Many laws and regulations that violate our freedoms are enforced under the excuse that it is “for the common good”. Laws that regulate what we can eat or how we can work or what we can do on our property or how we can spend our money abound. I gave a number of examples earlier this month on the morning program.
One example was regulations banning the sale of raw milk. All across Wisconsin, people purchase raw milk “incidentally” from dairy farmers. A few of these farmers have sold enough milk that they are considered by the Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection to be violating State laws that prohibit the sale of raw milk. Several of these operations have been closed down.
Nothing wrong was done by the farmer or the milk drinker. It is no different than someone giving you a dozen eggs. The only explanation is the risk of a mass poisoning will harm the drinkers and apparently will harm the dairy industry. Yet if such an event were to happen, what wrong was done? Was it the selling of raw milk or the farmer’s negligence in enabling contamination? Such negligence happens no matter what the farmer is raising or whether it is legal or not. And the farmer alone is responsible for any damages he has done.
But the fear that was brought up on the show was that if enough outbreaks were to occur, it would hurt Wisconsin’s vital dairy industry. The phrase “for the common good” was used to justify why the selling of raw milk should be banned.
The same explanation is used when people advocate gun control laws. “For the common good” is used to justify Obamacare in its takeover of the health industry and the forcing of health insurance. Zoning and building laws that tell us what we can or can’t do on our properties are “for the common good.” Public schooling and mandatory attendance laws are justified for the same reasons.
I can give other examples. The one thing similar among all of these examples is that the “common good” is used to justify a violation of another person’s rights. We all have a right to work, sell, raise our own children, defend ourselves, enhance our property, and not be forced to buy something. Yet the very institution that was set up to defend our rights from others is the one violating them – in the name of “the common good”.
This is not a new argument. When the Constitution was written and proposed to the original 13 states, there was significant opposition to it. One of the reasons was what we call today, “the welfare clause”, which is found in the preamble. It states that one of the purposes of the new Constitution was to “promote the general Welfare.” A modern translation of this phrase could be “for the common good”; general meaning common and welfare meaning good. The Founders who were skeptical of the Constitution, people like Thomas Jefferson and Patrick Henry, were worried that such a clause could become a basis for the government to violate an individual’s basic rights.
Gary M. Galles, professor of economics at Pepperdine University, said,
“Antifederalists opposed the Constitution on the grounds that its checks on federal power would be undermined by expansive interpretations of promoting the "general welfare" (which would be claimed for every law) and the "all laws necessary and proper" clause (which would be used to override limits on delegated federal powers), creating a federal government with unwarranted and undelegated powers that were bound to be abused.”
Because of this, many proposed that some amendments be added to the constitution. These became known as “The Bill of Rights”. Their purpose was not to give us rights, but to make sure that the government wouldn’t violate those inherit rights in order to “promote the general welfare” or as we say today “for the common good”.
Whenever the phrase “for the common good” is used to justify a law, watch out. Oftentimes, it is because the law violates a basic right or forces a person to do something against their will. Such laws are not only unconstitutional, they are wrong. It doesn’t matter whether they will protect an industry, keep us safe, enhance the natural beauty of an area, or result in a better society; if they violate our right to life, liberty, or property, they are immoral. Just as it is wrong for my neighbor to take a gun and force me to give up mine, or to buy health insurance, or to stop building a garage, or to stop me from selling milk; so it is also wrong for a person with a badge or a black robe to do the same.