Milton Friedman deserves much of the credit for the evolution of my political views in the libertarian direction. Late in his life – and relatively early in mine – he enunciated a core principle that I’d often felt but never stated outright. In 1990 he said, "I regard the basic human value that underlies my own beliefs as tolerance based on humility. I have no right to coerce someone else because I cannot be sure that I am right and he is wrong."

Although the speech in which he made this statement is 24 years old, I didn’t see it until a couple years ago. Taken with some of the other topics I was studying at the time – complexity theory and economics – his statement clicked for me in a way that it may not have had I heard it in 1990. It has become the lens through which I now see many political arguments and it is the reason why I’m more and more convinced that eventually libertarianism – in some form – will eventually carry the day in public policy and political theory.
We see many examples of a lack of humility and the inability to admit ones mistakes. I chronicled one instance involving Dana Milbank a few weeks ago. chronicles another just yesterday from one of the architects of Obamacare. The latter is more distressing because as an architect of the takeover of 1/7th of the nation’s economy, he almost by necessity has to posses the hubris to say "I am right and you are wrong," even after he is caught saying two things which are diametrically opposed.
Journalists sometimes try to get politicians to admit their mistakes. It was fashionable for a while for reporters to lament the fact that President Bush would never admit he was wrong about Iraq. Hillary Clinton is under fire now for her "reset" policy with respect to Russia. But a politician never admits his or her mistakes, assuming they truly believe they’ve made one, unless they can argue that someone that mistake wasn’t their fault or there is some physical evidence – like a stained dress – that forces them to admit to some wrongdoing.
The beauty of Friedman’s humility is that he doesn’t have to be right. The fewer the rules, the less restrictive the regulations, the smaller the government role is in our lives, the less chance they have to be wrong. Friedman doesn’t want to decide how you live. He wants you to decide that.
Human beings need rules, it’s in our DNA. Consider the story of this Australian tourist who traveled multiple times to North Korea. When he returned from visiting the most repressive country on the face of the earth he said "it alarmed him how quickly he was conditioned to a conformist’s life. ‘It was really mind-blowing when I got to China and could walk wherever I wanted – I hadn’t even realized what I had lost.’"
Barry Schwartz gives a great explanation of this phenomenon in this TED Talk. Rules allow us to be lazy, he explains, and substitute someone else’s wisdom for our own. He talks about a janitor who knows when to break the rules and a social worker who doesn’t and ends up breaking up a family for weeks. Another high profile example is David Gregory breaking the gun laws of the District of Columbia. But he’s a journalist and a liberal so he wasn’t prosecuted.
The most basic conceit of the left is its lack of humility. To admit failure is to undermine their very ideology – government knows best. I want my politicians to posses a great deal more humility. I don’t want them to think they know what’s best for me. I want to be able to figure out the rules – my rules – for myself.
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