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Liberty for the licensed, paternalism for the masses: a meritocratic class system
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
being revoked. Epileptics, under 17s, the blind, and
are never considered eligible to acquire this type of
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
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
allowing activities which are currently illegal to be
performed by a competent, responsible minority?
Impractical enforcement is one reason: how do you know
that speeding car really was allowed to be going that
This problem could soon be overcome as technologies
as RFID improve: a waft of a scanner will reveal a
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
commits alcohol-aggravated crime or nuisance, and can
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
to become wilfully inebriated without one.
Speeding license. An extension to the standard driving
license, this requires training and assessment of high
driving. It also requires a psychological assessment, and
character references from respected community figures.
Abuse of the privilege is punished strictly; a person
speeding in inclement weather, tailgating a slower
in the outside lane, racing, or speeding in a non-
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
responsibility. Some police officers already have such a
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
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
nudity license. However this can be revoked if the person
witnessed performing sexual acts, or if they refuse to
up when asked by a person with a sensitive disposition,
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
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
worn, as the temporary loss of vision is a risk to other
users as well as the motorcyclist).
Sex license. Automatically issued at the age of 16, but
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
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.
be revoked entirely if friends or family members stage
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
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
revoked if complaints of menacing cycling by pedestrians
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
however trivial, rather than the specific examples. Some
more possibilities (your milage may vary depending on
New restrictions on things currently legal:
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Handling fireworks |
Eating junk food |
Having a bonfire |
Handling of environmental waste such as used engine oil
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
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?).
- - - - - - - - -
Driving licenses already assign numerous categories such
as: car, motorcycle, truck, etc., so adding additional
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
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
types, certification and qualifications such as electrical,
surgical, CRB checks, etc., could all be merged into one
instantly verifyable license.
- - - - -
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
certain things which they are currently free to do, but
which cause a danger or nuisance to others. In this
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
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
the tests too difficult to achieve, resulting in a net loss
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.
One of the problems with databases.
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.
||//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.
||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.
||//those who act more responsibly//
sp: "those who conform with the government's demands"
||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...
||// 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
// 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.
||Not up on my astrophysics, but isn't this how black holes are formed?
||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.
||// //those who act more responsibly// //
||// sp: "those who conform with the government's
||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.
||// 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
||1) Civilians would be totally free to do in a
||2) Civilians would be totally banned from doing in a
||Most of the license suggestions I gave fit these
||//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?