Reason's annual webathon ends tonight. We're asking people who like our journalism to support our efforts with tax-deductible donations. Every dollar you give helps us produce more content—more stories, videos, podcastst, media appearances, you name it—in which we make principled libertarian arguments about how society should best be organized.
In early November, Reason celebrated its 50th anniversary, but I'd like to share some footage from a different celebration right now. Here's William "Bill" Niskanen (1933-2011), a widely respected economist who resigned from a position at Ford Motors rather than defend import quotas, served in the Reagan administration, acted as chairman of the Cato Institute, and was for a time a trustee of the Reason Foundation, the nonprofit that publishes this website (he is also the namesake of The Niskanen Center). The occasion was Reason's 15th anniversary in 1983:
A community is defined by its shared convictions. The dominant shared conviction of the Reason community is that the only moral basis for a social order is choice and consent. Choice without consent is meaningless and consent without choice is the consent of the prison. Only a society that is based upon both choice and consent provides the basis for a moral order….
[This] is the difference between a morality of process and a morality of end-states. All of the great tyrants of history have rationalized restricting choice, overriding consent, in the name of some higher end-state…. Reason magazine, Reason Foundation, and the community it represents is one of the most forceful and articulate representatives of the point of view that we should take consent seriously as the basis of organizing the social order. And that is what distinguishes us from the contemporary liberal and the contemporary conservative communities, each of whom has their own agendas about different end-states….
The only way which we can work together as people is to build a society in which choice is available and the basis for choice, whether it is in the economic sphere, or any sphere of our life, is consent…. For those few of us who are not anarchists, it suggests that government should be strongly restrained by an agreed-upon Constitution [and to the greatest extent possible] should be decentralized. To a great deal more than is now the case, government should be the coordinator but not the provider of a variety of goods and services….
You can watch Niskanen's full remarks, put online by Libertarianism.org, here:
As it happens, we named a 2004 anthology of Reason articles Choice, for reasons that echo Niskanen's insights. "Within the broadest possible parameters," reads the introduction, "we believe you that you should be able to think what you want, live where you want, trade for what you want, eat what you want, smoke what you want, and marry whom you want. You should also be willing to shoulder the responsibilities your actions entail. Those general guidelines don't explain everything…but they go a hell of a long way to creating a world that is tolerant, free, peaceful, prosperous, vibrant, and interesting."
If you agree that choice and consent matter—and that Reason does a good job of making that case via great journalism—then please donate now!