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License Everything

Liberty for the licensed, paternalism for the masses: a meritocratic class system
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(+2, -4)
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The concept of licensing doesn't require much of an introduction: there are certain activities which are considered too risky or dangerous to allow just anyone to do freely. Driving being the obvious example. In order to drive, a person must demonstrate their competence by passing a test. Abusing the privilege can lead to the license being revoked. Epileptics, under 17s, the blind, and others, are never considered eligible to acquire this type of license.

The law removes the "natural right" of being allowed to operate a motor vehicle, and this liberty is restored for those who are considered worthy, through licensing. In this way the licensing system strikes a balance between personal liberty and public safety, where the alternatives are either banning driving outright (less liberty), or allowing it for everyone (more danger).

So why isn't this system used much more broadly, both by introducing licensing for activities which are currently legal but which are considered dubious, and conversely by allowing activities which are currently illegal to be performed by a competent, responsible minority? Impractical enforcement is one reason: how do you know if that speeding car really was allowed to be going that fast? This problem could soon be overcome as technologies such as RFID improve: a waft of a scanner will reveal a person's competences.

A few examples of possible new licenses: - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - Alcohol license. Unlike a driving license, this is automatically issued at the age of 18, or earlier if the person demonstrates the appropriate levels of maturity. The license can be endorsed with penalty points if a person commits alcohol-aggravated crime or nuisance, and can be revoked entirely if enough points are gained, or if the person is diagnosed with alcoholism. An alcohol license is required to purchase alcohol, and it is illegal for a person to become wilfully inebriated without one.

Speeding license. An extension to the standard driving license, this requires training and assessment of high speed driving. It also requires a psychological assessment, and character references from respected community figures. Abuse of the privilege is punished strictly; a person caught speeding in inclement weather, tailgating a slower vehicle in the outside lane, racing, or speeding in a non- speeding allowed zone, for example, will permanently lose the privilege and may face criminal prosecution. Licensed speeding will allow speed limits to be more strictly enforced for the wider population or even reduced, without causing a public outcry over lost liberty or personal responsibility. Some police officers already have such a license.

Public nudity license. Currently in most places in the world, the natural right to be nude in public is absent, either by an explicit law or broader ones relating to decency. Often cited as reasons for this are concerns about hygiene and lewd conduct. To restore this right, a person who demonstrates decorum, competence in personal hygiene and the respect of others' sensibilities may gain a nudity license. However this can be revoked if the person is witnessed performing sexual acts, or if they refuse to cover up when asked by a person with a sensitive disposition, or by sitting on a public seat with a smelly, sweaty arse, without laying a buttkerchief.

Motorcycle helmet opt-out license. This requires the attendance of a half-day course educating the individual of the possible ramifications of not wearing a helmet, including exposure to photos of crash victims, and the handling of a smashed human skull. Upon completion of the course, they can sign a disclaimer earning them the legal right to ride without a helmet. (Goggles must still be worn, as the temporary loss of vision is a risk to other road users as well as the motorcyclist).

Sex license. Automatically issued at the age of 16, but may be revoked if abused e.g. upon prosecution for sexual offences. May also be granted earlier if the individual requests this and appropriate psychological, medical professionals and social workers agree that the person has reached sexual maturity.

Drugs license. Can be gained through a combination of psychological assessment, medical training and exams. If the individual is expected or found to be disorderly in public, then this may be restricted to private use only. May be revoked entirely if friends or family members stage an intervention due to concern over addiction.

Gambling license. Currently illegal in many places, gambling is yet another example of a lost liberty which could be regained for those considered knowledgeable and psychologically stable enough to cope with its abuse potential, and revoked if necessary.

Cycling on the pavement license. A minor example of something which is currently illegal in the UK, where personal responsibility is generally curtailed, yet legal in Norway, where it is more valued. A cycling on the pavement license could be automatically issued at birth but revoked if complaints of menacing cycling by pedestrians are upheld.

These are just a few topics, and no doubt the merit of each license is debatable. This is more about the idea of massively extending licensing to almost every facet of life however trivial, rather than the specific examples. Some more possibilities (your milage may vary depending on your location):

New restrictions on things currently legal: - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - Handling fireworks | Eating junk food | Having a bonfire | Marriage | Handling of environmental waste such as used engine oil or batteries | Having an infectious illness in a public place | Keeping pets |

New freedoms for things currently illegal: - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - Flying a small remotely-controlled aircraft over a populated place (for those of us with half-baked robot courier business fantasies) | Jumping red lights under certain, very specific conditions | Crossing the road at a place other than a crossing | Carrying personal firearms | Bigamy and polygamy | BDSM that leaves a mark | Showing pornography to a minor if they request to view it | Prostitution | Crossing railway tracks on foot |

(License suggestions welcome. Especially for the second list: what do you think you should be allowed to do, but aren't, because other people are irresponsible?).

