We have two examples to share. The first is from South America, where the government of Uruguay seems poised to legalize marijuana. Here are some blurbs from an AP report.
Uruguay is pushing ahead to create a legal marijuana market… The Senate planned to debate the pot plan Tuesday, with approval by the ruling coalition widely expected before the night is over. Because senators turned away all requests for amendments after it passed the lower chamber, their vote will be final.
One reason for this proposed reform is to fight organized crime.
President Jose Mujica says the point is not to promote marijuana use, but to push out organized crime. The government hopes that when licensed growers, providers and users can openly trade in the drug, illegal traffickers will be denied their profits and go away.
Let’s give President Mujica an A+ for economics. He recognizes that criminalization creates a black market.
But Uruguay politicians are not exactly dreamy-headed libertarians. Big government would be involved.
Socialist Deputy Julio Bango, who co-authored the proposal, told The Associated Press that “this is not a law to liberalize marijuana consumption, but rather to regulate it. Today there is a market dominated by drug traffickers. We want the state to dominate it.”
And the article also mentions that legalization would be accompanied by heavy taxes. I don’t like that part, but there’s no question this would be a net plus for liberty and crime reduction.
State Sen. Liz Krueger’s measure — the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act — would legalize, regulate and tax marijuana under state law. “It will take the market in marijuana away from the criminal enterprises, just as happened when alcohol prohibition was ended,” she said at a City Hall press conference.
Kudos to Krueger for her grasp of incentives. The Drug War is just as foolish – and just as good for criminals – as prohibition.
Though I wonder whether Sen. Krueger is being too greedy.
“It would establish an excise tax of $50 an ounce of marijuana and authorize localities to charge a sales tax on retail sales if they wish to,” Krueger said. …Liu estimates that a pot tax would generate $431 million in New York City alone.
I’ve never done drugs, so I’m not familiar with the market, but I do know that if the tax is too high on a legal product, you create a black market.
P.P.S. This is not an issue of whether you approve of pot use. You can be strongly against drugs, like me, but also realize that it makes no sense for government to get involved. Particularly since criminals are the ones who benefit.
P.P.P.S. The Drug War gives the government immense powers to engage in bad policy.
So what do we get for all this money? To be blunt, the results are miserable, with Americans ranking well below average compared to our overseas competitors.
Here are some comparisons on both literacy and numeracy from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. You’ll have to click the images to get an enlarged view. But maybe you won’t want to do that since it’s depressing to see that Americans are near the bottom for math skills and well below average for verbal skills.
Geesh, this is embarrassing. I like Slovaks, but I don’t want Americans to be less intelligent. I also like Belgians, but why are they kicking our tail? And I really like Estonians, but they’re putting us to shame.
So how is the education establishment dealing with these dismal results?
So you could say this is a form of child abuse. But that would trivialize the plights of kids who are grossly mistreated. So let’s say that the sub-par education provided by government schools is a form of child victimization. Or mistreatment. Or some word that signifies how they are not well served by the government’s education monopoly.
But let’s also remember that sub-par education is not the only bad thing that happens in government schools.
We also have amazing (in a bad way) episodes of intrusive and abusive political correctness.
It’s tough for Eleanor Cox to talk about how heartbroken her daughter Erin is over the punishment she received for doing what she thought was right. …Two weeks ago, Erin received a call from a friend at a party who was too drunk to drive. Erin drove to Boxford after work to pick up her friend. Moments after she arrived, the cops arrived too and busted several kids for underage possession of alcohol. A North Andover High School honor student, Erin was cleared by police, who agreed she had not been drinking and was not in possession of alcohol. But Andover High told Erin she was in violation of the district’s zero tolerance policy against alcohol and drug use. In the middle of her senior year, Erin was demoted from captain of the volleyball team and told she would be suspended from playing for five games. …the parents of Erin’s teammates have started a petition to support her.
I’m dismayed, of course, that the school wants to punish someone who didn’t do anything wrong, but what really irks me is that the school wants to regulate and control behavior that takes place off school property and outside of school hours.
To be blunt, it’s none of their you-know-what business. Parents should have primary responsibility for their kids and law enforcement has a role if they’re breaking the law.
Let’s now travel down south and read part of a report about how some mindless school bureaucrats punished an autistic student because he drew a picture of a bomb and brought the drawing to school.
…it all started when her son had made the hand-drawn picture of the bomb during the weekend at home. Parham said Rhett is a fan of the video game Bomber Man and drew the cartoon-ish like explosive. She told FOX Carolina on Monday that her son took the picture to Hillcrest Middle School, and that’s where problems arose. Parham said she was told that her son showed the picture to some older children, who reported him to school administration. …She said her son was suspended indefinitely by the school.
Fortunately, the government backed down after the story generated some unfavorable attention for the bureaucratic drones.
But we should ask ourselves why it even got to that stage. And perhaps get some counseling for the little brats who snitched on him. Sounds like they’re future IRS agents in training.
Sadly, this is just part of a pattern we’ve seen in government schools, with bureaucrats hyperventilating over normal kid behavior. Here are some other examples.
…the real threat to our autonomy gathers speed. “Autonomous” vehicles are part of the threat—because they won’t be autonomous at all. This column has warned for years about plate-recognition cameras, increasingly armed with face-recognition capabilities, that will make it impossible to go anywhere or do anything in public without being monitored. …The population is aging. An older, more timid society is likely to be in favor of penning up fellow citizens in a mesh of monitoring to regulate routine behavior. The authoritarianism of the weak, always a problem in society, will find an ally in the bureaucracy’s craving for resources.
Holman cites a few examples.
Traffic cameras…overwhelmingly ring up drivers for offenses that wouldn’t trouble a cop. New Jersey is just the latest state scandalized by discovery that yellow lights are set below the state minimum in order to yield more red-light camera tickets. …In some future discrimination or hate-crime lawsuit, will vehicle records be called up to show you locked your doors in a minority neighborhood but not in a white neighborhood? Will the state decide to raise your ObamaCare copays because a face-recognition camera also recognized a cigarette dangling from your lip? When our every action in space and cyberspace can be monitored and policed, we no longer police ourselves to any meaningful extent. We become not citizens but children. The state is our parent. The real threat is that many of our fellow citizens will like it this way.
This sounds very Orwellian and very bad, but there are other ways for government to make driving an unpleasant experience.
Drivers face having their cars fitted with devices that slam on the brakes if they go over the speed limit, under draconian new road safety measures being drawn up by officials in Brussels. All new cars would have to include camera systems that ‘read’ the limits displayed on road signs and automatically apply the brakes. And vehicles already on the road could even be sent back to garages to be fitted with the ‘Big Brother’ technology… The EC’s Mobility and Transport Department hopes to roll out the ‘Intelligent Speed Adaptation’ technology (ISA) as part of a new road safety programme.
And how will this big-brother system work?
The ISA technology works in one of two ways – either through satellites, which communicate limits automatically to cars from databases, or by using cameras to read road signs. It then deploys one of three controls to slow drivers: ‘advice’, in which the motorist is simply notified of the speed limit by an alarm, giving them the opportunity to slow down; ‘driver select’, which arrests the car’s speed but gives the driver the option of disabling the device; or ‘mandatory’, which would not let a driver breach the speed limit under any circumstances. …A spokesman for the AA said at lower speeds the new technology could actually create dangers. He said: ‘If you were overtaking a tractor and suddenly needed to accelerate to avoid a head-on collision, you would not be able to.’
I’m glad people from the Automobile Association are warning that the system poses risks, but opposition should be based on more than utilitarian arguments. How about the freedom to be left alone and not monitored and pestered while you travel?
But let’s set that issue aside and contemplate whether it’s worse to have the government track where you drive or worse to have the government control how you drive.
