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Posts Tagged ‘nanny state’

If you’re a curmudgeonly libertarian like me, you don’t like big government because it impinges on individual liberty.

Most people, however, get irked with government for the practical reason that it costs so much and fails to provide decent services.

California is a good example. Or perhaps we should say bad example.

The Tax Foundation recently shared data on the relative cost of living in various metropolitan areas. Looking at the 12-most expensive places to live, 75 percent of them are in California.

So what do people get in exchange for living in such expensive areas?

They get great weather and scenery, but they also get lousy government.

Victor Davis Hanson wrote for National Review about his state’s decline.

Might it also have been smarter not to raise income taxes on top tiers to over 13 percent? After 2017, when high earners could no longer write off their property taxes and state income taxes, the real state-income-tax bite doubled. So still more of the most productive residents left the state. Yet if the state gets its way, raising rates to over 16 percent and inaugurating a wealth tax, there will be a stampede. It is not just that the upper middle class can no longer afford coastal living at $1,000 a square foot and $15,000–$20,000 a year in “low” property taxes. The rub is more about what they get in return: terrible roads, crumbling bridges, human-enhanced droughts, power blackouts, dismal schools that rank near the nation’s bottom, half the nation’s homeless, a third of its welfare recipients, one-fifth of the residents living below the poverty level — and more lectures from the likes of privileged Gavin Newsom on the progressive possibilities of manipulating the chaos. California enshrined the idea that the higher taxes become, the worse state services will be.

Even regular journalists have noticed something is wrong.

In an article in the San Francisco Chronicle, Heather Kelly, Reed Albergotti, Brady Dennis and Scott Wilson discuss the growing dissatisfaction with California life.

California has become a warming, burning, epidemic-challenged and expensive state, with many who live in sophisticated cities, idyllic oceanfront towns and windblown mountain communities thinking hard about the viability of a place many have called home forever. For the first time in a decade, more people left California last year for other states than arrived. …for many of California’s 40 million residents, the California Dream has become the California Compromise, one increasingly challenging to justify, with…a thumb-on-the-scales economy, high taxes… California is increasingly a service economy that pays a far larger share of its income in taxes and on housing and food. …Three years ago, state lawmakers approved the nation’s second-highest gasoline tax, adding more than 47 cents to the price of a gallon. …service workers in particular are…paying far more as a share of their income on fuel just to stay employed. …A poll conducted late last year by the University of California at Berkeley found that more than half of California voters had given “serious” or “some” consideration to leaving the state because of the high cost of housing, heavy taxation or its political culture. …Business is booming for Scott Fuller, who runs a real estate relocation business. Called Leaving the Bay Area and Leaving SoCal, the company helps people ready to move away from the state’s two largest metro areas sell their homes and find others.

Niall Ferguson opines for Bloomberg about the Golden State’s outlook.

As my Hoover Institution colleague Victor Davis Hanson put it last month, California is “the progressive model of the future: a once-innovative, rich state that is now a civilization in near ruins.”… It’s not that California politicians don’t know how to spend money. Back in 2007, total state spending was $146 billion. Last year it was $215 billion. …the tax system is one of the most progressive, with a 13.3% top tax rate on incomes above $1 million — and that’s no longer deductible from the federal tax bill as it used to be. …And there’s worse to come. The latest brilliant ideas in Sacramento are to raise the top income rate up to 16.8% and to levy a wealth tax (0.4% on personal fortunes over $30 million) that you couldn’t even avoid paying if you left the state. (The proposal envisages payment for up to 10 years after departure to a lower-tax state.) It is a strange place that seeks to repel the rich while making itself a magnet for illegal immigrants… And the results of all this progressive policy? A poverty boom. California now has 12% of the nation’s population, but over 30% of its welfare recipients. …according to a new Census Bureau report, which takes housing and other costs into account, the real poverty rate in California is 17.2%, the highest of any state. …But that’s not all. The state’s public schools rank 37th in the country… Health care and pension costs are unsustainable. …people eventually vote with their feet. From 2007 until 2016, about five million people moved to California but six million moved out to other states. For years before that, the newcomers were poorer than the leavers. This net exodus is surging in 2020. …Now we know the true meaning of Calexit. It’s not secession. It’s exodus.

It’s not just high taxes and poor services.

George Will indicts California’s politicians for fomenting racial discord in his Washington Post column.

California…progressives…have placed on November ballots Proposition 16 to repeal the state constitution’s provision…forbidding racial preferences in public education, employment and contracting. Repeal, which would repudiate individual rights in favor of group entitlements, is part of a comprehensive California agenda to make everything about race, ethnicity and gender. …Proposition 16 should be seen primarily as an act of ideological aggression, a bold assertion that racial and gender quotas — identity politics translated into a spoils system — should be forthrightly proclaimed and permanently practiced… California already requires that by the end of 2021 some publicly traded companies based in the state must have at least three women on their boards of directors… And by 2022, boards with nine or more directors must include at least three government-favored minorities. …Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) signed legislation requiring all 430,000 undergraduates in the California State University system to take an “ethnic studies” course, and there may soon be a similar mandate for all high school students. “Ethnic studies” is an anodyne description for what surely will be, in the hands of woke “educators,” grievance studies.

Several years ago, I crunched some numbers to show California’s gradual decline.

But there was probably no need for those calculations. All we really need to understand is that people are “voting with their feet” against the Golden State.

Simply stated, productive people are paying too much of a burden thanks to excessive spending, excessive taxes, and excessive regulation.

So they’re leaving.

P.S. Many Californians are moving to the Lone Star State, and if you want data comparing Texas and California, click here, here, herehere, and here.

P.P.S. Some folks in California started talking about secession after Trump’s election. Now that the state’s politicians are seeking a bailout, I expect that talk has disappeared.

P.P.S. My favorite California-themed jokes can be found here, here, and here.

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Since I’ve never smoked or vaped, I have no personal interest in the the regulatory battle over vaping and e-cigarettes.

That being said, I started writing about this issue back in 2016 because it involves several important principles.

  1. The libertarian argument that people should be free to do what they want with their own bodies
  2. Whether the “administrative state” should be able to unilaterally grab more regulatory power.
  3. The degree to which “harm reduction” or “zero tolerance” should guide government policies.

From a public health perspective, the third point is most important.

It’s a fight between those who want the Food and Drug Administration to use its self-anointed regulatory authority to ban e-cigarettes (because vaping is worse than not vaping) and those who explain that e-cigarettes are helpful (because vaping is far less risky than smoking).

This fight has a September 9 deadline. The Food and Drug Administration decided several years ago that its power to regulate tobacco somehow meant it also has the power to regulate vaping. The bureaucrats then created a system requiring future approval for marketing and sale of e-cigarettes and related products (originally to be unveiled in 2022 but a federal judge has ordered an earlier deadline).

The FDA has basically given itself the power to prohibit these products, and if you’re interested in that aspect of the battle, here are two short articles (pro and con) about that effort.

I want to focus today on whether it makes sense to impose prohibition, and it’s a simple matter of cost-benefit analysis. Some people want to enjoy nicotine, so is it better for them to vape or to smoke?

Writing for the American Enterprise Institute, Roger Bate points out that smoking is far worse.

…there is an increasing amount of evidence to support it over smoking. As Michael Siegel — a public health Professor at Boston University — says “there is overwhelming evidence that smoking is more hazardous than vaping. One of the most compelling lines of evidence is a series of studies showing that when smokers switch to e-cigarettes, they experience immediate and dramatic improvement in both their respiratory and cardiovascular health, measured both subjectively and objectively.” Cancer rates are at an all-time low partially due to the introduction of vaping and subsequent reduction in smoking.

And if people can’t vape, that leads to more smoking.

Six scholars, in a new study for the National Bureau of Economic Research, found that higher taxes on vaping led to more cigarette consumption.

We explore the effect of e-cigarette taxes enacted in eight states and two large counties on e-cigarette prices, e-cigarette sales, and sales of other tobacco products. …We then calculate an e-cigarette own-price elasticity of -1.5 and a positive cross-price elasticity of demand between e-cigarettes and traditional cigarettes of 0.9, suggesting that e-cigarettes and traditional cigarettes are economic substitutes. We simulate that for every one standard e-cigarette pod (a device that contains liquid nicotine) of 0.7 ml no longer purchased as a result of an e-cigarette tax, the same tax increases traditional cigarettes purchased by 6.4 extra packs.

If you don’t want to read an academic study, a press release from Georgia State University (home to one of the scholars) summarizes the key findings.

Increasing taxes on e-cigarettes in an attempt to cut vaping may cause people to purchase more traditional cigarettes according to a new study funded by the National Institutes of Health. For every 10 percent increase in e-cigarette prices, e-cigarette sales drop 26 percent while traditional cigarette sales jump by 11 percent. …“Vaping-related illnesses are a public health concern. However, cigarettes continue to kill nearly 480,000 Americans each year, and several research reviews support the conclusion that e-cigarettes contain fewer toxicants and are safer for non-pregnant adults,” said co-author Erik Nesson of Ball State University. …Michael F. Pesko from Georgia State University. “We estimate that for every 1 e-cigarette pod no longer purchased as a result of an e-cigarette tax, 6.2 extra packs of cigarettes are purchased instead,” he said. “The public health impact of e-cigarette taxes in this case is likely negative.”

Needless to say, if higher taxes on vaping lead to more smoking, one can only imagine how much additional cigarettes will be consumed if vaping is outlawed.

And that means more cancer, more heart disease, and other illnesses.

The folks who support anti-vaping policies respond by arguing that vaping enables nicotine consumption by some young people and may even be a gateway to smoking.

That’s probably true, but it’s also true that some of those young people would opt for smoking if they didn’t have the option to vape.

From a utilitarian perspective, the bottom line is that vaping saves lives.

The anti-vaping crowd might even admit that’s true, but they presumably would then argue in favor of banning cigarettes.

But why stop there? Obesity also is a major threat to health, so why not ban cakes, pies, pasta, and french fries? And big gulps (oh, wait, that’s already happening)?

