David Henderson (one of the EconLog bloggers and an economics professor at the Naval Postgraduate School has a problem with Steven Levitt (the “Freakonomics” economist at the U of Chicago). In a recent post about the ban on Internet poker, — “The ‘Daughter Test’ of Government Prohibitions (And Why I’m so Angry About the U.S. Internet Poker Crackdown)” – Levitt confessed that there were limits to his indignation at government intrusion into private life:
It wasn’t until the U.S. government’s crackdown on internet poker last week that I came to realize that the primary determinant of where I stand with respect to government interference in activities comes down to the answer to a simple question: How would I feel if my daughter were engaged in that activity? If the answer is that I wouldn’t want my daughter to do it, then I don’t mind the government passing a law against it.
At the point where Levitt stopped getting angry, Henderson begins.
What if I followed that test? I wouldn’t want my daughter installing a nose ring. So if I followed Levitt’s test, I wouldn’t mind the government passing a law against nose rings. I could multiply the examples. The fact is that I’m fairly conservative in my tastes. So if I followed Levitt’s test, I would not object to a whole lot of things governments want to do to people.
Levitt resembles those who are in favor of free speech, but who believe, like the journalist Simon Jenkins, that free speech would be better if it were much less free: “If American politics is now going the way of wounding, not healing, it needs the tonic of order. It is the great paradox of democracy. Free speech cannot exist without chains.”
As Henderson says:
It’s easy to tolerate people doing what you would do and approve of. It’s harder to tolerate what you don’t approve of. It’s even harder to tolerate activities and behaviors that you find disgusting. Levitt has just confessed that he’s intolerant or, at least, that he won’t object to a government that’s intolerant. That’s disappointing. I had expected better of him.
But in the end, Henderson gets even madder.
In a tolerant, read “free,” society, we can all have our tastes and preferences as long as we’re practicing them peacefully. If Levitt is par for the University of Chicago nowadays, how sad that he is in a department that housed the mighty — and tolerant — Milton Friedman.
Both Henderson’s and Levitt’s posts in full – and the comments – are well worth reading in full, to get a glimpse of libertarian passions in action.