Maybe this makes me a bad libertarian, but I’m not overly worried about the first option. Perhaps this is because I have a relatively staid life. I drive to work and I drive to softball. Every so often, I drive to the grocery store or to an airport. The bureaucrats tracking me would go crazy with boredom. Heck, I’d probably feel some pressure to spice up my social life simply because I’d feel sympathy for them.
Maybe they’ll force us to drive green cars?
By contrast, I would be very irritated if the government got control over my accelerator. It’s already annoying that revenue-hungry local governments and anti-automobile greenies conspire to set speed limits considerably below safe and efficient levels. But at least there’s very little risk if you drive within 10 miles of the limit and you always have the choice to drive even faster if you’re willing to take a chance that some random cop will pull you over. But if the government imposes some system that forces my car to stay within the speed limit, I won’t be a happy camper.
I’ll be very curious to read the comments for this post. In the meantime, I’m going to close with a few optimistic words.
Simply stated, government may have the technology to spy on us, but that doesn’t mean they have the brains, ability, or manpower to make much use of this power.
Likewise, I don’t think the monitoring and collection of traffic data will impact our lives. At least not until the point the government uses its power in some of the ways described by Holman Jenkins. But I don’t think that’s going to happen anytime soon.
I’m also somewhat hopeful that car-control technologies won’t get abused. At least not right away. Local governments, for instance, would probably oppose a system to control travel speeds for the simple reason that they want to maintain the revenue from speeding tickets.
Moreover, I bet many Americans would rise up in revolt if the government tried to take control of our gas pedals. Politicians who pushed for such a scheme would lose election and bureaucrats who tried to impose such a system via regulation would get slapped down.
We’ve lost some of our freedoms and fighting spirit, but there are some lines the government still can’t cross. Driving faster than the government allows is as American as apple pie.
P.S. Speaking of American traditions, what about the young (and not-so-young) people who sometimes do a bit of romancing while in their cars? Maybe the bureaucrats (motivated by this Obama-NSA joke) will insist that we also install internal cameras in our vehicles.
Beware the sledgehammer used to crack the nut. In this case, the nut is the U.S. government’s laudable goal of catching tax evaders. The sledgehammer is the overreaching effect of legislation that is alienating other countries and resulting in millions of U.S. citizens abroad being forced to either painfully reconsider their nationality, or face a lifetime of onerous bureaucracy, expense and privacy invasion. The legislation is Fatca, the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act.
Ms. Graffy provides a very powerful example of why FATCA is an absurd extraterritorial application of bad U.S. law.
To appreciate its breathtaking scope along with America’s unique “citizen-based” tax practices, imagine this: You were born in California, moved to New York for education or work, fell in love, married and had children. Even though you have faithfully paid taxes in New York and haven’t lived in California for 25 years, suppose California law required that you also file your taxes there because you were born there. Though you may never have held a bank account in California, you must report all of your financial holdings to the State of California. Are you a signatory on your spouse’s account? Then you must declare his bank accounts too. Your children, now adults, have never been west of the Mississippi but they too must file their taxes in both California and New York and report any bank accounts they or their spouses may have because they are considered Californians by virtue of one parent’s birthplace.
Sounds utterly ridiculous, but FATCA applies these rules to American citizens in other nations – with predictably awful results.
Extrapolate that example to the six million U.S. citizens living around the globe. Many, if not most, don’t know about these requirements. Yet they face fines, penalties and interest for not complying—even if they owe no U.S. taxes, own no U.S. property, have no U.S. bank account and haven’t lived there in years—if ever. …Foreign financial institutions trying to avoid these new requirements have two alternatives: to drop American clients, or don’t invest in the U.S. Neither scenario benefits America. …This infringement on the sovereignty of other nations has not gone down well abroad and has only served to reinforce the most negative stereotypes of America. …It forces honest people with affection for their ties to America to either keep quiet about their heritage, or spend potentially thousands of dollars a year to prove that they owe no U.S. taxes. Or, as is increasingly occurring, it forces them to give up their U.S. citizenship. The result is that the U.S. is turning millions of “good will” ambassadors into “bad will” ambassadors. Can any of this be good for America?
Of course it’s not good for America, but greedy politicians are perfectly happy to impose enormous costs on the private sector in exchange for trivially small amounts of additional revenue. And those projections of additional revenue almost surely won’t materialize because of Laffer-Curve effects on investment in the American economy, so even the politicians won’t come out ahead when the dust settles.
Maybe the crowd in Washington will even learn the right lesson and support Senator Rand Paul’s legislation to undo some of the worst parts of FATCA, but don’t hold your breath.
2. Here’s the second choice. I thought I had learned never to be surprised by examples of foolish government intervention, but even I did a double take when I learned that the federal bureaucracy was regulating rabbits in magic shows.
Not just regulating them, but even requiring disaster plans in case of calamities such as “Fire. Flood. Tornado. Air conditioning going out. Ice storm. Power failures”. I’m not joking. Here are some excerpts from a Washington Post report.
This summer, Marty the Magician got a letter from the U.S. government. It began with six ominous words: “Dear Members of Our Regulated Community . . .” Washington had questions about his rabbit. Again. …Hahne has an official U.S. government license. Not for the magic. For the rabbit. The Agriculture Department requires it, citing a decades-old law that was intended to regulate zoos and circuses. Today, the USDA also uses it to regulate much smaller “animal exhibitors,” even the humble one-bunny magician. That was what the letter was about. The government had a new rule. To keep his rabbit license, Hahne needed to write a rabbit disaster plan. …For Hahne, the saga has provided a lesson in one of Washington’s bad old habits — the tendency to pile new rules on top of old ones, with officials using good intentions and vague laws to expand the reach of the federal bureaucracy. …“Our country’s broke,” Hahne said. “And yet they have money and time to harass somebody about a rabbit.”
What if regulators are committing crimes against common sense?
Just in case you think this is merely a case of bureaucrats concocting silly rules from their comfortable perches in Washington, I’m sure you’ll be delighted to learn that our fearless public servants are venturing outside the beltway.
Hahne…has been doing magic shows full time for 27 years, on cruise ships and on land. That means he has experienced most of the troubles a magician can expect… But he did not expect the U.S. Department of Agriculture. “She said, ‘Show me your license.’ And I said, ‘License for . . .?’ ” Hahne recounted. This was after a 2005 show at a library in Monett, Mo. Among the crowd of parents and kids, there was a woman with a badge. A USDA inspector. “She said, ‘For your rabbit.’ ” Hahne was busted. He had to get a license or lose the rabbit. …Hahne has an official USDA license, No. 43-C-0269, for Casey — a three-pound Netherland dwarf rabbit with a look of near-fatal boredom. The rules require Hahne to pay $40 a year, take Casey to the vet and submit to surprise inspections of his home. Also, if Hahne plans to take the rabbit out of town for an extended period, he must submit an itinerary to the USDA. The 1966 law that started all of this was four pages long. Now, the USDA has 14 pages of regulations just for rabbits. …the law applies only to warmblooded animals. If Hahne were pulling an iguana out of his hat — no license required. Now, he needs both a license and a disaster plan.
The good news – relatively speaking – is that rabbit regulations don’t threaten to drive investment and jobs from the U.S. economy. But for sheer stupidity on the part of government, can you think of a more pointless set of regulations?
3. Now let’s consider our final example, which manages to combine the nanny state with domestic protectionism with an attack on the First Amendment.
This trifecta of red tape insanity comes from Kentucky, where the local state-protected cartel of psychologists wants to stop a newspaper columnist from giving free advice.