And mandate broccoli consumption as well, along with a government-required five-mile jog on days that end in “y”.

At the risk of understatement, the right solution is to let adults make their own decisions. The FDA should quit its harassment campaign against vaping.

P.S. If FDA bureaucrats actually want to save lives, they should focus on their onerous rules and silly regulations that have hampered the private economy’s ability to respond to the coronavirus.

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I’m not a big fan of paternalism because of my libertarian belief that people should be free to govern their own lives.

That’s true even if they make choices that I think are foolish.

Needless to say, many politicians don’t share this laissez-faire perspective.

But not all governments are equally intrusive. Epicenter has released a new version of the Nanny State Index, allowing us to see which EU nations have the most onerous rules governing private behavior.

The Index has been charting the slide towards coercive paternalism since 2016 and there is little good news to report this year. Once again, Finland tops the league table but although it maintains a strong lead, other countries are closing the gap. …Whether it is food, drink, vaping or smoking, the lifestyle regulators have the wind in their sails… In general, the story is one of a constantly expanding nanny state raising prices and trampling freedom. The blame lies overwhelmingly with domestic governments, not with the European Union. Although the EU has made the situation worse with its counter-productive policies on tobacco and e-cigarettes, it cannot be held responsible for regressive taxation, draconian smoking bans and excessive regulation of alcohol and food. The gulf between the more liberal countries at the bottom of the Index and the more heavy-handed countries at the top shows how much latitude member states have. Treating your citizens like children is, by and large, a domestic policy choice.

As you can see from this table, Finland is the worst, followed by two of the (otherwise sensible) Baltic nations.

Meanwhile, Germany gets the best score, followed by Czech Republic and Slovakia.

The report’s author, Christopher Snowdon of London’s Institute of Economic Affairs, observes that nanny-state policies don’t even achieve their putative goal of longer lifespans.

Insofar as ‘public health’ campaigners acknowledge the damage done by their policies, they argue that it is more than offset by the benefit to health – the ends justify the means. But there is little evidence that countries with more paternalistic policies enjoy greater health or longevity. As Figure 1 shows below, there is no correlation whatsoever between Nanny State Index scores and life expectancy.

Here’s the chart showing the lack of a relationship between paternalism and longevity.

By contrast, there is a correlation between economic prosperity and life expectancy.

…there is a strong, statistically significant relationship between health and wealth. Figure 4 shows the relationship between life expectancy and economic prosperity as measured by per capita GDP. This suggests that pursuing economic growth would bring much greater benefits to health than coercive efforts to control personal behaviour with bans and taxes.

Here’s the chart from the study showing the relationship between the two variables.

The obvious takeaway is that European governments should focus on policies that expand economic liberty if they truly care about the well-being of their citizens.

P.S. What about the United States? I’m not sure where we would rank in the Nanny State Index. Though we do have some indication of which states have a more laissez-faire attitude. When I wrote about Freedom in the 50 States back in 2013, I noted that Massachusetts ranked #1 in the “bachelor party” category (based on issues such as booze, hookers, fireworks, and drugs). That category doesn’t exist int he most-recent edition, but Nebraska ranks #1 in the “victimless crimes” category.

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When I want to explain that excessive government shortens lifespans, I’m going to have a new and powerful argument thanks to the Trump  Administration’s misguided efforts to restrict vaping.

The issue is very simple.

Some people want nicotine. If vaping products are not available, they will opt for cigarettes, which are vastly more dangerous.

The Wall Street Journal recently opined on the issue, echoing the point I made about how the Trump policy will open the door for higher-risk black-market products.

The Food and Drug Administration on Thursday announced a ban on flavored e-cigarettes…don’t think this will…make teens stop vaping. …it’s not clear how much good the FDA ban will do. It is already illegal for teens under age 18 to buy e-cigarettes, but that hasn’t stopped them. …One risk of the FDA’s flavor ban is more teens might buy e-cigarettes on the black market that are less safe. Illegal products are the main culprits in the recent cases of vaping-related lung illness.

Here’s some of what Jacob Sullum wrote on this topic.

In a wake-up call for people who claim to be concerned about smoking-related disease and death, five prominent public health scholars warn that the “tremendous” harm-reducing potential of e-cigarettes could be nullified by panicky political responses to underage consumption and vaping-related lung injuries. …”There is solid scientific evidence that vaping nicotine is much safer than smoking,” the authors note, while “evidence from multiple strong observational studies and randomized trials suggests that vaping nicotine is more appealing and more effective than [nicotine replacement therapy, such as patches and gum,] at displacing smoking.” …that displacement is not limited to adults. Fairchild and her co-authors point out that “population youth smoking rates dropped much faster in the years vaping surged the most (2013–2019) than in prior years, reaching record lows during that same period, which suggests that nicotine vape use may be replacing smoking more than promoting it.” E-cigarette prohibitionists may think they are acting “out of an abundance of caution,” but the policies they advocate look downright reckless when you consider the ongoing death toll from cigarette smoking.

In the interview, I mentioned that the United Kingdom has a far more sensible approach.

Matt Ridley wrote a piece for the Wall Street Journal about his country’s policy.

Nicotine itself is far less harmful to smokers than the other chemicals created during combustion. Heavyweight studies confirm that there are much lower levels of dangerous chemicals in e-cigarette vapor than in smoke and fewer biomarkers of harm in the bodies of vapers than smokers. …In both the U.K. and the U.S. the rapid growth in vaping has coincided with rapid reductions in smoking rates, especially among young people. Yet there is a stark contrast between the two countries in how vaping has been treated by public health authorities… Many British smokers have switched entirely to vaping, encouraged by the government, whose official position is that vaping is 95% safer than smoking, an assertion now backed by early studies of disease incidence. The organizations that have signed a statement saying that vaping is significantly less harmful than smoking include Public Health England, the Association of Directors of Public Health, the Royal College of Physicians and the Royal Society for Public Health. …The argument for harm reduction is not one that comes easily to some public-health advocates, because it means promoting behaviors that may still be harmful, just less so than the alternative. Vaping doesn’t have to prove entirely safe for it to save lives, given that it mostly replaces smoking.

Brad Polumbo adds some details in a column for the Washington Examiner.

America’s war on vaping is in full swing. But when you consider the positive approach taken in the United Kingdom, the foolishness of this new conflict is laid bare. …Vaping is much healthier than smoking traditional cigarettes. E-cigarettes do contain nicotine, but nicotine was never really the problem with traditional cigarettes in the first place — it’s essentially similar to caffeine. Rather, the enormous public health problem posed by cigarettes is due to the cancer-causing chemicals they contain, such as tar, for example. Vaping products do not contain similar chemicals, making them much, much less likely to cause cancer. …If the government is to do anything to address vaping, it should be to promote it as an alternative to smoking. This is what the U.K.’s government has done, to massive success. …A sober analysis reveals that we are doing exactly the opposite of everything we should be doing. We are putting up more barriers and restrictions on vaping, and instead, we should embrace the U.K.’s approach.

Let’s shift from international policy to state policy.

In another column for Reason, Jacob Sullum explains that awful politicians in Massachusetts want to combine two bad policies – vape bans and asset forfeiture.

Massachusetts has “the worst civil forfeiture laws in the country.” It looks like state legislators are about to outdo themselves. The Massachusetts House of Representatives…approved a bill that would ban flavored e-cigarettes, impose a 75 percent excise tax on “electronic nicotine delivery systems” (including e-liquids as well as devices), and authorize forfeiture of cars driven by vapers caught with “untaxed” products. …The bill also says a police officer who “discovers an untaxed electronic nicotine delivery system in the possession of a person who is not a licensed or commissioner-authorized electronic nicotine delivery system distributor” may seize both the product and the “receptacle” in which it is found, “including, but not limited to, a motor vehicle, boat or airplane in which the electronic nicotine delivery systems are contained or transported.” …Massachusetts is poised to deprive vapers of the harm-reducing products they used to quit smoking, then steal their cars if they dare to defy that unjust and irrational edict.

Needless to say, two negatives don’t make a positive.

Let’s close with this chart, which (in a logical world) should put an end to the debate.

Yes, it would be nice if nobody used any sort of dangerous product. But in the real world, where we face tradeoffs, I’d much prefer that people get nicotine from vaping.

P.S. And people should have the freedom to make choices that involve risk. Libertarianism is about treating people like adults.

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Four years ago, I wrote about how dishwashers don’t work very well because of foolish red tape from Washington.

The clever folks at the Competitive Enterprise Institute put together a video on the topic.

I especially like the fake commercial at the start of the video.

But I don’t like the way my dishwasher performs.

And Jeffrey Tucker of the American Institute for Economic Research shares my disdain.

American dishwashers used to work. They were wonderful labor-saving devices. They kept our kitchens cleaner. They sanitized the dishes, helping to stop cross-contamination and generally improving health over the iffy process of handwashing. …Then one day they just stopped doing the work. What happened? …Dishwashers used to wash all the dishes in under one hour. Now they take two hours, three hours, and four hours, and still don’t get the dishes clean. …All of this is directly due to government regulations. …Now everything comes out foggy and spotted. This is true no matter which dishwasher you get. …None of this has really hurt the dishwasher industry. Sales have consistently risen for the last ten years. My theory is that people are buying replacements, thinking (rationally) that they just need a newer model. What consumers don’t know, and what manufacturers don’t want to admit, is that they no longer work. The older the model, the more likely it is to be operational.

Here’s the most astounding factoid.

One in five homes have just stopped using their dishwashers altogether.

And here’s the bottom line.

These regulations have caused an infuriating and devastating degradation of the quality of appliances and the quality of life in our homes.

I agree. In my home, I don’t bother putting items in the dishwasher until I’ve thoroughly rinsed them. Otherwise, I’ll find food residue and have to wash them again.

Here’s a chart from the Competitive Enterprise Institute on the average cycle time of dishwashers. As you can see, modern dishwashers take much longer because they do such a poor job.

Since I generally run my dishwasher before heading to bed, I’m not particularly worried about how long it takes.

I just want clean dishes at the end of the process. But that’s now much more difficult because of government.

