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Morgan,

I agree, to a point– Ashdown’s second principle is the most important and, arguably, the most overlooked. In every liberal project there’s a great danger of pushing democracy before its institutional prerequisites– such as the rule of law or a market economy.

But I also think there’s a danger in thinking that the rule of law is something that can be established “quickly.” The United States enjoyed the great and unusual luxury of developing democracy and the rule of law in a relative vacuum. Other than the customs of various Native American tribes, which were, to be sure, quite disparate, there were no existing institutional norms with which American-style liberalism had to contend. In cases like Iraq, we don’t have the luxury of an institutional vacuum. Indeed, there is a whole raft of political, cultural, and religious traditions that may (of necessity?) but heads with liberalism. We must be careful, though, not to let this fact lead us down the garden path toward fatalism. Indeed, we have many good reasons to want the rule of law and democracy in other parts of the world. But we must be careful to exercise patience in our push for these institutional goals.

At the end of the day, security alone is not the answer. When generation after generation has been taught that force is the best method for resolving political differences, it won’t matter too much how many tanks we can put on the streets.

Institutions by nature evolve, and are never easily imposed. Maybe the best we can do is sit back and see if our ideas take hold.

That aside, it’s a great book, isn’t it?
Daniel Corbett

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Morgan and readers,

With the traffic camera debate (perhaps) behind us, it’s time to move on to another debate that may get just as heated. Here we go…

For those of you who weren’t already aware, last week, the New York City Board of Health voted unanimously to ban the use of trans fats in all of the city’s restaurants. The ban would require all restaurants to change their recipies to exclude even a minute amount of artifical trans fats. Health inspectors would enforce the ban during their routine inspections.

I oppose the decision for three reasons:

1. It’s a personal decision, not a public one.

I am, without a doubt, a health-conscious person. I read labels, buy fresh food, and, at any given time, have anywhere from 2-4 containers of tofu in my fridge. I have no disagreement with the idea behind New York’s ban. We could all use a little less trans fat, I’m sure. But this goal is best met by voluntary decisions (both by diners and by restaurants) based on good information. Simply put, decision to employ a blanket ban on a substance (however well-intentioned it may be) is, in general, quite dangerous for a number of reasons– the two biggest being 1.) a violation of individual autonomy and 2.) its unintended consequences, which brings us to

2. The ban will hurt the least well-off. 

This is the issue of unintended consequences. I’m sure the members of the Board of Health did not sit down and say to one another: “Hey, let’s see how we can unfairly burden family-owned, ethnic businesses today!” But, effectively, that’s what this ban is likely to do. Why is this so? Think about what foods contain the most trans fats. The foods on this list are served at pizza parlors, Chinese restaurants, doughnut shops, and the like. Granted, the policy will affect fast food chains, but, as a rule, the larger the chain is, the easier it will be for them to comply.

3. The precedent could be a dangerous one.

This decision comes three years after New York asserted itself as the vanguard of public health policy by banning smoking. And, looking around the United States, it seems as if the rest of the country has followed New York’s lead on smoking bans, with cities like Victoria, Texas joining in on the anti-smoking crusade.

Those are my initial thoughts. Now, I open it up to the rest of you.

Daniel Corbett 

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