John Rosemond has been dispensing parenting advice in his newspaper column since 1976, making him one of the longest-running syndicated columnists in the country. But some Kentucky authorities want to put him in a time out. In May, Kentucky’s attorney general and its Board of Examiners of Psychology told Rosemond his parenting column — which regularly offers old-school advice and shows little tolerance for any kind of parental coddling — amounts to the illegal practice of psychology. They want him to agree to a cease-and-desist order. In particular, they want Rosemond to stop identifying himself as a psychologist, because he is not a licensed psychologist in Kentucky.
To his credit, Mr. Rosemond is fighting back.
Rosemond, an author of 11 parenting books who has a master’s degree in psychology from Western Illinois and is a licensed psychologist in his home state of North Carolina, sees the board’s letter as an effort at censorship and is filing a lawsuit Tuesday in federal court seeking to bar the state from taking any action against him. …He is represented by the Arlington, Va.-based Institute for Justice, which has filed multiple lawsuits challenging what they see as overreach by government licensing boards. Institute for Justice lawyer Paul Sherman says that under Kentucky’s logic, columnists like Dear Abby and television personalities like Dr. Phil and Dr. Oz are breaking the law any time they offer advice, because the content is aired in Kentucky and meets the state’s broad definition of psychological advice.
And the newspaper that publishes his column also is standing up for the First Amendment.
Peter Baniak, editor of the Lexington Herald-Leader, which ran the column that prompted the psychology board’s cease-and-desist letter, said Monday that his paper has not been contacted by the board or the Kentucky attorney general, and that the paper intends to continue publishing the column. “I would find it troubling for a state board to suggest or think it has the ability to say what should or shouldn’t run in an advice column,” Baniak said.
By the way, if you watch this video, you’ll see that Rosemond’s home state of North Carolina also is guilty of trying to undermine the First Amendment as part of efforts to protect certain professions from competition.
Now it’s your turn to pick the most foolish example of regulation from this list.
By the way, just in case there are skeptics who think I’ve shared isolated examples and that regulation is generally beneficial, check out these staggering numbers.
Here’s a new image of evolutionary stages that sets the stage for today’s discussion. Simply stated, Americans are becoming bigger. In some cases, a lot bigger.
Is this trend toward greater obesity a bad thing? As a reader asks, is it something that requires a government response?
The answer is yes…and no.
Libertarians believe people should be free to make their own decisions so long as they’re not infringing on the rights of others. And that includes the right to eat too much and exercise too little.
But the “yes” part of the answer is that we can think obesity is unfortunate and we can encourage our friends and family members to live healthier lifestyles. And if we’re willing to be pests and to run the risk of being told to mind our own business, we can even encourage strangers to shape up.
The “no” part of the answer refers to whether the government somehow should get involved. I shared a great video from Reason TV several years ago that explained why paternalistic anti-obesity programs don’t work. And just this week, one of my colleagues at the Cato Institute, Michael Tanner, addressed this issue. Here’s some of what he wrote for National Review.
Recently the American Medical Association declared that it will consider obesity a disease. …the AMA’s move is a symptom of a disease that is seriously troubling our society: the abdication of personal responsibility and an invitation to government meddling. …the AMA’s move is actually a way for its members to receive more federal dollars, by getting obesity treatments covered under government health plans. A bipartisan group of congressmen has already seized on the AMA declaration as they push for Medicare coverage of diet drugs. Observers also expect an effort to expand Medicare reimbursement for bariatric surgery, a.k.a. stomach stapling. And there will almost certainly be pressure to mandate coverage for these things by private insurance carriers, under both state laws and the Affordable Care Act. …After the AMA decision, John Morton, treasurer of the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery, was almost giddy, calling the AMA decision a “tipping point” and adding that “now coverage policy must catch up to that consensus.” Since a typical bariatric surgery costs as much as $40,000, that could be interpreted as a warning for all of us to get out our wallets. In the end, we will be paying more, through either taxes or higher premiums.
And don’t forget that the price of treatments such as surgery almost surely will climb as there’s more “third-party payer,” so our taxes and premiums will climb by a lot more than what it cost to provide these services today.
But that’s only part of the story. Since government is picking up the tab, that gives politicians a green light (at least in their minds) to pass laws and rules designed to control and influence our behavior.
…expanded Medicare and insurance coverage socialize the cost of treating obesity, thereby inviting all manner of government mischief. After all, if being fat is not our fault, the blame must lie with food companies, advertising, or other things that need to be regulated. And if you and I have to pay for the food and exercise choices of others, we should have a say in those choices. Already, Harold Goldstein, executive director of the California Center for Public Health Advocacy, has cited the AMA declaration to boost his group’s efforts to ban junk food and tax soft drinks. …The nanny state can now claim medical backing.
Mayor Bloomberg doubtlessly thinks this is a wonderful idea. Maybe he can ban snack food as well as 17 oz. sodas.
So what’s the big picture? Mike nails it, explaining that the medicalization of obesity is symptomatic of the effort to undermine individual responsibility.
Much of public policy these days seems designed to eliminate personal responsibility. Take efforts to reduce poverty, for example. How much of poverty is due to poor lifestyle choices? We don’t want to blame the poor, nor should we forget that there are those, especially children, trapped in poverty by circumstances beyond their control. But we also know the keys to getting out of or staying out of poverty: (1) finish school; (2) do not get pregnant outside marriage; and (3) get a job, any job, and stick with it. Unfortunately, much of the welfare state we have constructed is perversely designed in ways that end up encouraging destructive behaviors.
But I’m guilty, once again, of digressing. Let’s get to the rest of Mike’s final point.
Big government reduces all of us to the status of children. We have no responsibility for anything in our lives; therefore, government must take care of us. All we have to do, like children, is give up the freedom to make our own choices — good or bad.
P.S. Several readers have noticed that I’m now writing one post a day instead of two and have asked whether this is a permanent change. The answer is yes. With all the other things I’m trying to juggle – researching and writing, dealing with Capitol Hill, talking to the press, giving speeches, etc – this seems like the best way to allocate my time. Particularly now that my posts tend to be a lot longer and more substantive than when I began blogging.
P.P.S. Since we’re on the topic of obesity, it goes without saying that our real problem is bloated government, not bloated people. Which is why I always enjoy cartoons that portray DC as the true home of gluttony. For good examples, see here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here.
A Massachusetts kindergartener has been given detention and could be suspended from the bus after bringing a Lego-sized gun to school last week. …the incident happened on an Old Mill Pond Elementary School bus in Palmer last week. A 6-year-old had the toy gun, which is slightly larger than a quarter, on the bus and it was seen by another student, who alerted the bus driver. The boy’s mother, Mieke Crane, said her son had to write a letter of apology to the driver, was given detention and could be temporarily suspended from the bus.
Reading that passage, I don’t know whether to be more angry with the bratty tattle-tale kid who told the bus driver, or with the bus driver who obviously must have informed the school.
Both of them could use some serious counseling.
But that’s just part of the story.
The school sent home a letter to parents explaining what happened, stressing no gun was on the bus and there was never any danger. “(The driver) said he caused quite a disturbance on the bus and that the children were traumatized,” Crane told WGGB.
A letter to parents about a tiny plastic toy gun?!? Are the bureaucrats in this school so under-worked that they have time to waste on such nonsense? If I was a parent in this school district, I would put my kids in a private school.
Especially if it’s true that “children were traumatized” by a piece of Lego. I wouldn’t want to take the risk that wimpiness and poor cognitive skills could be transmitted by proximity to my kids (perhaps causing them to need “emotional support” animals in college).
By the way, this is not an isolated example. To get depressed about the future of the country, read these posts about children being exposed to foolish thinking.
Stories like this make me wonder whether I should emigrate, though the rest of the world tends to be in worse shape so the moral of the story is that we need to save the United States from the brainless (and overpaid) bureaucrats who are trying to ruin our children.