If you want more examples of the regulatory state’s war on modern life, there are plenty of examples.

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Moral panics in Washington are not a recipe for good policy.

That’s why the current attack on vaping (the use of e-cigarettes) is so misguided.

Policy makers want to ban and/or restrict e-cigarettes (especially flavored varieties) for two reasons.

  • Consuming e-cigarettes may cause harm to users.
  • Vaping may lure some young people into using nicotine.

Both of these concerns are reasonable, at least from a utilitarian perspective.

But if we’re taking that approach, policy makers also should be looking at the other side of the cost-benefit equation (the Food and Drug Administration sadly does a lousy job of comparing costs and benefits).

And the under-appreciated benefit of e-cigarettes is that they reduce tobacco consumption, which is far more risky.

The Wall Street Journal opined recently on this issue.

A campaign against vaping products is moving at land speed records, with the Trump Administration announcing this week it will pull flavored e-cigarettes from the market. This is becoming a political pile on, and regulators risk foreclosing one of the best opportunities in public health, which is to reduce cigarette smoking. …Vaping devices include an array of products from pens to tanks. …The point is to offer the buzz of a cigarette without the combustion of tobacco that releases carcinogens and makes smoking so dangerous. …agencies like Public Health England have said such e-cigs are 95% safer than smokes. …No one wants kids addicted to nicotine, and the question is how to balance these competing equities. It is hardly obvious that banning flavors will keep teens from vaping. …A Juul executive told Congress this summer that a result of exiting convenience stores has been other actors exploiting the vacuum by selling illegal flavor pods. Expect more such unintended consequences. And if the flavor ban doesn’t reduce the number of teen vapers, then what? The next step looks like an even broader ban, which won’t be a net positive to public health. …The question is not whether vaping is healthy—it isn’t—but whether the frenzy against e-cigarettes is moving faster than the evidence. …forgotten in the rush are the 480,000 Americans who die each year from smoking.

In addition to his attacks on the twin scourges of salt and large-sized drinks, Michael Bloomberg is a leading advocate of vaping restrictions.

Jacob Sullum of Reason explains why, if successful, his efforts will cause more death.

Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the billionaire busybody who can be counted on to oppose individual freedom in almost every area of life, is launching a prohibition crusade against flavored e-cigarettes. …The premise of Bloomberg’s $160 million campaign, which aims to persuade “at least 20 cities and states” to “pass laws banning all flavored tobacco and e-cigarettes,” is that flavored e-liquids are obviously designed to entice “children,” because only children like them. That is demonstrably false. ..Last year, Vaping360, a site aimed at former smokers who have switched to vaping and current smokers who are thinking about it, surveyed readers about their favorite Juul pod flavors. It got more than 38,000 responses, and the top pick by far was Mango (46 percent), followed by Cool Mint (29 percent), Crème Brulée (11 percent), and Fruit Medley (8 percent). …Surveys of former smokers find that flavor variety plays an important role in the process of switching to vaping. The Food and Drug Administration has acknowledged “the role that flavors…may play in helping some smokers switch to potentially less harmful forms of nicotine delivery.” …Bloomberg has “committed nearly $1 billion to aid anti-tobacco efforts.” Now he is committing $160 million to pro-tobacco efforts, lobbying for laws that will drastically reduce the alternatives to conventional cigarettes, resulting in more smoking-related disease and death.

Robert Verbruggen also explains cost-benefit analysis in his column for National Review.

The Trump administration’s Food and Drug Administration is gearing up to ban e-cigarette flavorings besides the ones that taste like tobacco. It’s unclear if this would have any benefits for public health. …Upstart products such as e-cigarettes, which deliver nicotine without all the tar and other nasty chemicals that cigarettes contain, and are estimated to be 95 percent safer as a result. …even for minors it’s far better to vape than to puff Camels, and it’s not as if no adult enjoys, say, strawberry flavoring. Better taste is one reason to vape instead of smoke for pretty much anyone who has to decide between the two, and if e-cigs are limited to tobacco flavoring, this rule could push some people back toward traditional cigarettes. And if real cigarettes are 20 times as dangerous as e-cigs, it doesn’t take much switching to cancel out the benefit of a reduction in vaping.

But I also like his article because he points out that this is another example of the “administrative state” in action.

…this is not a decision that Congress ever should have left in the executive branch’s hands. …in 2009 Congress, in its infinite wisdom, gave the FDA the authority to regulate tobacco products — except for all the products that were already on the market. This meant that the agency would have authority over upstart products competing with cigarettes, but the rules would not apply to cigarettes themselves. ……Congress should write laws, especially laws that ban entire product categories, not turn that power over to unelected busybodies who will opt for regulation over personal freedom every single time they encounter a choice between the two.

Best of all, he makes the libertarian argument that people should enjoy liberty.

What is clear is that it will be a disaster for personal freedom… Smoking cigarettes is one of those things that we allow adults to do even though it’s obviously bad for them, causing numerous cancers and other health problems. …It’s a free country. …One does not need to be a dyed-in-the-wool libertarian to be disgusted at this affront to personal freedom and responsibility. …Adults should be free to do what they want, so long as they take responsibility for the consequences of their actions. That includes smoking. And it definitely includes the far safer alternative of vaping fruit-flavored e-juice.

Amen.

I think the utilitarian argument for vaping is strong. As this visual from an anti-cancer group in the U.K. notes, it passes a cost-benefit test for savings lives.

But utilitarianism isn’t everything.

I can’t resist also unleashing my inner libertarian as we conclude today’s column.

The bottom line is that people should be allowed to take risks. They should even be allowed to make dumb choices.

That includes drug use, sugary drinks, gambling, over-eating, smoking, voting for socialists, hang gliding, alcohol usage, and standing between a politician and a TV camera.

It’s called freedom.

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Since I focus on public finance, I think California is crazy because of punitive taxes and reckless spending policies.

But I can understand why other people think California is crazy, period.

This is a state, after all, where politicians come up with bizarre ideas such as regulating babysitting and banning Happy Meals.

Not to mention banning other things as well.

So you won’t be surprised to learn that the Golden State is leading the way in attacking the horrible scourge of plastic straws.

Plastic straws are quickly becoming a takeout taboo. Starbucks has vowed to get its iconic green sippers completely off store shelves by 2020, while Seattle banned all plastic utensils, including straws, from bars and businesses city-wide earlier this month. San Francisco quickly followed suit this week and passed an ordinance that, once approved, will ban plastic straws beginning in July of 2019… It may seem as though the quarter-of-an-inch diameter drinking straw is the least of our worries. But environmentalists say the fight’s got to start somewhere. “We look at straws as one of the gateway issues to help people start thinking about the global plastic pollution problem,” Plastic Pollution Coalition CEO Dianna Cohen told Business Insider.

If I’m willing to claim earmarks are the gateway drug for big spending, then I can’t complain when other people come up with imaginative claims about other types of “gateways.”

In any event, there is a legitimate reason to be concerned about plastic.

Some straws drift out to sea, becoming just one more piece of the 79 thousand-ton colossal floating iceberg of trash called the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Scientists who’ve studied the patch, a trash heap wider than two whole Texases that bobs somewhere between Hawaii and California, have discovered it’s essentially a watery pit of litter and illegal dumps that’s trapped in the ocean currents, and it is basically all plastic. …The anti-straw movement may have first picked up steam because…Texas A&M graduate student Christine Figgener…noticed something encrusted in the nose of one of the male turtles. …The team soon figured out it was actually a “plastic straw stuck in his nose,” and removed it, hoping the extraction might help give him some more breathing time on Earth.

But the people on the left side of the country are not actually solving this problem.

Plastic pollution is basically a problem caused by developing countries.

So the politicians in Seattle and San Francisco are making the Nanny State more intrusive without achieving anything.

A classic case of virtue signaling.

But look at the bright side. It’s already generated some great political satire.

Starting with this little girl.

I imagine the plastic straw will be a gateway for operating an unlicensed lemonade stand!

And if SWAT teams run out of harmless pot smokers to harass, they now have new target to justify their budgets.

And the gun grabbers will appreciate the importance of dealing with high-capacity straw dispensers.

Though it’s unclear how the left will deal with the danger of concealed straws.

Especially since some of those straw nuts will become dealers.

I’ve saved the best for last. For those old enough to remember OJ Simpson and the white Bronco, this image of a renegade toddler will bring back memories.

Remember, if you outlaw straws, only outlaws will have straws.

Next thing you know, they’ll try to outlaw tanks.

It’s a slippery slope!

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A couple of days ago, citing bizarre government policies in India, Belgium, Malaysia, Romania, and Spain, I wrote about some “great moments in foreign government.”

Today, we’re going to give special attention to the United Kingdom.

I’m not claiming there’s an above-average level of government stupidity in the United Kingdom (though that’s distinctly possible). Instead, I suspect I simply get exposed to more stories from the U.K.

Whatever the reason, let’s start with this report from the Times.

Plastic stirrers and cotton buds are to be banned alongside straws… The move, expected to come into force as early as next year, is designed to curb “society’s addiction” to throwaway products, the environment secretary writes… The UK uses 13.2 billion cotton buds a year, more than any other member of the EU, as well as 44.1 billion stirrers and 42 billion straws, according to the World Wide Fund for Nature. …Mr Gove initiated plans last month to require retailers to impose a deposit on plastic bottles and has extended the 5p tax on plastic bags to smaller shops. Moves for an industry levy aimed at reducing the use of products such as takeaway food cartons are also underway in the Treasury.

Apparently, the supposedly conservative government in the United Kingdom thinks this type of green virtue signalling is a way of wooing the tiny collection of misguided Tories who oppose Brexit.

Mr Gove is said to believe that the issue helps reconnect the Conservatives with former supporters angry over Brexit.

Switching topics, here’s a bizarre story from the BBC.

