Freedom From Consequences

It was the worst outbreak of “affluenza” seen in a while.

This past summer, Ethan Couch, a 16-year-old Texan with wealthy parents, drove drunk and killed four people and injured nine more. The accident scene was so gory that, according to some reports, first responders said it was among the worst they’d ever seen. Couch’s blood alcohol levels were four times the legal limit, and Valium was also detected in his blood. He was eligible for a 20-year prison sentence.

This week, a judge spared Couch from serving any jail time, sentencing him instead to 10 years of probation. Testifying in Couch’s defense was a psychologist, G. Dick Miller, who placed primary blame on Couch’s parents, saying they gave him “freedoms no young person should have.”

According to WFAA in Dallas, Miller called Couch “a product of ‘affluenza,’ where his family felt that wealth bought privilege and there was no rational link between behavior and consequences.” The best treatment, in Miller’s view, was for Couch to receive one or two years of drug treatment and have no contact with his parents.

Like many spectators to this case, we have a hard time seeing how a person’s lack of a sense of consequences is remedied by a further lack of consequences. But, in any case, it’s safe to assume Couch’s family hasn’t been reading a lot of Peter Drucker, for in no proper sense was the young man being granted “freedoms.”

Image credit: Rotaderp
Image credit: Rotaderp

As Drucker liked to point out, freedom is inextricably linked to responsibility, and it has little, if anything, to do with fun or horsing around. “To say that it is fun to be free comes close to a repudiation of the real freedom,” Drucker wrote in The Future of Industrial Man. “The mob of Imperial Rome at least never pretended that circuses and freedom were identical. It had the courage to admit it preferred circuses.”

Indeed, Drucker felt that freedom was not happiness or security or peace. “Freedom is not so much a right as a duty,” he wrote. “Real freedom is not freedom from something; that would be license.” He added, “It is never a release and always a responsibility. It is not ‘fun’ but the heaviest burden laid on man: to decide his own individual conduct as well as the conduct of society, and to be responsible for both decisions.”

What do you think? Did Ethan Couch receive an appropriate sentence—and, if not, what should it have been?