Two Suffolk second graders have been suspended for making shooting noises while pointing pencils at each other. Media outlets report the 7-year-old boys were suspended for two days for a violation of the Suffolk school system’s zero-tolerance policy on weapons. They were playing with one another in class Friday at Driver Elementary. “When I asked him about it, he said, ‘Well I was being a Marine and the other guy was being a bad guy,’” said Paul Marshall, one of the boys’ fathers. “It’s as simple as that.” Marshall, a former Marine, said he believes school officials overreacted. …Bradshaw said the policy has been in place for at least two decades. It also bans drawing a picture of a gun and pointing a finger in a threatening manner. Marshall said his son has good grades and no history of being disruptive in class. On the suspension note, the teacher noted that the boy stopped when she told him to do so. He said school administrators failed to use common sense.
I’m almost at a loss for words. This wasn’t just one brainless bureaucrat. At the very least, both a teacher and an administrator were involved in this farce.
These are the people we want educating our children?!?
At least the dad had the cojones to criticize the bureaucrats.
Then they came for pencils,
and there was no one left to speak for me.
By the way, the United States is not the only nation suffering from a pathetic and wimpy form of political correctness. Here are some examples of how our cousins across the ocean have gone bonkers about guns.
This irks libertarians since we value human liberty, even if it means people sometimes make foolish choices. But so long as you’re not interfering with someone else’s rights, we don’t think government should dictate your private behavior.
What seems to unify paternalistic approaches, however diverse, is that government does not believe that people’s choices will promote their welfare, and it is taking steps to influence or alter people’s choices for their own good.
In other words, people are sometimes dumb and the government at the very least needs to nudge them in the right direction.
Sunstein outlines the objections to this approach, largely focusing on the fact that the market process will discourage bad behaviors.
To the committed antipaternalist, government should not short-circuit the valuable process of learning by doing. If people make mistakes about diets, drinks, love, or investments, they can obtain valuable lessons, and those lessons can make their lives a lot better. …In a market economy, companies compete with one another, and people are free to choose among a wide range of options. If a car has terrible fuel economy, and if it costs a lot of money to operate, fewer people will buy it. As a result, companies will produce more fuel-efficient cars. Some consumers may be fooled or tricked, but in the long run, free competition and open markets will help. On this view, paternalism presents a major risk, because it may freeze the process of competition.
Not surprisingly, Sunstein argues that the market process is sometimes inadequate.
…even if we are inclined to think that individuals are generally the best judges of how to make their own lives go well, the word generally is important. With that qualification, we can see that the objections to paternalism depend on some empirical judgments. …The relationship between freedom of choice and welfare is being tested, with complex results. Sometimes people’s means do not promote their own ends. Behavioral economists have identified a number of reasons that people’s choices do not always promote their welfare. …sometimes we fail to take steps that really are in our interest. Human beings often procrastinate, and the long-term may not be so salient to us. We can be tempted by emotional appeals. Sometimes we do not take steps that would make our lives go a lot better. If welfare is our guide, means paternalism might be required, not forbidden.
To be fair, Sunstein recognizes that many antipaternalists are motivated by freedom, not some abstract measure of human welfare.
Suppose that we are not so focused on welfare and that we believe that freedom of choice has a special and independent status. We might think that people have a right to choose, even if their choices cause harm, and that government cannot legitimately intrude on that right, even if it does in fact know best. …Many of the most deeply felt objections to paternalism are based on an intuition or judgment of this kind. They often take the form of a question: By what right can government legitimately interfere with the choices of free adults?
This passage captures my view.
I actually agree with paternalists in that there are lots of people who make bad choices. I think a major problem is that these people over-value the positive feelings they get from “bad” behaviors today and under-value the harm that those behaviors will cause in the future.
At the risk of making a sweeping judgement, I even think the biggest barrier to upward mobility is that some people don’t have a properly developed sense of deferred gratification.
So I think paternalists often are right, but I disagree with the notion that government should coerce people and impose “good” choices. Simply stated, freedom and liberty matter to me.
To butcher a very important quote, “I may disagree with your decision to smoke cigarettes and guzzle 32 oz. sodas, but I will defend to the death your right to do so.”
Actually, to be perfectly honest, I won’t defend to the death your right to be foolish. But I’ll surely write a snarky blog post.
Let’s close by acknowledging there are some gray areas. What about the idea that government can “nudge” us to make better choices? A classic example is a government rule to automatically sign new workers up for things such as 401(k) plans, but then give them the ability to opt out.
I don’t want government to interfere with private employment contracts, but that type of policy is obviously not nearly as objectionable as banning Big Gulps.
And you can come up with other proposals that might even pass muster with rabid libertarians. If a high school has a consumer finance class that teaches people about compounding and present value, that presumably will nudge them to be more pro-saving.
Is there anything wrong with that? Probably not, though we hard-core libertarians would argue that such lessons presumably would be part of the market-based education system.
In other words, there’s a reason why our answer to just about every question is “less government.” Not only is that a good philosophy, it’s also the way of getting the best results.
It’s also an example of a perverse anti-gun mentality.
How else can you explain a school in Talbot County, Maryland, suspending a couple of young boys for the supposedly horrible offense of making gun shapes with their fingers while playing cops and robbers?!?
There’s controversy at a Talbot County school after two 6-year-old boys were suspended while playing cops and robbers during recess and using their fingers to make an imaginary gun. “It’s ridiculous,” said parent Julia Merchant.
This is the second time a Maryland child has been suspended for such play. Earlier this month, 6-year-old Rodney Lynch was suspended from his Montgomery County school after pretending to fire an imaginary gun more than once.
He fired his finger more than once? That might mean he has a semi-automatic finger! Oh, the horror.
Amazingly, the school in Montgomery County backed down after parents objected.
The school reversed its decision after Rodney’s parents appealed. “They’re saying he threatened a student, threatened to shoot a student. He was playing,” said Rodney’s father, Rodney Lynch Sr. …A number of parents agree. “Suspending them is a bit harsh and I don’t think that’s gonna do any good for the parent, child or school,” said Janet Geotzky.
It’s unclear what’s going to happen with this new incident (or, more accurately, non-incident) in Talbot County.
But I know what should happen if we want to discourage further episodes of political correctness run amok.
The person (I assume a teacher) who filed the initial complaint should be suspended.
The bureaucrat (I assume school principal) who suspended the boys should be fired.
The children (all of them, not just the two who were suspended) should be given toy guns and encouraged to play like normal kids.
This has been a neck-and-neck battle, with the United Kingdom recently throwing down the gauntlet with a decision to take kids away from their foster family because the mom and dad didn’t believe in unlimited immigration.
A Montgomery County elementary school student was suspended for a pretend gunshot… The 6-year-old, who attends Roscoe R. Nix Elementary School in Silver Spring, made a gun with his hands, pointed it at another student and said “pow,” according to Robin Ficker, the boy’s attorney. He was given a one-day suspension, with a conference on the matter planned for Jan. 2, the day students return to school from winter break.
This is not an isolated incident. There are other examples of embarrassing stupidity in America.
So I guess that means we still have a tie. In the contest for government stupidity, the United States and the United Kingdom are both winners.
And the citizens of both nations are losers, but let’s not allow that pesky little fact take away from this exciting contest.
P.S. You probably won’t be surprised to learn that Montgomery County is a suburb of Washington, DC. And, as you can see from this map, it is filled with overpaid bureaucrats and lobbyists. Since these are the people imposing so much bad policy on the rest of the nation, at least they’re being consistent and subjecting themselves to foolishness as well.
Back in my less sophisticated days (shocking as it may seem, I wasn’t always the mature, statesmanlike figure I am today), I sometimes resorted to silly arguments when debating gun control, such as, “does this mean you want to ban knives since they also can be used to kill people?”
