Government’s Primary Role Is to Protect Rights, Freedoms

Rick Outzen’s recent column on Florida Voices criticized a Backgrounder I wrote for The James Madison Institute on preserving labor market freedom in Florida.I argued that the state should prevent local governments from dictating the terms of employment for Floridians, both for the benefit of employees and the state’s economy.  That would include local minimum wages and mandated benefits such as paid sick leave. I would also criticize the state’s minimum wage, but that is a different issue.Outzen says, “Local elected officials are responsible to the voters in their communities or municipalities.  If local voters want a higher minimum wage, less wage theft (by God, nobody wants that), or more paid sick leave, then they will elect county commissioners, mayors and council members who will approve such ordinances.”What Outzen leaves out is that all powers of local government are granted by the state.  Simply as a matter of law, local governments can only do what the state empowers them to do.Outzen goes on to say, “How much more democratic can an economy be?  The people can vote on the economy of their community.  Those who disagree can move to other communities.”Herein lies the biggest difference between Outzen’s views and mine.  The primary role of government is to protect individuals’ rights, as I see it, not to carry out the will of the majority, as Outzen sees it.  The right to freely contract for labor services is one of those rights government should protect.If someone wants to work for $5 an hour, and someone else is willing to hire that person, it infringes on the rights of both parties for government to say “No, you have to remain unemployed if you can’t find work at $7.79 an hour.”  That is true even if most people in a democracy support that infringement on economic freedom.We don’t have to go too far back in Florida’s history to remember a time when our democratic government in Florida made it illegal for African-Americans to live in certain neighborhoods, shop in certain stores, or sit at the front of the bus.Those laws infringed on people’s economic freedom.  While I doubt Outzen would favor those laws, that is an example of what happens when government places the will of the majority above the rights and freedoms of individuals. Outzen says, “Those who disagree can move to other communities.”Florida’s legislature should protect the rights and freedoms of its citizens, including labor market freedoms.  If local governments want to infringe on those rights, it is the Legislature’s duty to step up and protect them.  The role of government is to protect our rights, not to carry out the will of the majority.Dr. Randall Holcombe is the JMI Senior Fellow and DeVoe Moore Professor of Economics at Florida State University. He can be contacted at Holcombe@fsu.eduhttp://www.floridavoices.com/myturn/governments-primary-role-protect-rights-freedoms