What's Sauce for the Goose . . .

A couple of days ago, when I wrote about Arizona's new immigration law, I got a lot of pushback for my belief that majorities should avoid racial profiling, and other tactics that place targeted inconveniences on minority populations.  That's why I argued that if we were going to check the immigration status of anyone during a routine traffic stop, we should check the immigration status of everyone, no matter how unlikely to turn up violators.  A law that is too burdensome to pass if it affects the majority probably shouldn't be passed if it's only targeted towards a smaller group . . . precisely because the majority apparently believes that the burden is too large in relation to the problem it solves.

Conservatives weren't buying it.  Which is weird, because conservatives make this argument all the time, except that it's about taxes. 

I have no trouble at all persuading my conservative readers that it's a real problem when the majority of the population experiences zero marginal cost when they think about voting for a new spending program . . . that we're likely, in that scenario, to get a lot of excessively burdensome spending problems that don't really merit the tax dollars that are spent on them.  (And yes, conversely, liberals grasp the civil liberties problem immediately, but are curiously immune to it when it involves property rights.)

Non-cash costs to liberty are real costs, even if they happen to someone else--but if they happen to someone else, some smaller sub-population, we're likely to impose far too many such burdens. 

The original American insight was that we should be very, very cautious about "spending" our liberty on security--even if that liberty belongs to someone else.  Both economic security and physical security are very valuable, and worth giving up some liberty for . . . but economic liberty and physical liberty are also incredibly precious, and should be treated as the irreplaceable treasures that they are.

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Megan McArdle is a columnist at Bloomberg View and a former senior editor at The Atlantic. Her new book is The Up Side of Down.

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