The American Dream   /   Summer 2013   /    Short Takes

Freedom to Make the Right Choice

In much of our social life, individual freedom has become virtually synonymous with choice. The free individual is one who makes choices in a world of options. Under this regime of freedom, public health and welfare promotion confronts a paradox. On the one hand, “we cannot dictate how people live their lives,” to quote a New York City official commenting on the city’s “new and dynamic” public information campaign to address the problem of teen pregnancy. On the other hand, according to the same official, “we must encourage responsibility and send the right message.” So people must have choices, but not all the choices that people make are the “responsible” ones. The conundrum for public authorities is how to persuade people to exercise their freedom by making the choices the public authorities want them to make.

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