Author: Luke A. Wake
As Tim Sandefur explains in his latest book–The Right to Earn a Living–American courts have backed away from protecting economic liberties. In the 19th century, and the early 20th century, courts stringently reviewed regulations interfering with economic liberties. But today, such regulations are governed under the rational basis test, which means the folks in Washington, Sacramento, and your local town hall can usually decide when and how you can work, or run your business.
Under the rational basis standard, a regulation will be upheld if their is any conceivable justification for it. This allows legislators to play the role of social engineers. Rather than allowing individuals to be free to choose what is best for their lives, government regulators often presume–paternalistically–to know how other people should live there lives. For a striking example, see San Francisco's new ban on businesses giving toys with fast food meals.
Surely this regulation is aimed at promoting a social goal, but is it the proper role of the government to tell consumers what they can and cannot buy? How are a handful of elected representatives more qualified to make decisions about how we should live our lives than we are? Why should parents be denied the right to make rational choices about how to raise their own children?
Such regulations simply interfere with our ability to make rational choices for the betterment of our lives. Maybe it isn't a big deal whether or not we can buy our kids happy meals, but then, what about all of the other regulations that dictate what we can and cannot do with our lives? The Founding Fathers wanted us to be free to excercise our liberty to make both important and seemingly inconsequential choices. They believed that we will be rewarded for the good choices we make, and we will pay the consequences for the bad choices. We should be free to enjoy the liberty to choose for ourselves, so long as we aren't hurting others.