Chelsea Russell, 19, from Liverpool posted the lyric from Snap Dogg’s I’m Trippin’ to pay tribute to a boy who died in a road crash, a court heard. Russell argued it was not offensive… Prosecutors said her sentence was increased from a fine to a community order “as it was a hate crime.” She was charged after Merseyside Police were anonymously sent a screenshot of her update. …The words Russell used on her account contained a racial label which some people find extremely offensive. …Prosecutor Angela Conlan said Russell’s defence also argued her profile “wasn’t public, but it had been proved in court that anyone could access it and “see the offensive language”. Russell was found guilty… She was given an eight-week community order, place on an eight-week curfew and told to pay costs of £500 and an £85 victim surcharge.

Given my utter lack of cultural awareness, I’ve never heard of Snap Dogg. I’m guessing he’s black, but I could be wrong.

In any event, this absurd story raises a couple of points.

  • First, people should have the right to say offensive things.
  • Second, it appears that there was no offensive intent.
  • Third, this shouldn’t be an issue for government.

I’m sure that there’s still real racism in British society. I hope there is widespread scorn for people who practice that odious version of collectivism. I also support boycotts of private measures to punish unambiguous racists (the ideal goal is to have their minds changed by kindness).

Government should only step in when there’s a threat to life, liberty, or property.

Sadly, the British government is policing speech, perhaps even speech that should be considered totally benign.

Which is a good excuse to post this funny-yet-sad item from Libertarian Reddit.

Speaking of things that are funny and sad, here’s a Reason column on the latest development in the battle to leave Brits totally vulnerable to crime.

It turns out that when you pass laws disarming people in an attempt to prevent violence, criminals who habitually disregard all laws don’t make exceptions for the new rules. In London, crime still thrives despite the U.K.’s tight gun controls and the British political class is now desperately turning its attention to restricting knives. …Firearms are strictly restricted in the U.K., including a near-total ban on handguns. Nevertheless, “[i]n the 12 months to October 2017, there were 2,500 offences involving guns: a 16 per cent increase on the previous year and a 44 per cent increase on 2014,”… Criminals, it seems, are not averse to committing crimes—including the illegal acquisition of tools that help them commit more crimes. Besides illegal guns, British criminals also use edged weapons… Having failed to disarm criminals with gun controls that they defy, British politicians are now turning their attention to implementing something new and different: knife control. Because criminals will be much more respectful of knife laws than of those targeted at firearms, I guess. …Poundland (the British equivalent of a dollar store) announced last week that it will no longer sell kitchen knives in any of its 850 stores. Similar stores are being slapped with fines for selling knives to minors. British politicians propose banning home delivery of knives and police promote street-corner bins for the surrender of knives.

If you outlaw knives, only outlaws will have knives (in America, we apply that lesson to tanks).

And they’ll also have acid, as noted on Libertarian Reddit.

The cops don’t have the time and energy to concentrate on these real crimes.

Instead, they bust a girl for benignly quoting a bad word. Or they bust homeowners for harming robbers. Or harass employers who commit discrimination by advertising for “reliable” workers.

And apparently Brits also are on guard against the scourge of eggs in the hands of kids. And flour.

How embarrassing.

Today’s collection is even worse than the ones I shared in February and April.

P.S. And let’s not forget the U.K.’s creepy statism and ghoulish government-run healthcare.

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Considering that America’s Founders created a very small central government that operated for more than 100 years without any income tax (or any other broad-based tax), it’s very disappointing that Washington is now consuming more that 20 percent of our nation’s output.

That’s bad for growth since resources are diverted from the productive sector of the economy.

But let’s also keep in mind that politicians also impose policies that may not have much impact on GDP statistics, but definitely reduce our quality of life.

I’ve written about some of these annoying bits of red tape.

Jeffrey Tucker, in a column for the Foundation for Economic Education, shares my disdain for the nanny state.

Soap doesn’t work. Toilets don’t flush. Clothes washers don’t clean. Light bulbs don’t illuminate. Refrigerators break too soon. Paint discolors. Lawnmowers have to be hacked. It’s all caused by idiotic government regulations that are wrecking our lives one consumer product at a time, all in ways we hardly notice.

And he points out another item to add to our list.

We now have gas cans that don’t work nearly as well as they used to because of mindless bureaucracy.

Who would make a can without a vent unless it was done under duress? After all, everyone knows to vent anything that pours. Otherwise, it doesn’t pour right and is likely to spill. …The whole trend began in (wait for it) California. …The notion spread and was picked up by the EPA, which is always looking for new and innovative ways to spread as much human misery as possible. …So…you have not been able to buy gas cans that work properly. They are not permitted to have a separate vent. The top has to close automatically.

Environmental zealots tell us we need these poorly functioning gas cans to save the environment from vapor.

But as Tucker explains, the policy is backfiring.

…don’t tell me about spillage. It is far more likely to spill when the gas is gurgling out in various uneven ways, when one spout has to both pour and suck in air. …There is no possible rationale for these kinds of regulations. It can’t be about emissions really, since the new cans are more likely to result in spills.

Amen.

This is a never-ending nightmare when I mow my lawn. When it’s time to refill the gas tank, I know gas is going to spill regardless of how careful I am.

I can’t imagine that’s good for the environment (I’m sure it releases far more vapor than would seep into the atmosphere with a vent), but I confess that my main concern is that gas dribbles onto a hot lawnmower engine. So I’m always poised to run away from my mower if the thing bursts into flame.

Oh, the joy of red tape!

Writing for Forbes, Clyde Wayne Crews also has commented on this inane and counter-productive regulation.

…when I first tried to use these new gas cans a few months after purchase I was shocked at their new spring-loaded, Mousetrap game style…spouts. …You need three hands to operate today’s gas can spouts. You’ll start each project spilling more gas than you get into the mower, motorcycle, car or whichever. In other words, you will create more vapor emissions than you ever would have otherwise. …No gas cans available for sale anymore have vents on the opposite top-side either, so when trying to pour you get a sloshing, heaving mess, burping gasoline eruptions leaking from the complex yet flimsy spout that easily breaks.

But Wayne very helpfully proposes a solution…assuming one is willing to incur a small risk.

…in order to harm the Earth less with a normal, non-polluting spout, I was wondering about workarounds for the inhumane, vapor-spewing trick spouts the environmentally unfriendly EPA forces you to buy to increase pollution. With a bit of searching, I found so-called EZ Pour “water” jugs. Note: You and I cannot use these alternatives to pour gasoline into vehicles or equipment, since that is an illegal non-EPA bureaucrat-approved hack, but they can be used to pour “liquid,” however.

The EPA can have our EZ Pour jugs when they pry them from our cold, dead, non-polluting fingers!

I had some fun in 2013 by pointing out that when they outlaw tanks, only outlaws will have tanks. Who could have predicted we’d be saying the same thing about well-functioning gas cans?

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Here are three things I’ve written about tax policy. See if you can detect a pattern:

  • I’ve written that I don’t want a value-added tax because the money would be used to finance bigger government.
  • I’ve also explained I don’t want a carbon tax because the revenue from such a levy would finance bigger government.
  • I’ve given thumbs down to financial transactions taxes as well because I don’t want to finance bigger government.

Just in case it’s not obvious, the common theme is that I don’t want to give politicians new sources of revenue that would be used to expand the burden of government spending.

Some of my technocrat friends get upset by these writings. They argue, often correctly, that some of these taxes are not as destructive as the current tax code.

My response is that they’re making an irrelevant argument. Politicians who advocate the above taxes are not proposing to eliminate the income tax and repeal the 16th Amendment. Instead, they simply want to levy a new tax without fully repealing the awful system that already exists.

And now there’s a new tax idea gaining steam.

The Task Force on Fiscal Policy for Health…will examine the evidence on excise tax policy for health, including barriers to implementation, and make recommendations on how countries can best leverage fiscal policies to yield improved health outcomes for their citizens with the added benefit of bringing in additional revenue.

For readers who aren’t familiar with DC bureaucrat-speak, “leverage fiscal policies” means higher taxes. More specifically, advocates want higher “sin taxes” on unhealthy food and drink.

This Task Force is being spearheaded by Larry Summers (yes, that Larry Summers) and Mike Bloomberg (yes, that Mike Bloomberg), so it’s no surprise that this pair of leftists view “additional revenue” as an “added benefit.”

While my focus is on the negative fiscal and economic consequences of higher taxes and more spending, it’s worth pointing out the moral and practical argument against sin taxes.

Bill Wirtz, in a column for CapX, warns that nanny-state policies treat people as infants.

2017 has seen yet another increase in lifestyle regulations and sin taxes… Historically, it was social conservatives pushing for this kind of meddling. …How different is today’s excruciatingly irritating public health lobby…? Food and non-alcoholic drinks are…under fire, and blamed for a range of health issues. France and Ireland are now cracking down on that scourge on society: fizzy drinks. Ireland introduced a new tax on sugary drinks, while France increased the tax created in 2012 under French president Nicolas Sarkozy. Such policies are highly regressive… When Denmark introduced its controversial tax on fatty foods, consumers simply switched to cheaper – but equally unhealthy – alternatives. The country’s diet did not improve. …We are adults and we sometimes make decisions for ourselves which are unhealthy. The answer is for us to moderate our consumption, not quasi-prohibition. It’s time to stop infantilising the…consumer.

Charles Hughes of the Manhattan Institute reviews what happened with a new sin tax on sweetened beverages in Seattle.

Seattle recently became the latest major city to enact a sweetened beverage tax. …customers are reeling from sticker shock. One local reporter found that the tax added $10.34 to a case of Gatorade, bringing the final price to more than $26.00. …One of the justifications for beverage taxes is that customers will respond to price changes by reducing consumption of taxed beverages. The mechanism here is straightforward: tax something to get less of it. If people were to substitute diet sodas or other, less-harmful beverages for sugared sodas, they would be healthier.

But will such a policy work?

Many people are likely to avoid the tax by traveling to other untaxed locations to purchase groceries. Costco tells its customers about locations outside the city that are not subject to the beverage tax. …so the tax will have limited success in its health-related goals while also harming local businesses and failing to generate revenue.

Yet the fact the tax will be a failure at generating revenue isn’t stopping the city was squandering the money.

