I can’t remember the first time I picked up Reason magazine. It was probably in the mid 1990’s. I was going through a phase where I was looking for magazines about the important issues of the day. I was reading Time or Newsweek regularly—I can’t remember which. Somebody had told me that that the two best magazines for learning about the big issues were Atlantic and Harper’s, so I read those. I can also remember reading American Enterprise, National Review, The Economist, Mother Jones, and Ms. There were lots of others that I can’t remember off the top of my head.
Most of them were a disappointment in one way or another. The conservative magazines were big advocates of personal responsibility but still wanted to punish people for behavior that hurt only themselves. And too often they seemed to equate “free market” with big business and “small government” with low taxes, ignoring the much larger implications of both these admirable ideals. Also, a lot of them seemed to think their religious beliefs should be the law of the land.
Strangely, the liberal magazines also seemed to equate “free market” with big business, but they used the excesses of bad businesses as the basis for an attack on the free market. They wanted big government to be compassionate toward the victims of the world and toward the otherwise less-fortunate, but they always seemed to forget that they were spending other people’s money, and that those people deserved compassion too. And while they were in favor of some personal freedoms, they became moral scolds every bit as bad as the religious right when it came to saying or showing things that might demean other people.
(This last situation made for some strange bedfellows. The religious right opposed pornography because they thought it was immoral, and the feminist left opposed pornography because they thought it demeaned women. Thus you had televangelists and radical lesbians teaming up to outlaw porn.)
Reason magazine was different. Reason magazine saw a lot of things the same way I did. They advocated personal freedom in all things. One of the earliest example I read of this was Virgina Postrel’s 1996 editorial about breast implants. Conservatives thought the issue was frivolous and a sign of our culture’s unhealthy obsession with sex. Liberals thought it was part of the how our culture objectified women. Lots of people felt the risks didn’t justify the benefits.
Virginia Postrel, however, framed the issue in a way that made sense to me. The issue was not what was good for us and why. The issue was who gets to make the decisions. Should it be politicians and public health doctors? Or should it be the person who has the most to gain or lose by the decision?
The debate over breast implants is only incidentally about the venality of lawyers or the benefits of a C cup. It is about who we are and who we may become. It is about the future of what it means to be human.
That sort of thinking is one of Reason‘s greatest strengths. Its writers are consistently good at looking at how small and intimate personal decisions—from health to finance to culture—relate to the grand issues of the day. And they explain why everyone is better off when people have the freedom to make their own choices.
Reason‘s motto is “Free Markets and Free Minds.” And they really, really mean it, with all its details and implications.
If you’ve read this far, you may be interested in reading Reason yourself. Check out their web site, and if you like what you see, you can subscribe here.
In fact, it being the yule season and all, I’ll give a free subscription to the first four people who ask me for one [Hurry! Only three left!]. Just send your name and address to me at [email protected] and I’ll sign you up. (Free stuff. Now I’ll really get to see if anyone reads my blog.)
(The deadline for requests is this coming Sunday at midnight in Chicago. I reserve the right to reject frivolous requests, incomplete requests, or any other requests for any reason or no reason. All judgements about request arrival times and who gets a subscription are mine, and all my decisions are final. I may modify or cancel this offer at any time.)