From the presidential race down to the Oregon ballot measures, many choices in this election boil down to trust: Do you trust people to use their own free will? How you answer that question will determine how you vote.Â
President Bush’s proposals on reforms to rescue Social Security from bankruptcy hinge on allowing people keep control of a small percentage of their own money in personal retirement accounts. The argument against this reform is that people might not invest and use their own money wisely – they might invest in emu farming, putting all of their eggs in one basket, so to speak, and lose everything.
So, the people who oppose personal accounts think that they can do a better job of safekeeping an individual’s money by giving it to the government to manage instead.
In other words, those against private accounts believe that people are too reckless and uneducated to be allowed to make their own choices with their retirement money.
I hear the same assumption of ignorance expressed about the Iraqi people. How many of the president’s critics have said that the people of Iraq are not ready for democracy? The president believes that once freed from an oppressive dictator, the Iraqi people can be trusted with their power of choice to form a government based on the ideals of freedom and liberty.
At one time in the past, the distrust of a nation’s people to use their free will was highly prevalent. The people of Germany and Japan have shown those doubters of 1945 to have been wrong not to trust them.
Here in Oregon, critics of Ballot Measure 37 also display a mistrust of people. They say that if Measure 37 passes, government would lose the ability to control property owners’ choices in how they use their own property. Then people in the No on 37 crowd wring their hands and worry over rendering plants being built in residential suburbs.
The measure’s opponents assume that property owners, if left to their own devices, would use their power of choice for evil. They completely ignore the injustice of taking the use of an individual’s property without just compensation because they believe, deep down, that people cannot be trusted to be the best stewards of their own property.
Oregon Secretary of State Bill Bradbury used his official powers to prevent the voters of Oregon from having another choice for president. Did he not trust Oregonians to use their free will? Or did Bradbury feel that Oregonians might ignorantly vote for that new choice instead of favoring his highly educated one? I know which choice I will make when I vote for secretary of state: Anybody but Bill!
Locally, some members of the Eugene City Council believe that consumers cannot be trusted to spend their money in the correct stores. The council has discussed banning those evil big box stores because people might actually choose to patronize them, and they might stay in business. Council members are much smarter than ordinary citizens about what kind of store is best, so they will act to limit citizens’ freedom of choice to only those stores that are deemed the correct ones.
I find this lack of trust to be based on elitism: You, Joe Citizen! You are too stupid to manage your own money, so we will forcibly confiscate it and with our enlarged brains, keep it safe for you. And you! Jane Landowner! You are evil at heart and cannot be trusted to use your own land as you see fit, so we with our higher morals and greater vision will pass restrictive regulations decreasing the value of your property.
I believe the most people are rational, caring human beings and that individuals use their free will wisely. So, when faced with a choice this election, I will ask the candidates if they believe individuals can be trusted to use the fruits of their own labor better than the government can, and vote for the one who trusts the people. I will vote on ballot measures based on whether they expand our ability to exercise free will, or restrict it even further.
I ask others, as they prepare to use their free will on Nov. 2, to do the same. I will not ask anyone to vote one way or another. I believe people are smart enough to make their own choices.
Republished with permission of author. Written on 10/4/05.