Freedom: try it some time

People seem to find it increasingly difficult to simply dislike something without immediately wanting to ban it. In December in The Netherlands, the prohibition fetish traditionally focuses on consumer fireworks.

Regardless of how often it is proven untrue, many of my countrymen continue to believe that government and legislation form magical solutions to any problem facing them. Wherever you are from, you are certainly familiar with a similar phenomenon. Frivolous legislation is rampant all over the West, as all of our countries are plagued with a power hungry establishment which is out to take control over all aspects of our lives. Sadly this includes the US, which used to be a beacon of freedom and justice.

The two main aspects of legislation ignored by fans of big government are that all laws have undesirable side-effects, and that laws have to actually be upheld to have any effect at all. To completely outlaw consumer fireworks in a country like The Netherlands, where consumer fireworks are a big part of the New Year’s Eve tradition, is about as sensible as Prohibition was in the US during the 1920s: it will cause the black market to grow, product safety to go down and and it will offer opportunities for organized crime.

In this case, there is another problem: most of the trouble caused by fireworks in the hands of the public, is caused by people who are already breaking the rules (or going against common decency): people who are setting off fireworks when it’s not allowed, using fireworks which are already illegal, or people who use (often illegal) fireworks to vandalize property. More rules will not solve any of these problems. The people mostly affected by a ban would be the dads who like setting off fireworks with their kids. That is what a total ban would entail, while the problem is people manufacturing bombs from fireworks and / or destroying property. It’s like banning cigarettes to battle heroin addiction.

Moreover: if we apply the arguments consistently, then those seeking a fireworks ban, should also try to get alcohol banned. Alcohol claims many more lives each year, more injuries, disease, damage, accidents. But nobody is seriously considering an alcohol ban. For many people that is no doubt because they happen to like a drink, while they don’t care for fireworks. But we don’t have a government so the political class can force their personal preferences on us all. Or at least, that’s how it should be.

Certainly, there are downsides to freedom, but there are downsides to legislation as well. And I easily prefer freedom with some discomforts to having a huge and expensive system with some discomforts.

Lastly I would urge you to look beyond the topic of discussion at hand in your country. You may not care about fireworks, or whatever the equivalent in your country is at the moment. But ask yourself how long it will take before your hobby is next. If you think the prohibition fetishists will ever be done banning, you are in for a bitter disappointment. The world will never be perfect, and those who believe every problem can be solved with a law, will not be quick to abandon that faith.

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