…revenue has already been allocated to a smorgasbord of causes, ranging from $500,000 for displaced worker retraining, to more than $1 million in tax administration costs, to vouchers to purchase fruits and vegetables.

While I’m glad consumers are escaping the tax by buying beverages from outside the city’s borders, in an ideal world, they would react in a bolder fashion.

If nothing else, the pro-tax crowd has a very elastic definition of sin.

They even want to tax meat.

Move over, taxes on carbon and sugar: the global levy that may be next is meat. Some investors are betting governments around the world will find a way to start taxing meat production… Meat could encounter the same fate as tobacco, carbon and sugar, which are currently taxed in 180, 60, and 25 jurisdictions around the world, respectively, according to a report Monday from investor group the FAIRR (Farm Animal Investment Risk & Return) Initiative. Lawmakers in Denmark, Germany, China and Sweden have discussed creating livestock-related taxes in the past two years.

By the way, the supposed Conservative Party in the United Kingdom is pushing sin taxes to finance bigger government.

The sugar tax was announced by Chancellor Philip Hammond in his budget statement in 2017. He said the money raised as part of the levy would go to the Department for Education. The former Chancellor said the new levy would be put on drinks companies and they would be taxed according to how much sugar was in their beverages. Two categories of taxation are set to come into force. One on the total sugar content on drinks with more than 5g per 100ml and a higher levy for drinks with 8g per 100ml or more. …The new tax could whack up the cost of a 2 litre bottle of Coca-Cola (10.6g per 100ml) by as much as 48p.

The nanny-state crowd complains that this isn’t enough.

Health campaigners have said the fizzy drinks tax should be extended to cover all chocolate, sweets and other confectionery containing the highest levels of sugar. …Action on Sugar is urging a mandatory levy set at a minimum of 20 per cent on all confectionery products that contain high levels of sugar.

Politicians in other nations also are using this excuse to extract more money from the citizenry.

Other countries have introduced similar measures and have seen some success in reducing the drinking of fizzy drinks. Mexico introduced a 10 per cent tax on sugary drinks in 2014 and saw a 12 per cent reduction over the first year. Hungary brought in a tax on the drinks companies and saw a 40 per cent decrease in the amount of sugar in the products. Brits will be joining some of our European neighbours with the move with similar measures in place on drinks in France and Finland and the Norwegians chocolate tax.

Let’s sum this up. The case against sin taxes is based on two simple principles.

  1. Politicians want to seize more of our money in order to have greater ability to buy votes. Saying no to tax increases is a necessary (though sadly not sufficient) condition for good fiscal policy.
  2. Politicians want to tell us how to live our lives. But that’s not their job, even in cases where I agree with the underlying advice. Coerced good behavior is not a sign of virtue.

The bottom line is that some proponents of sin taxes presumably have their hearts in the right place. But they need their brains in a good place as well. If they want to be taken seriously, at the very least they should match their proposed sin taxes with permanent repeal of an existing tax of similar magnitude.

For example, offer to trade a sugar tax for repeal of the death tax. Or suggest a fat tax accompanied by elimination of the capital gains tax.

Until we see such offers, advocates of sin taxes should be met with unyielding opposition.

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When I write about regulation, I usually focus on big-picture issues involving economic costs, living standards, and competitiveness.

Those are very important concerns, but the average person in American probably gets more irked by rules that impact the quality of life.

That’s a grim list, but it’s time to augment it.

Jeffrey Tucker of the Foundation for Economic Education explains that the government also has made showering a less pleasant experience. He starts by expressing envy about Brazilian showers.

…was shocked with delight at the shower in Brazil. …step into the shower and you have a glorious capitalist experience. Hot water, really hot, pours down on you like a mighty and unending waterfall… At least the socialists in Brazil knew better than to destroy such an essential of civilized life.

I know what he’s talking about.

I’m in a hotel (not in Brazil), and my shower this morning was a tedious experience because the water flow was so anemic.

Why would a hotel not want customers to have an enjoyable and quick shower?

The answer is government.

…here we’ve forgotten. We have long lived with regulated showers, plugged up with a stopper imposed by government controls imposed in 1992. There was no public announcement. It just happened gradually. After a few years, you couldn’t buy a decent shower head. They called it a flow restrictor and said it would increase efficiency. By efficiency, the government means “doesn’t work as well as it used to.” …You can see the evidence of the bureaucrat in your shower if you pull off the showerhead and look inside. It has all this complicated stuff inside, whereas it should just be an open hole, you know, so the water could get through. The flow stopper is mandated by the federal government.

The problem isn’t just the water coming out of the showerhead. It’s the water coming into your home.

It’s not just about the showerhead. The water pressure in our homes and apartments has been gradually getting worse for two decades, thanks to EPA mandates on state and local governments. This has meant that even with a good showerhead, the shower is not as good as it might be. It also means that less water is running through our pipes, causing lines to clog and homes to stink just slightly like the sewer. This problem is much more difficult to fix, especially because plumbers are forbidden by law from hacking your water pressure.

So why are politicians and bureaucrats imposing these rules?

Ostensibly for purposes of conservation.

…what about the need to conserve water? Well, the Department of the Interior says that domestic water use, which includes even the water you use on your lawn and flower beds, constitutes a mere 2% of the total, so this unrelenting misery spread by government regulations makes hardly a dent in the whole. In any case, what is the point of some vague sense of “conserving” when the whole purpose of modern appliances and indoor plumbing is to improve our lives and sanitation? (Free societies have a method for knowing how much of something to use or not use; it is called the signaling system of prices.)

Jeffrey is right. If there really is a water shortage (as there sometimes is in parts of the country and world), then prices are the best way of encouraging conservation.

Now let’s dig in the archives of the Wall Street Journal for a 2010 column on the showerhead issue.

Apparently bureaucrats are irked that builders and consumers used multiple showerheads to boost the quality of their daily showers.

Regulators are going after some of the luxury shower fixtures that took off in the housing boom. Many have multiple nozzles, cost thousands of dollars and emit as many as 12 gallons of water a minute. In May, the DOE stunned the plumbing-products industry when it said it would adopt a strict definition of the term “showerhead”… A 1992 federal law says a showerhead can deliver no more than 2.5 gallons per minute at a flowing water pressure of 80 pounds per square inch. For years, the term “showerhead” in federal regulations was understood by many manufacturers to mean a device that directs water onto a bather. Each nozzle in a shower was considered separate and in compliance if it delivered no more than the 2.5-gallon maximum. But in May, the DOE said a “showerhead” may incorporate “one or more sprays, nozzles or openings.” Under the new interpretation, all nozzles would count as a single showerhead and be deemed noncompliant if, taken together, they exceed the 2.5 gallons-a-minute maximum.

And here’s something that’s both amusing and depressing.

The regulations are so crazy that an entrepreneur didn’t think they were real.

Altmans Products, a U.S. unit of Grupo Helvex of Mexico City, says it got a letter from the DOE in January and has stopped selling several popular models, including the Shower Rose, which delivers 12 gallons of water a minute. Pedro Mier, the firm’s vice president, says his customers “just like to feel they’re getting a lot of water.” Until getting the DOE letter, his firm didn’t know U.S. law limited showerhead water usage, Mr. Mier says. “At first, I thought it was a scam.”

Unsurprisingly, California is “leading” the way. Here are some passages from an article in the L.A. Times from almost two years ago.

The flow of water from shower heads and bathroom faucets in California will be sharply reduced under strict new limits approved Wednesday by the state Energy Commission. Current rules, established in 1994 at the federal level, allow a maximum flow of 2.5 gallons per minute from a shower head. Effective next July, the limit will fall to 2.0 gallons per minute and will be reduced again in July 2018, to 1.8 gallons, giving California the toughest standard of any U.S. state.

Though “toughest standard” is the wrong way to describe what’s happening. It’s actually the “worst shower” of any state.

P.S. I forget the quality of shower I experienced in South Korea, but I was very impressed (see postscript) by the toilet.

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What’s the right way to define good tax policy? There are several possible answers to that question, including the all-important observation that the goal should be to only collect the amount of revenue needed to finance the legitimate functions of government, and not one penny above that amount.

But what if we want a more targeted definition? A simple principle to shape our understanding of tax policy?

I’m partial to what I wrote last year.

the essential insight of supply-side economics…when you tax something, you get less of it.

I’m not claiming this is my idea, by the way. It’s been around for a long time.

Indeed, it’s rumored that Reagan shared a version of this wisdom.

I don’t know if the Gipper actually said those exact words, but his grasp of tax policy was very impressive. And the changes he made led to very good results, even if folks on the left still refuse to believe the IRS data showing that Reagan’s lower tax rates on the rich generated more revenue.

In any event, our friends on the nanny-state left actually understand this principle when it suits their purposes. They propose sugar taxes, soda taxes, carbon taxes, housing taxes, tanning taxes, tobacco taxes, and even “adult entertainment” taxes with the explicit goal of using the tax code to reduce the consumption of things they don’t like.

I don’t like the idea of government trying to dictate people do with their own money, but these so-called sin taxes generally are successful because supply-siders are right about taxes impacting incentives.

But that doesn’t mean it’s always popular when statist governments impose such policies. At least not in Belarus, according to a story from RFERL.

Protests over a new tax aimed at reducing social welfare spread beyond the Belarusian capital, as thousands took to the streets in Homel and other towns. Along with similar protests two days earlier in Minsk, the February 19 demonstrations were some of the largest in the country in years. In Homel, near the border with Russia, at least 1,000 people marched and chanted slogans against the measure, known as the “Law Against Social Parasites.”

But what are “social parasites” and what does the law do?

…the law…requires people who were employed fewer than 183 days in a calendar year to pay a tax of about $200. …The measure is aimed at combating what President Alyaksandr Lukashenka has called “social parasitism.”

For what it’s worth, the Washington Post reports that the government had to back down.

The protesters won. On Thursday, Lukashenko announced that he won’t enforce the measure this year, though he’s not scrapping it. “We will not collect this money for 2016 from those who were meant to pay it,” he told the state news agency Belta. Those who have already paid will get a rebate if they get a job this year. The law, signed into effect in 2015, is reminiscent of Soviet-era crackdowns against the jobless, who undermined the state’s portrayal of a “workers’ paradise.”

