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Licensing human beings
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Democratic presidential candidates are tripping over the driver’s-licenses-for-illegal-aliens issue like a bunch of old slapstick vaudevillians.
What’s so comical about their antics is that the issue demonstrates that politicians are locked into bad assumptions from top to bottom. Start with driver’s licenses. In one debate Sen. Chris Dodd said driving “is a privilege not a right.” That’s a common belief. But it’s incoherent.
In common parlance, a privilege is something someone grants to someone else. If I let my teenager borrow my car, that’s a privilege I extend to him. Since it’s my car, I have the legitimate authority to do this. I may set the terms, and I can revoke the privilege at will. My child has no rights in the matter. He is in the position of a supplicant. (When he grows up and I need to borrow his car, the roles will be reversed.)
This sort of privilege, then, grows out of property ownership. The owner sets the rules of use, and no one may rightfully use the property without the owner’s permission. Privileges regarding use are an owner's to bestow — or not.
What does a driving privilege mean when we're talking about adults and the government? Where does the government get the authority to bestow, deny, or revoke this alleged privilege?
Under American political theory, the government supposedly rules by the consent of the governed. Sometimes it is held that the government is us. If that is true, the grantor of the driving privilege must ultimately be the people.
Who is the grantee? Also the people. So we the people grant us the people the privilege to drive. That makes no sense.
But it does make sense if we realize that this theory of government is a fraud. The government is something over and above the people with the power to issue decrees we are legally required to obey under threat of punishment.
True, each of us gets an infinitesimal say in who holds office, but that doesn’t change the essential fact that once candidates are in office, they issue orders and we defy them at our peril. If you don’t like the orders, you are instructed to exercise your “power” to elect a new government. Good luck with that.
The upshot is that the government-issued driver’s license is incompatible with a truly free society. So are government-owned roads, for that matter. We may confidently predict that owners of private roads, which have existed through history, would require drivers to have proof of competence, but that is a far cry from the system of identification that constitutes today’s driver’s license. Under the REAL ID legislation passed by Congress the link between identification and permission to drive will take a quantum leap.
If Americans shouldn't need the government's permission to drive, why should so-called illegal aliens, who are merely undocumented residents, need it?
Presidential candidates find it in their interest to one-up their rivals in showing how tough they want to be on “border security.” Denying undocumented residents permission to drive is part of their posturing. So are the threats to imprison employers who hire them.
How odious. People who have no other way of getting into the United States sneak in to make a better life through hard work. Preventing them from driving and threatening their prospective employers are flagrant attacks on innocent people’s ability to improve their lot in life.
Let us contemplate this disgrace to America’s noble heritage.

Richman is senior fellow at The Future of Freedom Foundation ( and editor of The Freeman magazine.
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