Practicalities - - - - - - - - - Driving licenses already assign numerous categories such as: car, motorcycle, truck, etc., so adding additional non- driving categories shouldn't require much of an change to the existing infrastructure, as driving licenses evolve into "general licenses". As time goes on and technology progresses, RFID or similar could be used to instantly check a person's credentials, perhaps even while they are speeding past in their car or cycling by on the pavement, making new kinds of enforcement possible. Existing license types, certification and qualifications such as electrical, surgical, CRB checks, etc., could all be merged into one instantly verifyable license.

Effects - - - - - The ideal resulting scenario would be a society in which, on average, liberty either stays exactly the same, or increases, but is re-distributed to those who act more responsibly. Such people will enjoy greater liberty, while less responsible people will lose the automatic right to do certain things which they are currently free to do, but which cause a danger or nuisance to others. In this society, acting responsibly may come to be seen as something aspirational rather than something only a nerd or a jobsworth would do.

Why? The joy of liberty for responsible and competent people. The benefit of increased public safety for everyone.

The worst case scenario would be a society in which the government introduces such a system with the pretext of increased liberty, but which follows up by making most of the tests too difficult to achieve, resulting in a net loss in liberty, or where only the rich can afford the training necessary to become qualified, creating a self- perpetuating class divide. Universal free training might prevent the latter scenario.

idris83, Nov 21 2011

One of the problems with databases. http://www.bbc.co.u...and-london-15689869
Very apropo. [DrBob, Nov 22 2011]


       //shouldn't require much of an change to the existing infrastructure//
Other than a colossal increase in the size of the public sector.
calum, Nov 21 2011

       //Other than a colossal increase in the size of the public sector.// Or, in the case of licensed nudity, a colossal increase in the size of the pubic sector.
MaxwellBuchanan, Nov 21 2011

       Well if everything were, by default, permitted to everyone, then the licensing system could be used only to restrict the activities of individuals on a case by case basis. Perhaps this could be done through the courts rather than a civil service type beurocracy; a little like gaining a court order to prevent a certain action.
pocmloc, Nov 21 2011

       //those who act more responsibly//

sp: "those who conform with the government's demands"
DrBob, Nov 21 2011

       I have some difficulty on the criteria for the being able to post on HB licence...I mean, where would you start? Or stop, even...
not_morrison_rm, Nov 21 2011

       Nanny state 2.0. [-]
RayfordSteele, Nov 21 2011

       // Nanny state 2.0. [-] //   

       A state that allows someone to possess firearms, take drugs, prostitute themselves (or indeed hire prostitutes), sword fight publicly, be nude, ride a motorcycle without a helmet, gamble, cycle on the pavement, own exotic pets and speed on the motorway, can hardly be described as a nanny state. The point is that this is neither a nanny state nor is it libertarian, yet it has the advantages of both libertarianism and paternalism: freedom for those who want it, combined with increased public safety for everyone.   

       // Other than a colossal increase in the size of the public sector. //   

       I don't really see why. Politicians already spend lots of time debating what the laws should be. If anything this will save time by offering a way out of those stalemates where half the country wants something totally banned and the other half wants it totally legalised.   

       Regarding enforcement, as suggested in the entry this could be bolted on to the existing licensing infrastructure. Police won't necessarily spend much more time checking licenses: police do not currently stop every single car they see to check that the driver is licensed. Instead, a system of occasional spot-checks, stopping people who are driving suspiciously and penalties for unlicensed drivers is used, and works reasonably well. There's no reason to think a wider licensing scheme would be any different.   

       Not all licenses would require training or education, but for those that do, many societies already consider free education worth the expense and this might extend to licensing. OTOH, I had to pay for a private driving instructor when I was learning to drive.   

       Perhaps licenses for things that were previously unrestricted could be funded by the state, and licenses for things that were previously outlawed could be unsubsidised. That way, everyone would have the opportunity to achieve at least the baseline level of freedom that they would have enjoyed under the previous system.
idris83, Nov 22 2011

       Not up on my astrophysics, but isn't this how black holes are formed?
Grogster, Nov 22 2011

       This is one of those ideas that breaks down quickly upon a bit of closer examination. Do I need a licence to pull a weed from my garden? What about humming a tune in a public place? Posting on the Internet?   

       An example of this principle working (or not working) in real life: Trucks are all required to carry Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS's) when carrying hazardous cargo - which is fair enough. However I was carry non-haz cargo one time and a cop gave me a hard time for not having an MSDS for the product. I pointed out that if taken to the extreme I'd have to carry an MSDS for every load of water, sand, firewood and so on. And he'd be required to carry one for the cup of coffee in his cruiser.   

       Unworkable and would build a massive, unproductive bureaucracy.
AusCan531, Nov 22 2011

       // //those who act more responsibly// //   

       // sp: "those who conform with the government's demands" //   

       This criticism seems a bit nebulous.   

       All else being equal, a society which allows only a few people to drive at 150mph under certain conditions still has more freedom than one that allows nobody to, ever. Even if those few people have to "conform with the government's demands" of not tailgaiting, racing or speeding in the rain, that's still an overall increase in freedom. People in the no-speeding-allowed society also have to "conform with the government's demands" of not speeding at all!   

       Your faux spelling correction implies that you agree with either of these statements: "I would be happy for anyone to be allowed to drive at high speed whether or not they have passed an advanced driving test". "I am happy that nobody is allowed to drive at high speed".   

       If the terms of, say, a fireworks license, is that the license holder must have attended a safe storage and handling workshop, and of a junk-food license that they attend a course on nutrition (and are subsequently free to buy any unhealthily food if they so choose), are these "government demands" really so sinister? It's hardly 1984.   

       As I said, the merits of each specific license are debatable, but the core idea merely advocates dramatically expanding existing licensing schemes with the goal of simultaneously increasing both liberty and public safety.
idris83, Nov 22 2011

       // This is one of those ideas that breaks down quickly upon a bit of closer examination. Do I need a licence to pull a weed from my garden? What about humming a tune in a public place? Posting on the Internet? //   

       You probably wouldn't need a license for those things, no. Licensing would generally apply to things that:   

       1) Civilians would be totally free to do in a libertarian society.   

       2) Civilians would be totally banned from doing in a paternalistic society.   

       Most of the license suggestions I gave fit these criteria.
idris83, Nov 22 2011

       //This criticism seems a bit nebulous//

Ah, well let me put it in more concrete terms for you then.

Firstly, giving any government cart blanche to tax people for any behaviour that takes their fancy guarantees that such taxes will be implemented. Money is power and governments can never have enough power.

Secondly, once everything has to be licensed then any behaviour that you engage in, including voting the wrong way, protesting against the ban on fox hunting or whatever, is potentially a crime. The government can then use this as a pretext to imprison those whom it deems 'undesirable' because, inevitably, some aspect of their behaviour will have been unlicensed.

Thirdly, the requirement to have a license for everything precludes the possibility of citizens spontaneously doing anything because you won't have a license and will therefore be a criminal.

Fourthly, and inevitably I feel, licenses for those activities which the state deems to cause economic disruption, like staging a protest march for instance, will be more expensive to obtain, effectively excluding the less well off from active politics.

Fifthly, the requirement to have a license to do anything means that you will be required to produce that license to an official, whenever you carry out a licensed activity. Therefore, your movements, whereabouts & activities will be known at all times to anyone who cares to take an interest.

Sixthly, the over-arching licensing regime will require an extensive database or set of databases in order to monitor it and a large number of administrators to administer it. As I hope has been proven to most people's satisfaction, such set-ups are seldom either secure or reliable. But that is the data that will be used to judge you. The database is god. Once something is on it then that becomes the truth. Good luck with your trial!

Seventhly, even if you aren't convinced by the previous six points, the idea of allowing those who are wealthy enough to operate, in effect, under a different set of laws, is inherently unjust. Equality before the law will no longer apply. It can only lead to trouble.

Eighthly, even if you are not convinced by points one to six and are wealthy enough not to care about point seven, why in the hell would a clearly responsible, wealth creator like yourself be happy having some petty government official (who probably can't afford licenses of their own) poking their nose into every last aspect of your personal activities, all day every day? Surely you've got better things to do with your time?
DrBob, Nov 22 2011


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