That’s good news.

If people can somehow survive without working (assuming they’re not mooching off taxpayers, which is something that should be discouraged), more power to them. It’s not the life I would want, but it’s not the role of government to tax them if they don’t work. Or if they simply choose to work 182 days per year.

Mr. Lukashenko should concentrate instead on taking the heavy foot of government off the neck of his people. According to the most-recent Index of Economic Freedom, Belarus is only ranked #104, with especially weak scores for “rule of law” and “open markets.”

If he turns his country into a Slavic version of Hong Kong, based on free markets and small government, people will be clamoring to work. But I’m not holding my breath expecting that to happen.

P.S. While government shouldn’t tax people for not working, it’s also a bad idea to subsidize them for not working. Indeed, there’s even a version of the Laffer Curve for poverty and redistribution.

P.P.S. Given the low freedom ranking for Belarus, I suspect the real parasites in that country (just like in the U.S.) are the various interest groups that are feeding from the government trough.

P.P.P.S. On an amusing note, here’s the satirical British video on killing the poor instead of taxing them.

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Over the years, I’ve run into oddball stories about what happens when politicians and bureaucrats get involved with matters relating to sex.

And here are two more examples. Government isn’t involved yet, but will be if statists get their way.

  • Leftists concocted a crazy theory that tax havens promote sex slavery.
  • And other leftists hypothesized that climate change promotes prostitution and AIDS.

Let’s add to our collection. We now have new evidence in favor of the Laffer Curve, thanks to Illinois politicians levying a tax on strip clubs.

Here are some excerpts from a story in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

…she and others…were expecting at least $1 million to be raised…the Live Adult Entertainment Facility Surcharge tax…went into effect Jan. 1, 2013, with the first monies collected in fiscal year 2014. For that fiscal year, the State Department of Revenue reported $405,996.62 in revenue; over the next two fiscal years, the amounts collected were a bit more — $501,334.85 for fiscal year 2015 and $532,271.46 for fiscal year 2016. The state’s newest ‘sin tax,’ which poses a tax on facilities that serve alcohol and that have live adult entertainment, includes topless, nude dancing and stripping. “They were expecting it to raise quite a bit of revenue,” McClanahan said of the tax on strip-club type facilities… “We anticipated it would be a greater number of clubs that would be paying and we would have anticipated about a million in revenue,” Poskin said. “So I don’t know if that if the tax that they’re paying is accurate and consistent with their gross receipts.”

The bottom line (no pun intended) is that politicians collected about half as much money as originally projected.

It’s unclear, to be sure, why the revenues didn’t materialize.

The clubs are probably engaging in a bit of avoidance and evasion, which is quite common in all areas of the economy when tax burdens increase.

And the clubs presumably are suffering from a loss of business because of the tax, which also is a common effect of higher tax burdens in all sectors of the economy.

Which gives me an excuse to make a broader point about the economy-wide implication of higher tax burdens.

Scott Sumner compares output in the U.S. and the four biggest European nations (Germany, U.K., France, and Italy), observes that per-capita tax collections in the U.S. are almost as high as they are in these other countries with far higher tax burdens, and has some must-read analysis about the very high economic cost of getting additional tax revenue.

…tax rates in the US are about 31% lower than in Europe, so there is a lot of scope for tax increases in the US. But how much revenue would those higher taxes actually collect—in the long run? This data suggests not very much. …we are in a region where disincentive effects are kicking in. GDP per person in these four countries is about 25.5% lower than in the US (PPP), so they only raise about 7.5% more revenue that we do, despite far higher tax rates. …The mistake that progressives make is to see the huge US GDP as a sort of piggy bank from which money can be raised for any policy objectives, without killing the goose that lays the golden eggs. …it’s clear that progressivism can never succeed in America. The only question is how badly it will fail.

Looking at all this data, the one important question that must be asked is how anyone could possibly think that it’s a good idea to sacrifice 25.5 percent of our income in order to give politicians 7.5 percent more tax revenue.

By the way, for those who think Scott’s conclusions are somehow illegitimate because they’re based on back-of-the-envelope calculations, check out the very detailed and rigorous analysis from the European Central Bank that found an even larger negative relationship between tax revenue and foregone economic output.

In other words, there is a Laffer Curve. When tax burdens climb, taxable income falls. Which is just another way of stating that the cost of higher taxes isn’t just that politicians take our money. They also impose lots of damage on the economy, which means we suffer from lower earnings.

So it’s a double-whammy. They tax more, we earn less.

P.S. While I don’t want politicians involved with sex, I must confess that there’s also some compelling evidence that people don’t want economists involved with sex.

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Back in 2010, I joked that the Libertarian Party should give Barack Obama a Man-of-the-Year Award because his failed policies rejuvenated interest in limits of federal power.

Though, in retrospect, perhaps the GOP should have given Obama the Award since Republicans reaped the short-term benefits.

In any event, let’s not get distracted by electoral politics. That’s because we have another tongue-in-cheek award. It’s time for the Libertarian Party to give its Woman-of-the-Year Award to Michelle Obama.

Why? Because the First Lady has single-handedly managed to discredit the federal government’s program to subsidize school lunches.

In short, there are now all sorts of federal regulations and mandates that have simultaneously made the program most costly for schools and resulted in food that is less appealing to students.

In other words, she’s helping to teach the next generation that big government makes your life less pleasant. That’s usually a lesson young people don’t learn until they get their first paycheck.

Let’s look at the results of Ms. Obama’s handiwork.

Citing a report from the Government Accountability Office, the Wall Street Journal opines on how Washington has made the school lunch program become far less appealing.

America’s youth are voting with their forks: …participation has plunged for the second year in a row by 1.4 million children, or 4.5%, as they flee inedible government-designed cuisine. …In the name of better eating habits, the USDA has published 141 memos with mandates reaching down to quotas across “vegetable subgroups” and bans on salt and sandwiches. …this cookbook…runs to some 4,700 pages and counting… GAO auditors toured 14 schools in eight states for an on-site look at how kids and cafeterias are responding, and they report that the regulatory deluge is “overwhelming.”

Though I’m glad to see that some local governments and students are engaging in civil disobedience.

“…two had nevertheless been serving pasta that was not in compliance with the whole grain-rich requirement.” …The auditors found students in two schools who carried contraband salt shakers.

Gasp! Non-compliant pasta and contraband salt?!?

Surely it’s time to sic the IRS on these scofflaws.

Or maybe we should learn a different lesson, which the WSJ succinctly identifies.

This exercise has been an epic waste of food and taxpayer money.

Some statist readers doubtlessly are saying that the higher cost is worthwhile because students (even if they don’t like it) are being forced to eat healthier.

Um…not exactly.

Amazingly, the federal government managed to decrease consumption of fruits and vegetables (FV) even though that’s one of the main goals of the new rules. Here’s an excerpt from a scholarly study.

Since 2012, the USDA’s requirement that children select FVs at lunch as part of the reimbursable school meal has been met with concern and evidence of food waste. We compared elementary schoolchildren’s FV selection, consumption, and waste before (10 school visits, 498 tray observations) and after (11 school visits, 944 tray observations) implementation of this requirement using validated dietary assessment measures. More children selected FVs in higher amounts when FVs were required compared with when they were optional (0.69 cups vs. 0.89 cups, p,0.001); however, consumption decreased slightly (0.51 cups vs. 0.45 cups, p50.01) and waste increased (0.25 cups vs. 0.39 cups, p,0.001) when FVs were required compared with when they were optional.

As reported by the Washington Examiner, even the School Nutrition Association is not exactly happy with the federal government’s nanny-state approach to school lunches.

Schools nationwide are being forced to raid their education budgets to cover the costs of federally-mandated school lunches, rejected by students because they taste bad, according to a group the represents school nutrition professionals. Once a profit center for schools, cafeterias have become a financial black hole… And the deficits are being made up by cafeteria worker firings and budget shifting, according to the School Nutrition Association.

The Washington Examiner story represents an interesting development since it’s a sign of a schism between two interest groups – government workers and nanny staters – that normally are part of the same coalition.

So further kudos to Ms. Obama for causing discord on the left.

Though when push comes to shove, the nanny staters lose.

Here’s a real-world example of how the federal government has botched the program. A Montana school board has decided it makes more sense to reject handouts from Uncle Sam.

Bozeman school board members voted 5-3 to pull the high school out of the National School Lunch Program because federal regulations on calories, fat, sugar, sodium, whole grains and other nutritional elements championed by the first lady were driving students off campus for lunch… School officials realized it was financially advantageous to forgo $117,000 in federal food subsidies tied to the National School Lunch Program to draw students back into the cafeteria, and it seems they were correct. …Across the district, the food service program is $1,441 in the black so far for the 2015-16 school year. The food service budget ended last school year $16,000 in the red… And school food service workers told board members students are now getting high quality food from local sources, rather than pre-packaged meals promoted by the government.

Let’s now shift gears and look at other ways the federal government screws up when it gets involved with what goes in our stomachs.

For years, bureaucrats in Washington have tried to tell all of us, not just students, what we should eat and drink.

Well, it turns out that they were giving us bum advice. Here are a few excerpts from some analysis in the Washington Post.

U.S. dietary guidelines have long recommended that people steer clear of whole milk… Whole milk sales shrunk. It was banned from school lunch programs. Purchases of low-fat dairy climbed. “Replace whole milk and full-fat milk products with fat-free or low-fat choices,” says the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the federal government’s influential advice book, citing the role of dairy fat in heart disease.

Was this advice helpful?

Not so much. At least if the goal is better health.

…research published in recent years indicates that the opposite might be true: millions might have been better off had they stuck with whole milk. Scientists who tallied diet and health records for several thousand patients over ten years found, for example, that contrary to the government advice, people who consumed more milk fat had lower incidence of heart disease.

By the way, it’s not just whole milk. One of my Cato colleagues, Walter Olson, points out that the government has a long track record of botching recommendations.

Previous advice from Washington about the supposed hazards of eggs and other cholesterol-laden foods, the advantages of replacing butter and other animal fats with trans fats, and the gains to be made from switching from regular to diet soda, have all had to be re-evaluated and sometimes reversed in later years.

So what lessons should we learn?

Let’s turn to David Boaz, another colleague from the Cato Institute. He succinctly explains that government shouldn’t be involved in our diets.

It’s understandable that some scientific studies turn out to be wrong. Science is a process of trial and error, hypothesis and testing. Some studies are bad, some turn out to have missed complicating factors, some just point in the wrong direction. I have no criticism of scientists’ efforts to find evidence about good nutrition and to report what they (think they) have learned. My concern is that we not use government coercion to tip the scales either in research or in actual bans and mandates and Official Science. Let scientists conduct research, let other scientists examine it, let journalists report it, let doctors give us advice. But let’s keep nutrition – and much else – in the realm of persuasion, not force. First, because it’s wrong to use force against peaceful people, and second, because we might be wrong. This last point reflects the humility that is an essential part of the libertarian worldview.

Very well said.

Let’s close with one final example to demonstrate the bad things that happen when the federal government gets involved with food.

Writing for the Foundation for Economic Education, my old buddy Jim Bovard explains how biased bureaucrats are deliberately exaggerating hunger in America.

The Agriculture Department announced this morning that 48 million Americans live in “food insecure” households. Soon you’ll hear we’re suffering an epidemic of hunger. While the federal government is already feeding more than 100 million Americans, we’ll be told that it just isn’t enough. But it isn’t true. “Food insecurity” is a statistic designed to mislead. USDA defines food insecurity as being “uncertain of having, or unable to acquire, enough food to meet the needs of all their members because they had insufficient money or other resources for food.”

But this doesn’t mean anyone is going without food, as Jim notes.

The definition of “food insecure” includes anyone who frets about not being able to purchase food at any point. If someone states that they feared running out of food for a single day (but didn’t run out), that is an indicator of being “food insecure” for the entire year — regardless of whether they ever missed a single meal. If someone wants organic kale but can afford only conventional kale, that is another “food insecure” indicator.

Needless to say, statists predictably use the federal government’s biased stats to push for…you guessed it…more government!

After the 2009 USDA food security report was released, President Obama announced that “hunger rose significantly last year. … My administration is committed to reversing the trend of rising hunger.” …USDA food security reports, by creating the illusion of a national hunger epidemic, have helped propel a vast increase in federal food aid in recent years. …The insecurity = hunger switcheroo is also fueling campaigns to compel schools to give free breakfasts to all kids after school starts each day. …USDA has never attempted to create an accurate gauge to measure actual hunger. Instead, citizens are supposed to be satisfied with federal reports that are little more than a subsidy for political grandstanding.

I know what lesson I hope people learn from the deceit, waste, and foolishness discussed today.

We should end any role for the federal government in food. That means ending all the misguided programs discussed above.

It also means abolishing the food stamp program and letting states decide whether such subsidies are desirable.

And it means shutting down the entire Department of Agriculture.

Like all sensible libertarians, I don’t like the idea of having the federal government in my wallet or my bedroom. Perhaps we also need to say we don’t want Washington in our stomachs either.

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It would require several people, working around the clock, to provide daily updates about the bizarre and senseless actions of the crowd in Washington.

And you’d need many additional people to monitor the foolish decisions in state capitals.

I certainly try to do my small part, sharing example of jaw-dropping vapidity by our overseers in government (especially in New York City and California).

But I don’t like to discriminate, which is why I periodically highlight inane behavior by foreign bureaucrats and politicians. And we have two perfect examples today. We’ll start north of the border.

Here are some passages from a CBC report about nanny-state overkill from Canada (h/t: Lenore Skenazy).

Clayton, 8, and Kristopher Cadieux, 10, started their business last summer, digging up worms and selling them as bait for $2.50 per dozen. But after a complaint from a neighbour, the brothers received a note from the city saying they were breaking a bylaw and had to shut down their business. The mayor of Cornwall, Leslie O’Shaughnessy, explained that the bylaw requires all personal business sales be conducted within the home, without outdoor signage. …The city told the brothers to move their business inside their home, and to take down their signs on their front lawn. …Kristopher said the worm enterprise only brought in about $34 a month last summer, and he doesn’t understand why he and his brother are being told they can’t sell worms from their front lawn.

How dare these kids display entrepreneurship.They’re almost as bad as the Canadian kid who got in trouble for stopping a knife attack.

But I still think America wins the prize for teaching kids bad lessons. After all, local government officials have heroically thwarted rogue operators of unregulated and unlicensed lemonade stands, in California, Georgia, and Oregon!

Without adequate government supervision, you never know what might happen. If you allow kids to engage in voluntary exchange, maybe that will be the gateway step to other forms of anti-social behavior. Such as snow removal without government approval. Or giving topless haircuts without a cosmetology license!

Our second example of foreign government stupidity comes from the United Kingdom, which is infamous for astounding – and embarrassing – episodes of political correctness.

But this latest example, reported by the U.K.-based Metro, represent the ultimate triumph of the P.C. culture (h/t: Amy Alkon).

…according to one school, Wonder Woman and her Golden Lasso of Truth are…not suitable lunchbox fodder. According to Redditor twines18, who posted a copy of the letter and offending lunchbox on Imgur, the lunchbox contravened the schools dress code which states children aren’t allowed to bring ‘violent images’ into the building. The letter states: ‘We have defined “violent characters” as those who solve problems using violence. Super heroes certainly fall into that category.’

Part of me is convinced this is a joke, but it seems legit.

And let’s remember this is coming from a nation where anti-gun fanaticism results in jaw-dropping displays of government stupidity.

Anyhow, here’s the letter that was sent to the parents.

So solving problems using violence is bad?

I guess that means this school doesn’t teach the kids about World War II. After all, Churchill and other U.K. leaders obviously took the wrong approach. I’m sure a big group hug would have sufficed to stop Hitler and the rest of the National Socialists.

P.S. Speaking of England, the U.K.-based Spectator reports that local universities have an unfortunate habit of filling the heads of foreign students with very bad economic theories. And when those students gain power in their home countries, you get very bad results.

Varoufakis was a product of British universities. He read economics at Essex and mathematical statistics at Birmingham, returning to Essex to do a PhD in economics. With the benefit of his British university education he returned to Greece and, during his short time in office, obliterated the nascent recovery.But Varoufakis is not alone. Plenty of other visitors to our universities have been influenced by the teaching here and returned to their countries to wreak havoc. Jawaharlal Nehru, the first prime minister of an independent India…was influenced by British intellectuals such as George Bernard Shaw, a socialist, Bertrand Russell, who once remarked ‘communism is necessary to the world’, and John Maynard Keynes. He returned to India and started to put the ideology into practice with state planning, controls and regulations. This was a calamity. …Julius Nyerere, president of Tanzania,…read economics and history at Edinburgh (as did Gordon Brown). Naturally he was surrounded by leftist academics and apparently ‘encountered Fabian thinking’ in particular. The experience made it all but inevitable that Tanzania would endure a bloated bureaucracy, shortages and miserably low growth. …the London School of Economics can rightly claim more than its share, of course. Jomo Kenyatta, first prime minister of Kenya after independence, went there. …overblown, corrupt state industries and attempted import substitution took their toll, so that GDP growth per capita was low and, in some years, negative. …Pierre Trudeau…came to the LSE for his doctorate. He did not finish it but the LSE nonetheless gave him a finishing course in leftist economics. Under his rule, Canada introduced wage and price controls while inflation, unemployment and the national debt all rose. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, variously president and prime minister of Pakistan, went to…Oxford. …once he had gained power, declaring ‘socialism is our economy’, he nationalised the steel, chemical, cement and banking industries along with the flour, rice and cotton mills. Economic growth slowed to a crawl.

Wow, what a rogue’s gallery of statist politicians.

Though, to be fair, I don’t think you automatically get bad ideas by studying economics in the United Kingdom. It’s a function of being “taught” be misguided professors.

After all, just think what must happen to foreign students in America who take classes from Paul Krugman. If these examples (here, here, here, herehereherehereherehere, herehere, and here) are any indication, they probably experience un-learning.

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When writing about the burden of regulation, I often share big numbers about aggregate cost, job losses, time wasted, and foregone growth.

But I sometimes wonder if such data is effective in the battle for good policy.

Maybe it’s better, at least in some cases, to focus on regulations that affect quality of life for regular people. Lots of ordinary citizens, for instance, are irked that they’re now forced to use inferior light bulbs, substandard toilets, and inadequate washing machines because of regulatory silliness from Washington.

And it looks like we’ll now be forced to use dishwashers that don’t clean dishes thanks to proposed regulations that will reduce water use (which is in addition to a 2012 regulation that already restricted water use).

The Hill reports on the Nanny State’s latest salvo in the war against modern civilization.

The Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers is accusing the Department of Energy (DOE) of a politically motivated drive to increase dishwasher efficiency standards, which are so bad that they would cause consumers to re-wash dishes, erasing any efficiency gains. Rob McAver, the group’s head lobbyist, said regulators are going too far and the new rules will allow only 3.1 gallons to be used to wash each load of dishes. …They then ran standard tests with food stuck to dishes. “They found some stuff that was pretty disgusting,” McAver said. …“The poor performance that would result would totally undercut and go backwards in terms of energy and water use, because of the need for running the dishwasher again, or pre-rinsing or hand-washing, which uses a lot of water,” he said.

Great, another bone-headed step by the government that will make life less enjoyable.

I’m already one of those people who rinse my dishes before putting them in the dishwasher because I hate the idea that they won’t be fully clean afterwards.

So I can only imagine how bad it will be if this absurd example of red tape is imposed and I have to buy a new dishwasher.

I guess I’ll just keep my fingers crossed that my current dishwasher doesn’t break down.

Especially since the rules make new dishwashers more expensive.

