Pursuit of Happiness

We have much to be thankful for this July 4: our relative economic liberty has enabled people to produce computers, airplanes, automobiles, advanced medical scanners and treatments, and the many other goods that enhance our daily lives. Slavery has long been abolished, and nobody taken seriously publicly preaches racism. Women too have equal protection under the law. Though the country suffers some censorship and some infringements of the right to bear arms, the Bill of Rights very often is taken seriously and enforced. (See Dave Kopel’s summary of some of the advances.) Yes, we have much to celebrate.

Yet there are some who, in the name of patriotism, threaten to violate the core principles of America’s Founding: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Never before has a country been explicitly based on the principle that individuals have the right to pursue their own happiness, free of coercion. (Of course the usual trinity at the time was “life, liberty, and property,” with the pursuit of happiness the unifying purpose.)

Contrast the principles of the Declaration with the physical force threatened by Barack Obama:

Obama: Students should serve
He calls on young people to help in their communities

David Monteroand Nancy Mitchell, Rocky Mountain News

Originally published 02:34 a.m., July 3, 2008
Updated 01:06 p.m., July 3, 2008

… The plan Obama outlined in Colorado Springs called for getting middle and high school students to perform 50 hours of community service a year and 100 hours a year for college students.

He said the goals would be achieved by making federal assistance conditional on school districts developing service programs. …

“These are the voices that will tell you – not just what you can’t do – but what you won’t do,” Obama said. “Young Americans won’t serve their country – they’re too selfish, too apathetic or too lazy…”

The pursuit of happiness, such as the selfish pursuit of one’s education to advance one’s life and prospects, is hardly apathetic or lazy. Students who desire to spend their time studying, interning, or working, as opposed to serving soup or working as menial construction laborers for no pay, are morally virtuous for their choices, to be commended, not condemned.

Of course, some volunteer projects and some work without pay can directly contribute to the pursuit of happiness of some students. But the choice should be up to them and their families. They ought not be blackmailed with their own money into performing bureaucratically-approved “service.”

“Federal assistance” in this context means money taken by the national government — on threat of fines, arrest, or imprisonment — to be redistributed by national bureaucrats. This money properly belongs to the people who earn it, to be spent as their lives, liberty, and pursuit of happiness dictate.

The “service” that Obama advocates is not voluntary at all: it is involuntary servitude. Either you do the service that national politicians demand of you, or those national politicians will take (some of) your money by force without giving it back for your childrens’ education. That’s not service; that’s a threat.

That Obama made this threat leading up to Independence Day, in the name of patriotism, shows just how far some have strayed from America’s Founding principles. Let us have no more talk of forced, politician-approved “service.” To restore our nation to its full greatness, we need to begin with “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”