Smarter opponents would scoff and accuse me of knocking down straw men, assuming a non-existent slippery slope, or engaging in reductio ad absurdum.
I wasn’t even sure what the last one meant, but I secretly felt chagrined because I also thought the argument was nonsense. But it’s not like we had the Internet back in those days so I could quickly peruse the writings of John Lott or David Kopel.
Well, I no longer need to feel shame. It turns out that my straw man came to life and he’s sliding down a slope into a big pool of whatever that reductio thing is.
I kid you not. There’s a supposedly civilized nation that is seriously talking about banning long kitchen knives.
I’ll give you a couple of hints to help you figure out what country is considering this bizarre policy.
Yes, I’m talking about our friends in the United Kingdom.
They make some decent movies and they have cute accents, but they seem totally clueless about how to fight crime and the notion of individual rights appears to be a totally alien concept.
So the nation that once ruled half the world actually has contemplated whether to ban certain kitchen knives. Here are some details from a 2005 BBC report.
A&E doctors are calling for a ban on long pointed kitchen knives to reduce deaths from stabbing. …The research is published in the British Medical Journal. The researchers said there was no reason for long pointed knives to be publicly available at all. …The researchers say legislation to ban the sale of long pointed knives would be a key step in the fight against violent crime. …Home Office spokesperson said there were already extensive restrictions in place to control the sale and possession of knives. “The law already prohibits the possession of offensive weapons in a public place, and the possession of knives in public without good reason or lawful authority, with the exception of a folding pocket knife with a blade not exceeding three inches. … A spokesperson for the Association of Chief Police Officers said: “ACPO supports any move to reduce the number of knife related incidents, however, it is important to consider the practicalities of enforcing such changes.”
Given my low opinion of and low expectations for Britain’s political class, I’m impressed that pocket knives are still legal. It’s probably just a matter of time before than changes. After that, the next step will be fingernail clippers.
And I’m glad that the ACPO person warned that there might be problems enforcing such a silly law.
But when trying to build support for good fiscal policy, it often helps to cite specific examples of wasteful and foolish government. That’s one of the reasons I’ve been comparing examples of government stupidity and political correctness in the United States and the United Kingdom.
After all, how many people would want to pay more taxes after reviewing these bizarre episodes of government in action?
In this instance, we’re talking about the critical need to protect people from pudding. I’m not joking. Here are some of the details of a very odd report in the Daily Mail.
If you’re lucky enough to look about 18, there’s a good chance you’ll be asked to provide ID at the supermarket to buy alcohol, knives or glue. Now an addition has been made to that list of potentially hazardous items – chocolate pudding. Robert Nemeti was amazed when he was asked for ID while buying a microwaveable pudding at Tesco. Mr Nemeti, 24, was going through the self-service checkout when an on-screen warning announced that his purchase had to be ‘approved’. …‘The woman who was monitoring the self-service checkouts came over and asked me for identification showing I was 18. I asked her why and was stunned when she told me: “It gets hot when you cook it – and you may burn yourself”. Surely the same can be said of many of the products they sell in any supermarket? Health and safety has gone crazy if you now have to prove you can be trusted with a chocolate pudding.’ He added: ‘I explained that I didn’t have any ID. Thankfully she agreed that I looked over 18 and she scanned her staff pass to approve the sale.’ Mr Nemeti managed to cook and eat the dessert that evening without injury.
Gee, I’m glad that Mr. Nemeti managed to eat the pudding without causing a fire or suffering burns.
There’s not much I can add to this story. Is this an example of crazy government over-protectiveness, sort of nanny state run amok? Perhaps somewhat similar to Nurse Bloomberg’s attempt to ban large sodas? I don’t know. There aren’t enough details.
Or maybe it’s the fault of the private sector, with some corporate bureaucrat justifying his job by coming up with idiotic rules? Though, to be fair, that’s less destructive than American corporate bureaucrats who have special skills when it comes to getting bailout money.
No warning label?!? Such reckless corporate irresponsibility!
Could it be because the English are learning about America’s lawsuit culture and businesses are having to defend themselves from preposterous legal claims by imposing equally preposterous rules? That would be the indirect fault of government.
Now it’s time to revisit this contest. The United Kingdom has decided to arrest a man for the horrific crime of shooting some thugs that broke into his home. Here are some details from a column in the Telegraph.
A farm tenant and his wife who were arrested after two suspected burglars were shot at their isolated home had been the victims of a number of robberies. …The man is believed to have grabbed a legally owned gun after they were disturbed by the break-in early yesterday. He is understood to have fired at the intruders who then fled the isolated house at Melton Mowbray, Leics, before calling the police. …The arrested man’s mother said: “This is not the first time they have been broken into. “They have been robbed three or four times. One of them was quite nasty. …the businessman and his wife were arrested on suspicion of causing grievous bodily harm. Four men, understood to be the suspected burglars, were also arrested.
“Arrested on suspicion of causing grievous bodily harm”? Isn’t that the point when confronting criminals?!?
Though I guess we should be happy that the burglars also were arrested. And given the country’s oppressive gun control laws, I’m pleasantly surprised that there are still a few legal guns in the United Kingdom.
But that’s about the only silver lining I can find to this dark cloud.
Moreover, it turns out that the U.K. has a track record of persecuting the innocent. The column mentions outrageous examples.
The case will reignite the debate over a householder’s right to defend his property, which began in the late 1990s after the farmer Tony Martin shot two burglars at his remote Norfolk home. In 1999, Martin fired at Brendan Fearon, 29, and Fred Barras, 16, after they broke into the house in Emneth Hungate. Three shots were fired, Barras was hit in the back and despite escaping through a window died moments later. Martin was convicted of murder and jailed for life, which was reduced on appeal to manslaughter and five years’ jail. In 2009, the millionaire businessman Munir Hussain fought back with a metal pole and a cricket bat against a knife-wielding burglar who tied up his family at their home in Buckinghamshire. Hussain was jailed for two and a half years, despite his attacker being spared prison. Appeal judges reduced the sentence to a year’s jail, suspended. The case prompted David Cameron to announce that home owners and shopkeepers would have the right to protect themselves against burglars and robbers.
But sometimes my despair is the result of idiotic political correctness and bone-headed bureaucracy. And for some reason, as shown by these examples, the United Kingdom seems to have a disproportionate share of morons who want to impose bad policy on their fellow citizens.
When the chief starter at the London Olympics agreed to fire his pistol to start the races at a school sports day, parents thought it was a wonderful treat for their children. But they did not count on the intervention of health and safety officials from their local council, who ruled that the noise from Alan Bell’s starting pistol would be too frightening for the youngsters. Bizarrely, the local authority instead suggested playing a recording of a starting pistol on an iPod before agreeing to let Mr Bell start the races by sounding a klaxon. …One parent, who did not wish to be named, told a Sunday newspaper: “It was ridiculous. We were told that the children would be distressed by Mr Bell firing his starting pistol. “Anyone who believes they would be frightened by a starting pistol has never experienced the noise at a typical three-year-old’s birthday party. …Norman Gardiner, president of the Pitreavie Amateur Athletics Club in Dunfermline, said the decision was “health and safety gone mad.”
It’s amazing to think that the United Kingdom once ruled half the world, but now produces pencil-neck bureaucrats who think starting pistols are a menace to society.
But we Americans shouldn’t feel superior. We’re traveling down the same path.
My initial instinct is that we should fire the over-paid bureaucrats who generate this kind of nonsense. I admit that such as step might only address the symptom of a politically correct world, but it would be a good start.
And as explained in the video, the statists will respond to the failure of current anti-obesity efforts by arguing they need even more power to control and tax. And when those new efforts fail, they’ll argue for additional authority. Lather, rinse, repeat.
