Governing by majority whim

America's guardians of the public morals have recently found a new menace to American society: video games. They are using zoning and any other weapons at their command to combat the games' spread.

Unfortunately, their crusade is merely another form of America's age-old flaw of intolerance. Once primarily confined to private acts of racial, ethnic, and social discrimination, intolerance has become widespread and institutionalized through public laws and regulations.

None of these laws protects unwilling victims. Rather, they legally enshrine the particular religious and moral standards of arbitrary, ephemeral majorities - and vocal minorities. They set political norms to govern purely private conduct.

Few people give even a second thought to enacting their own whims into law, coercing others to comply with their dictates. Examples include:

Rent control: Some tenants don't like market rents, so they use the political process to confiscate the property of property owners. Why should their coercive political judgment supersede the voluntary economic judgment of tenants and landlords? Even if rent control did not worsen housing shortages, which it does, using the political process to set rents is legalizing theft, an egregious abuse of democracy.

Minimum wage. Economic intolerance also manifests itself when some people vote that, irrespective of skill, experience, or education, no one should receive below some arbitrary wage. Even if the minimum wage did not cause unemployment by pricing disadvantaged workers out of the marketplace, it would still be a usurpation of voluntary, private decisionmaking by majority whim.

Protectionism. Many groups don't like Americans buying quality, inexpensive products from abroad. They therefore use government to restrict or ban imports. Protectionism is a euphemism for exploitation; the rights of consumers and export industry workers are suppressed by a self-interested minority.

Subsidies. A final, ubiquitous aspect of economic intolerance is the refusal to accept responsibility for one's own livelihood. Uneconomic dairy farmers demand price supports; bankrupt cities and corporations beg for bail-outs. The willingness to forcibly take from others to promote one's own economic interest displays venal disregard for the very values upon which this nation was founded.

Americans should join classical economist Nassau Senior in detesting ''paternal despotisms which try to supply their subjects with the self-regarding virtues, to make men by law sober, or frugal, or orthodox,'' and accept ''that the main, almost sole, duty of Government is to give protection.''

Until they do, no person's freedom will be safe, for using political power to impose one's personal wishes on others is an abuse of democracy.

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