01 Apr 2010

HuffPo “Po”ns Rand Paul–Or Does It?

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Robert Wenzel informs us of this blistering HuffPo put-down of Rand Paul’s “wacko” views. In a forthcoming NYT magazine interview, here’s the exchange with the son of Ron Paul (who is running for Senator in Kentucky):

[NYT:] But in light of your distrust of the federal government, where are you on an issue like seat belts? Federal legislation requiring people to wear seat belts could obviously save lives.

[Rand Paul:] I think the federal government shouldn’t be involved. I don’t want to live in a nanny state where people are telling me where I can go and what I can do.

Of course the “liberal” advocates of the individual against oppressive encroachment by the Leviathan state–at least when it’s run by George W. Bush–thought this was hilarious. HuffPo’s writer said:

Actually, the NYT’s Deborah Solomon is mistaken — federal law since 1968 has required all vehicles except for buses to be equipped with seat belts. But legislation requiring vehicle occupants to wear seat belts is left to the states. It’s not clear if Paul supports state laws regarding seat belt usage although he seems pretty emphatic about not being told what to do by any governmental authority.

Maybe Paul should run for the Senate in New Hampshire — it’s the only state that does not require adults to wear them (after all, the state’s legendary motto is “Live Free Or Die”). [Bold added.–RPM]

There are two things wrong with that snappy line:

First, it distorts the famous motto. The HuffPo guy is making it sound as if you can either have benevolent government intervention, OR you can be a tough-guy like Rand Paul and end up dead. But no, if that’s what the motto were saying, it would be, “Live Free AND Die.” (Sort of like, “Better Dead Than Red.”) You see, there is actually a school of thought in the American political tradition that thinks freedom works, that you don’t have to choose between a little temporary safety over your personal liberties. Maybe that tradition is wrong, but it’s rather absurd to quote it against Rand Paul.

Second, does it matter that in terms of fatalities per vehicle mile traveled, New Hampshire is ranked 49th? In other words, judging by that particular metric, New Hampshire is the safest state for motorists except for Massachusetts.

11 Responses to “HuffPo “Po”ns Rand Paul–Or Does It?”

  1. Bob Roddis says:

    It seems to me that insurance companies might demand a policy provision that cuts accident benefits by 2/3 if a victim is found to have been driving without a seatbelt. Oh how cruel! Or the owner of the private road might have such a requirement and ban those who don’t follow it.

    There is ALWAYS a simple free market voluntary alternative to ALL statist dreams of coercion.

  2. Evan says:

    Is there a credible argument against seatbelt laws other than slippery slope?

    I have heard people claim that it can increase the number of accidents because it gives some people a false sense of security when driving, but I don’t believe I’ve seen proof of that.

    I certainly agree with Paul in principle that it’s not a Constitutional function of the federal government, therefore it’s none of its concern. However, the cost of complying with this regulation seems so insignificant that I’m suprised people devote any time at all discussing it.

    • bobmurphy says:

      Evan Sam Peltzman is the guy on this. This post summarizes the findings but without hard numbers.

      You say the “cost of complying” seems so insignificant. But even holding slippery slope arguments aside, I’m not sure you’re analyzing it correctly. If cops are going around ticketing people, that means they aren’t looking for murderers etc. (Or, taxpayers have to pay higher taxes to fund hiring more cops, when those people could have been doing something besides citing people for not wearing a seatbelt.) So if Peltzman’s research is right, and the measure doesn’t even save lives–and in fact transfers the harms onto bicyclists and away from drivers who would have chosen to take the risks on themselves by driving without a belt–then it’s really absurd.

      • Evan says:

        Dr. Murphy,

        Thanks for the link. I especially like the point at the end discussing how a national standard for airbag laws stifles safety innovations by effectively crowding the automakers out of the safety market via legislative fiat.

        Still another hidden cost I hadn’t considered.

    • BlackSheep says:

      How can a cop really tell whether I am wearing the belt or not, unless we are driving at a very slow speed (in which case the all point of wearing the belt is moot).

      Say that a cop orders me to stop me because he thinks I am not wearing the belt. What if I put the belt after I stop? How can the cop be certain I wasn’t wearing the belt all along. What if I tell the cop that I was wearing the belt, but I took him off when I stopped for him? How can you avoid being harassing by some cop foe of yours and prove you were wearing the belt (or at least that there is no proof you were not wearing the belt).

      I love it how the same people who say woman own their own body in the context of abortion, change their stance when it comes to the seat belt and other dangerous activities.

  3. Randy_Bobandy says:


    yes there are credible utilitarian arguments against seat belt laws, why bob murphy even had a blog post a while ago about them. im a little too lazy to track it down, but wikipedia has an entry on seat belt laws, summing up the arguments and studies, and providing references for them.


  4. Evan says:


    Thanks for the link. It seems that the recent acceleration of the federal healthcare takeover will only give the government more ammo with regard to the “unbelted injuries impose a cost on society” angle.

    In fact, it seems more than likely that we’ll suffer death from a thousand cuts of this sort of legislation, since virtually any human action can be somehow linked with some kind of health impact, ergo it’s now a “public concern”.

  5. JimS says:

    As I understand it, federal highway funds are linked to things like mandating seatbelt use or keeping speed limits below certain levels or Lady Bird Johnson’s anti billboard campaign. So there is a sort of do as i say affect.

  6. JimS says:

    I forgot to mention that I enjoy people who can read critically and understand language uses.

    “And” is a conjunction to link like or identical phrases and words or progression. “Or” is a conjunction used to link alternatives and can also mean otherwise. Hence, Live free or die makes sense as the alternative to living free is death. Live free and die is a progression meaning death follows freedom.

    Love the catch there Dr. Bob.


  7. Russell Munves says:

    I get both sides of the seatbelt regulation argument. But my question is, is there a need for government regulation to protect the common good in some instances and if so, what are those instances?

    For example, the environmental area. Suppose it is in a company’s financial interests mine ore and dump the waste after processing into the local rivers or streams of in a way that it pollutes acquifers causing more damage to the environment and harms people living in the vicinity by taking away their water supply or causing disease?

    How would a free market deal with this issue?

    • Evan says:

      Privatize the rivers and aquifers so their owners can initiate legal action against the polluter.