Freedom's Just Another Word for Never Cutting Class

Trying to decipher an incoherent argument.


This week the Mercatus Center released a report that set out to rank the 50 states from the most free to the least. The results, which declared North Dakota the most liberated part of America and New York the most enslaved, have come in for inevitable criticisms.

I'm less interested in the study's rankings than in its customized "Personal Rank" feature, which lets you decide for yourself how to weigh the laws being measured pick for yourself which policies affect the outcome (but not, alas, how much each law is worth). I'm pretty sure that if I were to use that tool to make my own list, it wouldn't look the same as the one the study's authors put together. So I'm open to arguments that, say, they shouldn't have treated right-to-work laws as a form of economic liberty.

But some of the arguments against the report are just incoherent. Here is Matt Yglesias, for instance:

You might think at first that abortion rights are given zero weight for metaphysical reasons rather than reasons of cultural politics, but it turns out that permissive homeschooling laws are given weight as a factor in freedom. Children, in other words, are considered fully autonomous agents whose rights the state must safeguard vis-a-vis their own parents from birth until conception at which point they lose autonomy until graduation from high school.

I'll assume that the "birth until conception" bit is a glitch, and that Yglesias isn't actually confused about which one of those comes first. I won't dwell on his belief that one must think a fetus is a "fully autonomous agent" to oppose legal abortion. I won't make a big deal of the fact that he assumes the Mercatus writers are themselves taking a stance against abortion rights, though it's clear to me that they're trying to sidestep the issue entirely.

It's when Yglesias suggests that homeschooled kids "lose autonomy" that he goes completely off the rails. Under the restrictions favored by the pro-life crowd, the fetal "rights the state must safeguard vis-a-vis their own parents" are the rights not to be deliberately killed or maimed. Needless to say, those rights don't disappear when a child is born. The only way Yglesias' argument would make sense is if permissive homeschooling rules overturned the laws against child abuse. Needless to say, they do not.

It is also possible, I suppose, that Yglesias thinks compulsory schooling isn't a restriction on children's liberties. But that would be even more backward than "birth until conception."

Update: Matt Yglesias replies:


You can click through and scroll down to see the argument he says he was trying to make. Judge for yourself how much it resembles the passage he actually wrote—and, while you're at it, whether it qualifies as an "argument about homeschooling."