One-size-fits-all mentality troublesome

By Tibor Machan: Syndicated columnist

Most years I do a lot of international traveling and make some observations in light of topics of current interest. So on recent trips, for example to Argentina, Chile and South Africa, I noticed how in most airports and establishments of various kinds smoking tends to be banned, either by law or because proprietors prefer it. One might even say there is a global trend toward eliminating smoking as an acceptable pastime.

Although there are some who protest such “imperialism,” they are not your usual critics of globalization. Indeed, if anything, the people who find economic globalization objectionable tend to be the ones who have no problem with spreading smoking bans across the globe. In this instance, it seems, they see nothing wrong with imposing on members of different cultures, ethnic groups, religious faiths a one-size-fits-all way of life, namely a life without tobacco smoke.

But why is it perfectly OK to spread this lifestyle across the world? Those who support this globalization — the likes of Rob Reiner the Hollywood bully (“Meathead” from “All in the Family”) who is behind so much of the anti-smoking fascism in the United States — would most likely claim that, well, in such a case something universal is at issue, something that applies to people as such, having to do with their health and fitness. In this area people are significantly alike so considerations of multiculturalism, ethnic and religious diversity do not apply, such folks would insist. And while this is open to question — is it really true that everyone ought to quit smoking, that there aren’t some people who are actually better off lighting up, given their personality and even physical state — at least one can appreciate the reasoning behind the idea.

Yet when it comes to the more familiar type of globalization, namely that of the principles of a free-market economy, the critics wish to insist that nothing universal is at issue. But this is just where they are wrong.

The globalization that involves spreading the policies of free, unimpeded trade — which involves removing protectionist measures, high tariffs, government regulations, and so forth — is based on a view about human life whereby liberty is regarded as a universal principle. If there is anything that every human being requires in his or her life, it is the respect and protection of his or her right to liberty.

The late Nobel Laureate F.A. Hayek, author of “The Road to Serfdom” and numerous other political economic works, made a poignant point that bears on this:

“That freedom is the matrix required for the growth of moral values — indeed not merely one value among many but the source of all values — is almost self-evident. It is only where the individual has choice, and its inherent responsibility, that he has occasion to affirm existing values, to contribute to their further growth, and … earn moral merit.”

In other words, human beings need to be free to embark upon any creative, productive projects, especially ones that are of moral significance. There can be many differences in how they live. For some, even smoking may not be such a terrible thing — but normally none is better off from being regimented about by others. It is unjust to impose on other people what they should choose to do in the marketplace apart from keeping their conduct peaceful.

Globalization is an impulse that is evidently widespread — in matters of health care, fitness, nutrition, entertainment and, of course, sports. Some of it is over the top — a good many people can do without tennis or soccer in their lives, or without daily workouts at a gym or even smoking bans. So skepticism about the one-size-fits-all mentality makes good sense when it comes to most ways of life.

When it comes to the principles of individual liberty, however, including their application to commerce and business, it is plausible that without exception all human beings require them in their lives. That is the one kind of globalization that ought to be given universal support.

Tibor Machan advises Freedom Communications, parent company of this newspaper. E-mail him at: