart and see what pops out. Was the government involved? Is there coercion involved? If the answer is yes, then the Libertarian position is no.

It's cute...but not a very good way of thinking about the world, mostly because the world is more complicated than that.

James said...

Hamiltonfix, had to rescue you from the spam filter.

Thanks for the example. I know that Libertarians prefer voluntary actions over coercive ones, and I generally agree with them. However, many Libertarians take this idea to ridiculous heights, as in this case.

If everyone voluntarily put the cell phone down while they were driving, we wouldn't need to be coerced.

And yet, it seems the Libertarian position on this is "Thanks, nanny state, but don't coerce me," rather than "Don't worry, nanny state. I'm not going to use my phone anyway."