P.P.S. This issue helps explain the dangers of government-subsidized healthcare. Politicians make taxpayers pick up the tab for other people’s medical expenses and then claim that they should have the power to regulate private behavior in order to reduce costs.
Mike Bloomberg’s move to regulate the size of sodas sold in his city illustrates why it’s a good thing he is a mayor of New York and not the czar of all the Russias. American big cities tend to be one-party states to begin with, but at least their totalitarian impulses end up being merely cute because they’re so easy to evade. Under the Bloomberg plan, any cup or bottle of sugary drink larger than 16 ounces at a public venue would be verboten, beginning early next year. You’ll still be able to buy as much Coke as you want in a supermarket. Go home and pour yourself a bucketful. As Mr. Bloomberg himself was the first to note, you’ll also still be free to buy two medium drinks in place of today’s Big Gulp at ballgames, theaters, delis and other venues where the ban would be in effect.
But Mr. Jenkins doesn’t just mock Bloomberg for being a food nanny. He also makes an important point about public policy.
Here is the ultimate justification for the Bloomberg soft-drink ban, not to mention his smoking ban, his transfat ban, and his unsuccessful efforts to enact a soda tax and prohibit buying high-calorie drinks with food stamps: The taxpayer is picking up the bill. Call it the growing chattelization of the beneficiary class under government health-care programs. Bloombergism is a secular trend. Los Angeles has sought to ban new fast-food shops in neighborhoods disproportionately populated by Medicaid recipients, Utah to increase Medicaid copays for smokers, Arizona to impose a special tax on Medicaid recipients who smoke or are overweight. …So perhaps the famous “broccoli” hypothetical during the Supreme Court ObamaCare debate was not so fanciful after all. It flows naturally from the state’s fiscal responsibility for your health that it will try to regulate your behavior, even mandating vegetable consumption.
Or, to summarize, the view of politicians is that the government can tell you how to live because it is paying for your healthcare. This is Mitchell’s Law on steroids! One bad government policy leading to another awful government policy.
And it’s not just Mayor Bloomberg pushing these policies. Other politicians have similar proposals, though it’s quite likely that their main motive is to collect more tax revenue since they are focused on how to tax various “bad” foods.
But let’s try not to be overly depressed. Here’s an amusing cartoon on the topic.
I’m glad that people are mocking Mayor Bloomberg and the rest of the Food Nazis. And it’s good to see that the soft drink industry is fighting back, as seen by this Super Bowl commercial.
Maybe some day we’ll get to the point where people have to smuggle food past government agents. This may sound absurd, but it’s already happening in Norway.
But even I’m shocked the federal government gave an affordability award for a light bulb that costs $50. I’m not making this up. Here’s a blurb from ABC News.
The U.S. government has awarded appliance-maker Philips $10 million for devising an “affordable” alternative to today’s standard 60-watt incandescent bulb. That standard bulb sells for around $1. The Philips alternative sells for $50. Of course, the award-winner is no ordinary bulb. It uses only one-sixth the energy of an incandescent. And it lasts 30,000 hours–about 30 times as long. In fact, if you don’t drop it, it may last 10 years or more. But only the U.S. Government (in this case, the Department of Energy) could view a $50 bulb as cheap.
Isn’t that wonderful? My tax dollars were used to reward a company that produced a light bulb I can’t afford.
If you like Lisa’s work, there are some other good examples here and here.
Last but not least, I’m up in New York City for an investment funds conference about the Cayman Islands. Not a bad view from my window, though you need to click on the image to get a good idea of what I woke up to.
Too bad the state and the city are high-tax hell holes.
Religious broadcaster Pat Robertson says marijuana should be legalized and treated like alcohol because the government’s war on drugs has failed. The outspoken evangelical Christian and host of “The 700 Club” on the Virginia Beach-based Christian Broadcasting Network he founded said the war on drugs is costing taxpayers billions of dollars. He said people should not be sent to prison for marijuana possession. The 81-year-old first became a self-proclaimed “hero of the hippie culture” in 2010 when he called for ending mandatory prison sentences for marijuana possession convictions. “I just think it’s shocking how many of these young people wind up in prison and they get turned into hardcore criminals because they had a possession of a very small amount of a controlled substance,” Robertson said on his show March 1. “The whole thing is crazy. We’ve said, ‘Well, we’re conservatives, we’re tough on crime.’ That’s baloney.” …Robertson said he “absolutely” supports ballot measures in Colorado and Washington state that would allow people older than 21 to possess a small amount of marijuana and allow for commercial pot sales. Both measures, if passed by voters, would place the states at odds with federal law, which bans marijuana use of all kinds. While he supports the measures, Robertson said he would not campaign for them and was “not encouraging people to use narcotics in any way, shape or form.” “I’m not a crusader,” he said. “I’ve never used marijuana and I don’t intend to, but it’s just one of those things that I think: this war on drugs just hasn’t succeeded.”
Wow, not only for legalization, but “absolutely” supports ballot initiatives in Colorado and Washington. Kudos to Rev. Robertson for recognizing the human cost of the Drug War. As the old saying goes, not everything immoral should be illegal.
Experts said the eating disorder was a disease that was linked to social and cultural influenced, the Guardian reported. The LSE academics said restricting the use of photographs of underweight models in magazines would help ease the pressure on women to be very thin. In a paper that will be published in the journal Economia later this year, LSE economist Dr Joan Costa-Font and Professor Mireia Jofre-Bonet from City University wrote: “Government intervention would be justified to curb the spread of a potential epidemic of food disorders.
To be fair, there’s no indication in the story that the U.K. government will adopt the recommendation of these academics, but don’t be too optimistic. After all, this is the country that has done these crazy things:
Remember, never underestimate the stupidity of government.
And I suppose this is the appropriate spot for a disclaimer. Yes, I realize anorexia is not a joking matter. I’ve known people with this problem and I recognize it’s serious. But banning skinny models is an absurd and abusive way for politicians to deal with the issue.
The competitive juices must be flowing, because there’s a new example of government stupidity from the United Kingdom that is hard to believe. As reported by the Register, you now need an ID to buy teaspoons.
Are you under 18 years of age? Do you have an urgent need for teaspoons? Well, avoid Asda’s Halifax tentacle where the powers that be are determined to prevent this potentially-lethal item of cutlery falling into the hands of murderous yoof. …According to the background info, the lady shopper in question was told by an Asda assistant that she’d have to prove her age “because someone had murdered someone with a teaspoon, and therefore ID was now required”.
Actually, I suppose I’m being unfair to blame the public sector for this nonsense. The story doesn’t actually say this is a government-imposed policy. So perhaps the store inexplicably decided to antagonize customers and hinder commerce with this new requirement.
But if that’s the case, I’ll still blame government because the store manager doubtlessly was (mal)educated at a government school.
Some American readers may be feeling a bit gloomy at this point. After all, how can politicians and bureaucrats in the United States possibly match the stupidity of their cousins on the other side of the Atlantic?
Well, don’t be depressed. America still has a strong claim to the top position in this contest about government incompetence. After all, cops in Indiana arrested a grandmother for buying cold medicine for her husband and then (gasp!) buying cold medicine for her daughter before the end of the seven-day waiting period.
Sorry to sound like a teenager, but I am endlessly amazed at the hare–brained ways that politicians waste our money and interfere with our lives.
So as part of my ongoing series comparing foolish government policies (previous editions include the U.S. v Germany and the U.S. v. the U.K.), let’s figure out whether California or the European Union is more worthy of scorn.
