The recent decision by the EU to require a single type of electronic device charger from 2024 is a great example of the kind of thinking that is too rarely evident in the U.K. Predictably, the U.K. will not be following suit – it is precisely the kind of thing that the likes of Johnson will seize as evidence of the “freedoms” created by Brexit.
The usual rhetoric about big government and personal freedoms accompanied that announcement, together with the vacuous “it will restrict innovation” – as though the future of the world hinges on how we plug our devices in. It might be more convincing if the U.K. had any kind of track record on innovation in such fields…
So it seems that we are to remain free to live with confusing tangles of multiple cables, none of which will fit more than one brand of device – and free to keep the frustration of never having the right one available just when we most need it. We will remain free to need to need new cables and chargers each time we buy a new device rather than re-using the existing ones. We will remain free to be exploited by manufacturers who perpetuate these things on purpose.
But we will not be free to reduce the number of irritating wires and chargers, to experience the simplicity of use of a universal system, nor will we be free to reduce the amount of electrical waste that we create as a result. We will not be free to refuse unneeded equipment and the additional cost that must come with it.
The thing is, freedom is not always an absolute: freedom from one thing comes at the expense of constraint elsewhere. In the U.K. and the U.S., Freedom is often invoked as the right of individuals to do as they please. But it comes at the expense of having the freedom to make poor choices – and to suffer the impositions of those who have more power to exert their own freedoms than we do ours. As a result, we live in countries which lack adequate co-ordination and which suffer the inefficiencies that come about from the freedom to create multiple, conflicting and wasteful systems.
‘Big Government’ is almost seen as original sin in these places – something that inevitably reduces individual freedoms. But big(ger) government, done effectively and with enlightenment, can increase freedom by reducing conflicts such as the one described above. It is the job of government to co-ordinate responses to the needs of millions of people, so that they may be effectively and universally delivered. As with any other mechanism, the failure to maintain it properly tends to lead to breakdown – as we are finding in many aspects of national life at present.
Ironically, true freedom may require a degree of conformity from those involved – but there are many times where such small sacrifices result in better organisation, higher standards, and liberation from those who use such hot air to keep us in chains.