This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2015, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
[Video: "Well, I didn't vote for you."]
"I have always found it quaint and rather touching that there is a movement in the U.S. that thinks Americans are not selfish enough."
Sometimes you just have to draw me a picture. Or put up a billboard.
So props to my friends at the Libertas Institute for raising the money (from someone whose identity or angle I need not know) to pay for that big sign in downtown Salt Lake City. The one that informs me, and everyone else, that I am living in "The Least Free City in Utah."
Without this signal from the Lehi libertarians, I might have continued in my blissful ignorance of just how heavily oppressed I am.
The billboard on 400 South did appear to be particularly aimed at me, as I am often to be found driving, or riding on the taxpayer-subsidized public transit system, on that publicly funded road. Or in the Salt Lake City Public Library that's across the street.
Apparently I needed to be reminded that my publicly funded freedom of movement and access to the library's taxpayer-supported events and information are less important than the laws that, unbeknownest to me, are weighing me down.
Thus the Freest Cities Index, which ranks Salt Lake City the worst, and Heber City the best, of 50 Utah cities.
OK. Enough with the cheap shots.
The folks at Libertas deserve to be admired for their work in support of personal freedom. Their research and education on such matters as the militarization of civil police agencies, domestic spying, the insanity of the drug war and the official paranoia associated with all forms of marijuana add great value to the public understanding.
Their reaction to the controversy over legalizing same-sex marriage that government should get out of the marriage business and let people form relationships as they choose has long appealed to me.
But they lose me and, I think, the whole idea of a civilized society that undergirds true freedom when they base their evaluation of which cities are free or not free on such metrics as whether people have a right to play with guns, buy politicians, let their dogs run loose or be relieved of the burden of comparatively high taxes.
Saying, truthfully, that Salt Lake City has higher tax rates and public debt than other jurisdictions doesn't necessarily mean those of us who live here are less free.
If those tax dollars are wisely used a big if it could mean that we have more freedom to go about our lives not worrying about public health hazards, burglars, fires, con artists, boredom, ignorance or violence. And, if our leaders ever get their act together, free of the shame of living in a community where so many people are homeless, sick or poorly educated.
The freedom to brandish firearms, which Libertas values and Salt Lake City limits, is actually useful only to those who are brutish or sexually insecure enough to revel in it. For everyone else, the arming of society reduces, rather than enhances, personal freedom.
And it does seem strange for libertarians to worry, as they rightly do, about the increasing use of military equipment and tactics by police forces when it is the plethora of firearms in civilian hands that most justifies that worrisome trend.
The Libertas wonks are not wrong to worry, as their Freest Cities Index does, about local business regulations and fees, where Salt Lake City scores poorly.
If cities impose costs that are too high and rules that are too tough, the result will be to protect existing businesses from the kind of upstart competition the free market must have to best serve customers and the larger society.
The index is admirably transparent about the factors it bases its ratings on, how much weight it gives to each and their sources of information. But the index format can only amount to a comparison of one city to another. An evaluation of what levels of taxation and regulation are too little, too much or just right isn't possible, or claimed, in such rankings.
If I were as smart, or as well-funded, as folks at the Libertas Institute, I might make a rival no, complementary Civilized Cities Index. It would give points for the freedoms that arise from public services, health, safety and ease of movement, a recognition that any person's liberty is as likely to be threatened by irresponsible individuals and greedy corporations as by burdensome government and efforts to fairly distribute the burdens of maintaining that civilized community according to the benefits received.
Or I might exercise my freedom not to bother, and expect you to exercise your freedom to figure it out for yourselves.
George Pyle, a Tribune editorial writer, isn't free to express his views in print. He gets paid for it. Lucky skunk. email@example.com