Children are to be banned from taking part in traditional Christmas games, from blowing up balloons to blowing on party whistles, because of new EU safety rules that have just entered into force. The EU toy safety directive, agreed and implemented by Government, states that balloons must not be blown up by unsupervised children under the age of eight, in case they accidentally swallow them and choke. …Apparently harmless toys that children have enjoyed for decades are now regarded by EU regulators as posing an unacceptable safety risk.Whistle blowers, that scroll out into a long coloured paper tongue when sounded – a party favourite at family Christmas meals – are now classed as unsafe for all children under 14. …As well as new rules for balloons and party whistles, the EU legislation will impose restrictions on how noisy toys, including rattles or musical instruments, are allowed to be.
Heck, let’s surround the little tykes with bubble wrap and never let them out of the house.
I’m pleasantly surprised, by the way, that a sociology professor defended freedom. Here’s another excerpt.
Frank Furedi, professor of sociology at the University of Kent, warned that toy safety bans were part of a trend to micro-manage children’s lives at the expense of allowing them to explore, learn and have fun through play. “Toys and activities, such as blowing up balloons, are part and parcel of the type of children’s play that helps them become independent and self-reliant,” he said.
Now let’s shift to California. The Golden State has a very schizophrenic approach to kids. Let’s start with a nanny state gesture, as reported by Reuters.
Minors in the state of California will no longer be allowed to use tanning beds after Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill on Sunday prohibiting anyone under the age of 18 from using ultraviolet tanning devices. California is the first state in the nation to ban minors from using tanning beds, legislators said. Previously, California had banned minors under the age of 14 from using tanning beds, but allowed those between 14 and 18 years of age to use tanning beds with parental consent. The bill was part of a cluster of legislation signed on Sunday designed to “improve the health and well-being of Californians,” according to a statement from the Governor’s office.
But lest you think California doesn’t want kids to have any fun, here’s a story from the LA Times about letting kids get STD treatment without parental consent or knowledge.
California Gov. Jerry Brown stepped into the middle of a debate over parental rights Sunday by signing legislation giving children 12 or older the power to consent to medical care involving the prevention of sexually transmitted disease. …The measure was backed by groups including the California STD Controllers Assn., the Health Officers Assn. of California, ACT for Women and Girls and the American Civil Liberties Union. The bill was opposed by the California Catholic Conference, which opposed previous measures that allow minors to consent to certain treatments without the involvement of parents. That group wrote to legislators that “this bill is dangerous because it expands a faulty law which assumes that children know better than their parents and because it will allow minors access to HPV vaccines which may cause them permanent harm.”
This is rather surreal. The politicians apparently believe in letting kids make “adult” decisions in some ways, regardless of health risks, but don’t want to let kids make decisions in other ways, precisely because of health risks.
The only unifying theme is that California politicians obviously have very little regard for parental rights.
I guess Reagan was right when he said, “Government’s view of the economy could be summed up in a few short phrases: If it moves, tax it. If it keeps moving, regulate it. And if it stops moving, subsidize it.”
By the way, here’s a post with five different examples of government stupidity in the United States and five different examples of government stupidity in the United Kingdom. One can only imagine how long the list will be 12 months from now.
Or is it another example of the “wussification of America?” I don’t know how to classify this story, other than it is a sad commentary on what is happening to America. Bureaucrats in Maryland, who obviously have too much time on their hands, are issuing rules governing sunscreen on summer camps.
Maryland health officials were making revisions late Friday night to a new policy that would have severely restricted who could apply sunscreen to children attending summer camps. The new policy, which was issued last month, ordered summer camp operators to steer away from assisting kids with applying sunscreen and to get parents’ permission before letting any child use sunscreen at camp. …The guidelines said, “Camp staff should limit touching the camper as much as possible. Under no circumstances should campers assist each other in the application of sunscreen.” The policy also prohibited camps from supplying sunscreen to campers. …Health officials had argued that their motivation was strictly about safety. “Our intention is certainly not to discourage the use of sunblock,” Mitchell said. “It’s really to walk a fine line between protecting kids’ skin and making sure they feel personally safe.” Mitchell said he did not know of any cases of inappropriate touching by counselors that might have led to the new regulations. At camps across Maryland, parents are receiving permission forms asking whether their child may use sunscreen while at camp. At the Barrie Day Camp in Silver Spring, for example, parents who allow their child to use sunscreen must also check off on whether the sunblock may be applied with or without assistance from staff members. “The camp is just doing what the state ordered them to do,” said Paul Basken, a father of two children who attend Barrie camp. “But this can’t be serious. I mean, if I didn’t feel safe about the camp, I just wouldn’t send my kids there.” …The rules are “absurd,” said Maral Skelsey, a dermatologist in Chevy Chase. “This is the biggest known carcinogen that children are exposed to. We should be asking camp counselors to take an active role in promoting skin protection.”
Our Founding Fathers must be looking down at us, shaking their heads and wondering “where did we go wrong?”
Life is filled with risk. We can deal with that two ways. The first option is to allow people to make educated choices, thus promoting individual responsibility. The second option is to have politicians micro-manage our decisions, thus promoting passivity.
Not surprisingly, America is drifting in the wrong direction, allowing busybodies to regulate every aspect of our lives.
People who hope to beat the summer heat by swimming, floating or boating on rivers in King County must wear a life vest or face an $86 fine. …”This council sometimes thinks it’s everybody’s mom,” said Councilwoman Kathy Lambert, who voted “no.” …The law appears to be the first of its kind in the state. …it didn’t appear any other county required swimmers to wear the devices. …Opponents who spoke before the Council said sheriff’s deputies had better things to do than to write tickets for people on waterways and would be better off focusing on people engaging in dangerous behavior. …Current state law requires that kids 12 and under must wear a live vest when on a boat that is less than 19 feet long. The new county law says everybody must wear the vests when they are on rivers… It applies to people tubing, rafting, using a surfboard, canoe or kayak. Swimmers or people wading more than 5 feet from shore or in water more than 4 feet deep would also have to wear life vests.
Mandatory life jackets are a different situation, to be sure. Maybe they would encourage people to behave more recklessly, thus offsetting the presumed benefits, but that’s an empirical matter. I’m more worried about the signal sent by such interventions – i.e., that people no longer should think for themselves and instead we can rely on Big Brother to safely guide us through life.
A kid in Indiana played a prank involving a blow-up doll in the women’s bathroom at his high school. Sounds like a couple of afternoons of detention, right? Think again. Here’s an excerpt from a local news report.
A Rushville High School senior faces a felony charge after bringing a blow-up doll to school as part of what he claims was a prank. School officials called police May 31 after a package was found in a girls’ bathroom. A deflated blow-up doll was later found inside the box. Tyell Morton, 18, was arrested on a preliminary charge of felony criminal mischief after he admitted to bringing the doll to school. …The family’s attorney, Robert Turner, said the charge is excessive. “It’s interesting that had he gone to school with a gun, there would’ve been a lesser charge. It would’ve been a Class D felony with up to three years,” he said.
I’m glad I went to school before this type of nonsense became commonplace, because I was once an immature punk (most people would say I’m now an immature grownup, but that’s a separate issue). Not that I’m admitting anything, because I have no idea what the statute of limitations is on these matters, but I may have once set off a string of 400 firecrackers in a school stairwell. And I may have once let a snake loose in the school library.
Back then, I might have gotten suspended for a couple of days if I had been caught. Today, I’d be at Gitmo. Okay, that might be an exaggeration, but you know what I mean.
