“The Nature of Freedom of Choice”

Former Senator George McGovern was the Democratic candidate for president in 1972. In the commentary below, he defends our freedom of choice:

(p. A15) Economic paternalism takes its newest form with the campaign against short-term small loans, commonly known as “payday lending.”
With payday lending, people in need of immediate money can borrow against their future paychecks, allowing emergency purchases or bill payments they could not otherwise make. The service comes at the cost of a significant fee — usually $15 for every $100 borrowed for two weeks. But the cost seems reasonable when all your other options, such as bounced checks or skipped credit-card payments, are obviously more expensive and play havoc with your credit rating.
Anguished at the fact that payday lending isn’t perfect, some people would outlaw the service entirely, or cap fees at such low levels that no lender will provide the service. Anyone who’s familiar with the law of unintended consequences should be able to guess what happens next.
Researchers from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York went one step further and laid the data out: Payday lending bans simply push low-income borrowers into less pleasant options, including increased rates of bankruptcy. Net result: After a lending ban, the consumer has the same amount of debt but fewer ways to manage it.
Since leaving office I’ve written about public policy from a new perspective: outside looking in. I’ve come to realize that protecting freedom of choice in our everyday lives is essential to maintaining a healthy civil society.
. . .
The nature of freedom of choice is that some people will misuse their responsibility and hurt themselves in the process. We should do our best to educate them, but without diminishing choice for everyone else.

For the full commentary, see:
GEORGE MCGOVERN. “Freedom Means Responsibility.” The Wall Street Journal (Fri., March 7, 2008): A15.
(Note: ellipsis added.)

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