Art Carden  

The Rhetoric of Rights and Permission

Recent Reading: Adam Thierer, ... Nick Rowe on fiscal policy (an...

Earlier today, I blogged about Adam Thierer's Permissionless Innovation. Over the last few months, I've been struck by how frequently I hear public policy questions expressed in terms of granting permission: should we allow people to earn such high incomes, should we permit people to use certain kinds of drugs, should [companies] be allowed to [thing I find objectionable]?

I find it particularly interesting given that framing effects are almost certainly important here. Consider the ongoing debate over the sharing economy that Roberts & Munger discussed on EconTalk. "Should we allow people to rent out rooms in their houses to travelers" and "should we allow anyone who wants to to drive a cab" sounds a lot nicer than "should we punish people with fines and jail time for renting out rooms in their houses to travelers" and "should we punish people with fines and jail time for accepting money in exchange for rides?"

What are some examples you've come across?

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COMMENTS (8 to date)
David R. Henderson writes:

Good point, Art.
Here’s one: “Should we allow people to keep 70% of every additional dollar they earn?” By the way, that one sounds bad in itself, although, of course, I’m a libertarian.
Alternative: “Should the government be able to forcibly take more than 30% of every additional dollar someone earns by working or by saving and investing?"

Daublin writes:

Should you be allowed to use a driverless car on the interstates.

Should you be allowed to pay a teenager to do yardwork without providing health insurance.

Should you be allowed to advertise for a roommate that is specifically male or specifically female?

I am sad to say, these questions are *usually* framed in such a way. It would be much better to take a page from the camping story that Bryan Caplan emphasized a few weeks ago. Start with the presumption that people will work things out on our own, like they do when they go on a camping trip. Then ask, under what conditions should an official third party be nosing into your business?

Adam writes:

Well today's BHL post on whether or not we should give someone permission to be a parent is certainly a case in point

eMarkM writes:

"Should we allow someone to make under $10/hour."

Reframed to "should we arrest someone for the crime of offering someone a job".

Kenneth A. Regas writes:

Like you, I think that framing is important if you want to persuade, as opposed to increase your fondness for your own ideas.

The key is to frame judiciously. For example, any reference to coercion by the state can always be accompanied by histrionic framing: "Should DEADLY FORCE be used to FORCE people to ... ?" After all, almost any action of the state, however benevolent, can be framed as an example of DEADLY FORCE. States are like that. The police have guns. But do you win any converts? Probably not.

I think that you win friends when you find as minimally histrionic language as possible to frame your views. "Should we FORBID ... ?" is a fine alternative to "Should we ALLOW ... ?" It assumes that liberty is the default assumption, without going overboard and alienating the people one wishes to persuade.


R Richard Schweitzer writes:

But let us look more closely at the use of "we."

Is the question really about what "we" are doing?

Is it not about what individuals are being prevented from doing or required to do; deprivations or limitations on freedom from and freedom to?

Is all that is under consideration being done on "our" behalf?

sourcreamus writes:

Nobody ever wants to raise taxes any more. They want to "ask the most fortunate amoung us to contribute a little more"

Kevin L writes:

"Should we allow immigrants to come to our country?"


"Should we arrest Americans who hire foreigners without near-unattainable paperwork?"

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