Staff at Nathaniel Newton Infant School in Nuneaton, Warwickshire, reprimanded the two boys after they were seen making pistol shapes with their fingers. Teachers broke up the imaginary classroom shoot-out and contacted the youngsters’ parents, warning them that such behaviour would not be tolerated. …Parenting groups condemned the school’s reaction to the children’s game of soldiers… Margaret Morrissey, founder of the family lobby group Parents Outloud, said: “It is madness to try to indoctrinate children aged seven with political correctness in this way. “Children have played cowboys and Indians like this for generations and it does them absolutely no harm whatsoever.” …The case follows a string of similar incidents in which children’s playtime activities have been curbed by overzealous staff over health and safety concerns. Earlier this year, a Liverpool school banned youngsters from playing football with anything other than sponge balls amid fears youngsters might get hurt. Research last month also found that one in six British schools had banned conkers over concerns of pupils being hit in the face. Other traditional playground games such as British bulldog and even leapfrog are prohibited at 30 per cent 10 per cent of schools respectively, a study by the Association of Teachers and Lecturers union found.
This is mind-boggling stupidity and jaw-dropping political correctness, and my first instinct was to wonder how a nation that once ruled much of the world has descended to such a pathetic level.
Then I wondered whether, as an American, I was guilty of throwing stones in a glass house. There certainly have been lots of dumb examples of political correctness in the UK.
Here’s the kind of story that makes me fear for the future of the nation. It is a disturbing example of both government stupidity and soft tyranny.
The police may not be ticketing for smoking in the parks, but they are still ticketing parker visitors for crimes like…eating a doughnut in a playground. Yup, this weekend the police gave two young women in Bed-Stuy summonses for eating doughnuts in a playground while unaccompanied by a minor. Tickets for being an adult in or around a playground have been popping up fairly frequently lately—see the Inwood chess players—but instead of giving the offending citizens a warning and urging them to leave, the NYPD’s M.O. appears to be to hand out a ticket. Here’s how our reader, an anthropology graduate student, describes her experience this weekend:
As we were getting ready to move on, two officers approached us. Amongst themselves they debated whether the children’s toy next to us meant that we were there with a child. Then they asked us, “Are you here with a child?” We told them no. One of the cops moved on to the couple on a bench nearby, also ostensibly childless, while the other one asked for our IDs. We handed them over and soon we were being guarded by this cop as his partner took our IDs to their police car. My friend and I were confused. We had seen parks with gates that had a sign clearly stating that adults without children were not allowed in. This park had no such sign. …I got really angry and asked the officer if he honestly believed he was helping this community by giving us these summonses. His response only made me more angry. “I don’t believe in anything,” he said. “You don’t believe in anything? In helping people? Then you probably shouldn’t be a cop,” …His partner returned. He had written two of the summons. We had been there for over twenty minutes now. He handed over our IDs to the cop that had been guarding us. Of course, they each had their own numbers to maintain so they were splitting the violations. This cop attempted to be sympathetic. He proceeded to tell us that he was trying to be a gentleman by just giving us summonses instead of taking us in for questioning, because that was what “they” wanted him to do. If he just gave us warnings and told us to leave, he would get in trouble for “doing nothing all day.” …Because we hadn’t been drinking alcohol or urinating in public, we do not have the option of pleading guilty by mail. Not that I am planning on pleading guilty. But either way, we have to show up in court or a warrant will be issued for our arrest. My friend does not live in New York and I am out of the country all summer, so this is going to be an ordeal in itself, given that the summons has no information on how to contact the court. Nor do we know how much we owe. Because the cops had no idea about that, either. They were just “doing their jobs,” in the most mindless sense of that phrase.
Presumably, the ban on adults near playgrounds is supposed to hinder child molesters. But does anyone really think a child molester will be deterred by a summons? And does anybody think two women eating doughnuts are the people likely to molest kids (I presume 99 percent of such crimes are committed by men)? And is anyone else outraged that the cops were basically filling a quota of tickets so they could show their supervisor that they weren’t “doing nothing all day.”
I’d like to say this is stupidity, but that doesn’t quite capture the essence of this story. I’m also tempted to say this is the nanny state, but that’s not quite right either. Another option is that this is incompetence, but the cops actually followed the policy as written.
The best I can come up with is that this is a classic example of modern government, a loathsome entity that at best is a nuisance and often becomes a tyrant.
I’m an over-protective parent. Even now, with my kids ranging between 18 and 23, I will try to herd them together while skiing so I can follow them down the slopes and watch for potential injuries. And I never got them a jungle gym when they were young, even though I somehow managed to survive childhood with one in my backyard.
But at least I recognize what I’m doing. And I certainly would never consider imposing my mother-hen impulses on the overall population.
I’m not surprised to discover, however, that bureaucrats in New York wanted to go way overboard with regulations to ban just about anything with even tiny risks of injury. This list included things such as archery and rock climbing, which might cause me to fret, but also things such as (I’m not joking) kickball and tag.
With those standards, you may as well require kids to be enclosed in bubble wrap every morning.
The only good news is that people found out about the state’s regulatory overreach and the government was forced to cancel the rules after widespread mockery.
Day camp games like tag, wiffle ball, Red Rover and kickball are no longer at risk in New York after state health officials yanked a proposal that threatened the future of those mainstays of child’s play. Towns, villages and other camp operators had begun revamping upcoming indoor summer programs after the Department of Health sent out a long list of familiar games and activities it said presented a “significant risk of injury” and needed to be regulated more closely. …On Tuesday, Richie, a Republican whose district includes three mostly rural north-central New York counties, said she was pleased by the reversal. “At a time when our nation’s No. 1 health concern is childhood obesity, I am very happy to see that someone in state government saw we should not be adding new burdensome regulations by classifying tag, Red Rover and Wiffle Ball as dangerous activities,” she said. “I am glad New York’s children can continue to steal the bacon and play flag football and enjoy other traditional rites of summer.” The proposal would have revised the definition of a summer day camp to include potentially risky organized indoor group activities like archery and rock climbing — as well as things like kickball, tag and Wiffle Ball. Ritchie said that would have required camps in many smaller towns and villages to add staff such as nurses and pay $200 for a state permit. Other critics argued the regulation was a hysterical approach that stood to take all the fun out of summer.
Sam Kazman of the Competitive Enterprise Institute has a withering critique of dumb government policies that have taken away our freedom to buy low-cost and effective washing machines and instead forced us to buy expensive machines that don’t do a good job of cleaning our clothes.
I guess we shouldn’t be surprised that politicians are undermining our quality of life. These are the same jackasses, after all, that are in the process of requiring us to use crummy light bulbs. And they’ve already coerced us into ridiculous “low-flow” toilets that don’t work very well if you happen to…um…deposit something that reminds you of Washington.
Here’s an excerpt from Sam’s column, but read the whole piece since he also discusses how the Senate wants to make a bad situation even worse, and he also reveals how corrupt big businesses favor these mandates so they can eliminate low-cost options.
…for decades the top-loading laundry machine was the most affordable and dependable. Now it’s ruined—and Americans have politics to thank. …The culprit is the federal government’s obsession with energy efficiency. Efficiency standards for washing machines aren’t as well-known as those for light bulbs, which will effectively prohibit 100-watt incandescent bulbs next year. Nor are they the butt of jokes as low-flow toilets are. But in their quiet destruction of a highly affordable, perfectly satisfactory appliance, washer standards demonstrate the harmfulness of the ever-growing body of efficiency mandates. The federal government first issued energy standards for washers in the early 1990s. When the Department of Energy ratcheted them up a decade later, it was the beginning of the end for top-loaders. …Front-loaders meet federal standards more easily than top-loaders. Because they don’t fully immerse their laundry loads, they use less hot water and therefore less energy. But, as Americans are increasingly learning, front-loaders are expensive, often have mold problems, and don’t let you toss in a wayward sock after they’ve started. When the Department of Energy began raising the standard, it promised that “consumers will have the same range of clothes washers as they have today,” and cleaning ability wouldn’t be changed. That’s not how it turned out. …even though these newer types of washers cost about twice as much as conventional top-loaders, overall they didn’t clean as well as the 1996 models. …We know that politics can be dirty. Who’d have guessed how literal a truth this is?