The Right To Waste My Own Money

In one of my favorite Two and A Half Men episodes (of which there are many), Char­lie takes Jake to the horse rac­ing track instead of help­ing him with his book report. Jake has $14 to spend and he needs some advice from Uncle Char­lie. Char­lie rec­om­mends putting his money where the other smart money is, on the favorite at 2 to 1. When Char­lie explains that Jake will win $28 when the horse comes through, Jake is under­stand­ably unim­pressed with this total and wants to wager on the 80 to 1 long­shot. Char­lie, assum­ing this will teach him a les­son, allows him to do so. And of course the horse wins net­ting lucky Jake $1120. As the episode con­tin­ues, Char­lie and Allen argue how Jake should spend his money, for­get­ting to include Jake in the con­ver­sa­tion. In the end, not unex­pect­edly, Jake wastes his money on a dirt bike that imme­di­ately falls apart.

The les­son here is two-fold. First, Uncle Char­lie thought he knew best how to spend Jake’s money and was in fact com­pletely wrong. Two, Jake blew his money on a worth­less piece of crap. While this is painful to Jake, it’s pain­less to almost every­one else. Per­sonal choice is often like this. I may make all the ter­ri­ble deci­sions I like and the per­son most hurt in the sit­u­a­tion will almost always be me (leav­ing aside obvi­ous choices like shoot­ing peo­ple which is already ille­gal and not ger­mane to the conversation).

If Steven Chu, Nobel prize win­ning physi­cist who cur­rently runs the Depart­ment of Energy, had his way, he would play the part of Allen, Jake’s pater­nal­is­tic and know it all father. In doing so, he would make sure you weren’t allowed to waste your own money, feel­ing that the gov­ern­ment of the United States is much more likely to know what’s best for you and your rapidly decreas­ing in value dol­lar bills. To sum up the issue, in 2007 Con­gress passed a law out­law­ing incan­des­cent bulbs because they aren’t as energy effi­cient as the newer com­pact flu­o­res­cent bulbs. Not sur­pris­ingly, lots of peo­ple found that to be a huge over­reach, espe­cially given how mediocre CFLs seem to be. Con­gress is now con­sid­er­ing repeal­ing that 2007 law. Steven Chu is unsur­pris­ingly aghast at the peo­ple hav­ing a choice on how they spend their money.

We are tak­ing away a choice that con­tin­ues to let peo­ple waste their own money.

While I’m not sur­prised to hear such pater­nal­is­tic thoughts com­ing out of this admin­is­tra­tion, it is nonethe­less fright­en­ing to think that the offi­cials in power can so brazenly advo­cate for less choice for us pro­le­tar­i­ans. Lots of other peo­ple have com­mented on the sec­ond part of that awful state­ment, the abil­ity to waste our own money. I think it’s equally enlight­en­ing to exam­ine the first part of it. “We are tak­ing away a choice” is a phrase that should strike fear in almost every Amer­i­can. The tak­ing of choice should be done only with the great­est of con­sid­er­a­tion. And yet, our polit­i­cal elite wants noth­ing more than to limit your choices, to be allowed to dic­tate your actions, to make you much less free all in the name of what­ever their slo­gan of the week is, in this case energy efficiency.

This coun­try was founded largely on choice. It is going the way of the dodo as more and more Amer­i­cans are less able to make choices for them­selves. The abil­ity to make choices dri­ves the econ­omy and spirit of Amer­ica. Yet, on some­thing so triv­ial as what light­bulb to buy, this Admin­is­tra­tion would pre­fer you to have no choice, instead being told exactly what you can and can­not buy. And it’s not lim­ited to this Admin­is­tra­tion. The law was passed in 2007. We have been watch­ing our free­doms and choices erode for the past 20 years.

The brazen­ness with which they are start­ing to grab power that once rested with the indi­vid­ual is both astound­ing and ter­ri­fy­ing. Per­haps if Mr. Chu would like to really have an effect, he should out­law 30 year mort­gages, surely a much larger and neg­a­tive waste of the people’s money. Of course, the peo­ple (and the banks!) wouldn’t stand for that because no one can afford 15 year mort­gage these days. Wast­ing money is a mat­ter of per­sonal choice. Or at least it should be. Our polit­i­cal elite would pre­fer you have much less choice in all are­nas of your life so that they may tell you the best way to live.

Even­tu­ally, I believe this is going to back­fire in a huge way. The peo­ple will not con­tinue to watch the gov­ern­ment grow larger, squan­der­ing larger and larger sums of money while being told more and more what they can­not do. At a micro scale, that’s exactly what this issue is about. You can­not tell a man who has been out of work for 99 weeks that he isn’t allowed to buy a sig­nif­i­cantly cheaper bulb just because over the long run it will cost him more money. Peo­ple are not con­cerned with the long run. They are con­cerned with get­ting through the day to day and any evi­dence that the gov­ern­ment is pre­vent­ing that through the restric­tion of choice will even­tu­ally blow up in our faces.

Choice is fun­da­men­tal to who we are as a peo­ple. We can­not allow our choices to con­tinue to dis­ap­pear into the obliv­ion of Wash­ing­ton. Change will hap­pen, it’s just hard to say right now what that change will look like.

One Comment

  • Amen Brett! Preach it brother! You say, “The peo­ple will not con­tinue to watch the gov­ern­ment grow larger,…” but at what point do you think we will stop dri­ving to work and instead take one or more proac­tive steps toward ceas­ing this inces­sant behav­ior? Is another civil war nec­es­sary to right the boat?

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