Ernest Istook, former Republican congressman from Oklahoma, wrote in a Washington Times piece that complying with the 2012 rule, based on DOE estimates, added roughly $44 to the cost of each machine. “Now their 2015 proposal will add another $99 to the price tag, even by DOE’s own admission,” he wrote.

Julie Borowski has the right assessment. Her column for Freedom Works is from 2012, but it’s very appropriate still today.

Are you disappointed in every shower head that you purchase? Does your toilet have trouble flushing? Have you noticed that your dishes are still dirty after the dishwasher cycle is completed? …Some of us may be quick to blame the manufacturer of these home appliances. But the manufacturers are just abiding by the costly regulations by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Energy.

What’s really frustrating is that these regulations reduce the quality of life without even reducing water usage.

…it has only led to people hacking their shower heads to remove the intrusion that is blocking water flow in order to have a more relaxing shower that actually gets them clean. There is no proof that the water restrictions have actually saved water because many people just end up taking longer showers than they otherwise would.

Amen. Every so often I wind up at a hotel with restricted-flow showerheads and it’s a hassle because I probably spend twice as long in the shower.

Not to mention problems government has created elsewhere in bathrooms.

…water restrictions are also the reason that our toilets have trouble flushing. Many of us have become accustomed to flushing the toilet multiple times before the toilet bowl is clear. The 1992 Energy Policy Act states that all toilets sold in the United States use no more than 1.6 gallons of water per flush. These water restrictions are the reason why we have to use plungers far more often than we used to.

I won’t torment readers with a TMI moment, but I will say that I now routinely flush at the halfway point when seated on a toilet. And even that doesn’t necessarily preclude a third flush at the end of the process.

The only good news is that this gives me a daily reminder that government has far too much power to micro-manage our lives.

Speaking of excessive government, here’s another example of the regulatory state run amok.

Perhaps you’ve heard of the federal milk police? Well, now we’ll have the federal pizza police, as explained by The Manhattan Institute.

Pizza makers could face fines and prison time under a new Food and Drug Administration rule for failing to provide calorie counts for their billions of combinations of pizza orders. …FDA’s menu labeling rule will go into effect on December 1st, 2016… If a company does not perfectly comply with the mandate, food may be rendered “misbranded” under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, a violation that carries criminal penalties. Failure to comply with the regulation could lead to government seizure of food, a maximum $1,000 fine, and a one-year prison sentence. …Revising systems under strict compliance with the regulation’s guidelines is expected to cost Domino’s $1,600 to $4,700 per restaurant annually. In general, the rule is expected to cost businesses $537 million, losses that necessarily must be passed on to consumers in the form of higher prices.

And I doubt anyone will be surprised to learn that all this coercion and red tape will have no positive effect.

Several studies on the effectiveness of calorie displays suggest the mandate will have little to no effect on the public’s choices. In one study on menu-labeling in New York City, Brian Elbel, a professor at New York University, found that only 28 percent of people who saw calorie labels said that the information influenced their choices. There was no statistically significant change in calories purchased. In another study, Lisa Harnack of the University of Minnesota examined whether knowledge about calorie counts of menu items would influence how much a person ate, even if the information did not change ordering habits. A lab study revealed that, overall, consumers did not change how much they ate after receiving information about their food’s caloric content.

Which is why, when writing about this topic last year, I predicted “If this regulation is implemented, it will have zero measurable impact on American waistlines.

P.S. Keep in mind we already have the federal bagpipe police, the federal pond police, and the federal don’t-whistle-at-whales police.

P.P.S. As I repeatedly warn, if the answer is more government, someone’s asked a very silly question.

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It’s time for an updated version of the U.S. vs U.K. government stupidity contest.

This ongoing series has featured amazing feats of inane government, including the world’s most pointless road markings, photo-ID requirements for drain cleaner purchases, and a government so incompetent that it couldn’t give money away.

Today’s contest, though, is going to focus on examples of wimpiness from both sides of the Atlantic.

Here’s an excerpt from a story out of the United Kingdom. Apparently, one neurotic mother thinks her son is some sort of incompetent misfit.

OMG, he’s going to become a serial killer!!

A mother was left horrified after her 10-year-old son returned form Tesco’s supermarket with a pumpkin carving kit which included a sharp serrated blade. Natalie Greaves from Sheffield in South Yorkshire described her reaction to Shay returning home with the one pound kit: ‘I went berserk when he came home with it. ‘I couldn’t believe that he could pick that sort of thing up as a child – there should have been an age restriction on it.’

“Horrified”? “Beserk”? You must be kidding. If there’s someone in that family who shouldn’t be allowed around sharp objects, it’s the mother.

It’s almost enough to make me think the kid would be better off in foster care, notwithstanding my libertarian instincts that even bad homes are oftentimes better than state control.

But I also wonder what this says about the entire nation. Back in 2012, I shared some laughably pathetic examples of anti-gun political correctness from the United Kingdom and wondered how such inane behavior could exist in a country that “once ruled half the world.”

Needless to say, this story doesn’t reflect well on our cousins across the ocean.

But Americans are in no position to make fun of others since there are plenty of examples of brain-dead political correctness in the United States.

After all, you don’t want to throw stones if you live in a glass house. And when it comes to absurd anti-gun hysteria, government schools make Americans look like infantile idiots.

Here are parts of a story from a local news outlet in Alabama.

A Mobile mother is not happy about a controversial Mobile County School contract her daughter signed without her consent. The contract promises that her daughter will not kill or injure herself and others. …She said E R Dickson school officials crossed the line when they had her daughter sign a Mobile County Public Safety Contract without her being present.

This sounds serious. Are we talking about a 16-yr old gang member? A 17-yr old with psychiatric issues? A 15-yr old with a history of violence.

Ummm…not exactly.

The student, a 5-yr old girl named Elizabeth, was playing like a normal kid. Here are some of the details.

School officials told Rebecca they had to send Elizabeth home after an incident in class.  “They told me she drew something that resembled a gun,” said Rebecca. “According to them she pointed a crayon at another student and said, ‘pew pew,” said Rebecca. She said her child was given a questionnaire to evaluate her for suicidal thoughts. “[They] Asked her if she was depressed now,” said Rebecca. Without her permission, Rebecca said her child was given the Mobile County Public School Safety Contract to sign stating she wouldn’t kill herself or others. “While I was in the lobby waiting they had my 5-year-old sign a contract about suicide and homicide,” said Rebecca. …Rebecca is pushing to have the incident removed from her child’s record. She said school officials have requested Elizabeth see a psychiatrist.

As I’ve argued before, in cases like this it’s the school bureaucrats who need counseling.

So which nation wins the prize for the worst example of P.C. wimpiness?

I’m ashamed to say that the United States probably deserves that dubious honor. After all, the story from the U.K. involves one weird parent while the U.S. story involves a deliberate decision by an arm of government.

Though I will point out that it’s not just one screwy parent in the United Kingdom. Wimpiness appears to be pervasive.

The mum-of-three checked online and found similar carving kits with restrictions allowing only people over-18 to buy it. A Tesco spokesperson responded to this mother’s anger… ‘We were concerned by this incident and acted immediately to ensure all pumpkin carving knives will trigger an age restriction till prompt.’

So maybe the U.K. story belongs in the U.K. vs. U.S. private sector political correctness contest.

P.S. Let’s shift to a different topic. I recently wrote that the jihad against tobacco at the U.N.’s World Health Organization was a classic (and tragic) case of resources being diverted from something that genuinely matters, such as fighting deadly infectious disease.

A column in the Wall Street Journal makes the same point, only it identifies the silly crusade against sugar as the main example of mission creep.

The WHO’s record of handling epidemics over 30 years reveals a health system that is getting worse, not better. On at least four occasions the U.N. organization has failed to deal with major outbreaks of communicable disease. …The list of internal problems that cause the WHO to fumble when faced with an epidemic is no secret. …an array of disparate programs within the WHO—such as the current crusade against processed sugar and sugar beverages—have diverted time, attention and money from higher priorities, such as tracking and responding to epidemic diseases.

And the Washington Examiner has opined on the same issue.

Years of dramatically overstaffed city agencies, over-generous retirement promises to public employee unions, and white-elephant development projects had left the city unable to police its streets, keep street lamps on, maintain parks, or provide other basic government services, no matter how much the city government raised taxes. The lesson of Detroit is one that governments everywhere can learn: In a world with finite resources, governments that try to do too much end up neglecting even the essential. Detroit’s case is a microcosm of what Americans are now experiencing nationwide in several different areas — the evident inability of public health officials to manage the Ebola scare competently is just one of them. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the agency that instructed a mildly symptomatic patient with known exposure to Ebola to board a commercial flight this week, spends millions annually on bonuses for top employees, bicycle paths, farmers markets, and other luxuries. …Even if they enjoy using the money the nation has for disease control and vaccine research to fund instead research on origami condoms and to appease politically active bicyclists, public health bureaucrats might do better in the future putting their massive budgets toward basic preparedness for precisely the kind of emergency the CDC was created to address.

The link between small government and effective government is something Calvin Coolidge understood. Needless to say, that’s not the attitude of the current occupant of the White House, which is why this bit of humor is worth sharing.

I think the unintentional video on Obama’s new Ebola Czar is even funnier, but whoever put this together gets high marks for cleverness.

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Michelle Obama wants the federal government to tell us what kind of food to eat.

I actually wouldn’t object if she merely used a bully pulpit to encourage healthier eating. But the busy-body crowd in Washington has a hard time distinguishing between giving advice and engaging in coercion.

So we now have legislation that gives Washington the power to interfere with food in local schools.

But not everybody is rolling over, particularly when federal rules are coercing states into banning bake sales. The National Journal reports on growing resistance to this absurd example of nanny statism from Washington. Here are some excerpts.

…states are…fighting nutrition standards that would considerably alter one of the most sacred rituals of the American public school system: bake sales. Twelve states have established their own policies to circumvent regulations in the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 that apply to “competitive snacks,” or any foods and beverages sold to students on school grounds that are not part of the Agriculture Department’s school meal programs, according to the National Association of State Boards of Education. Competitive snacks appear in vending machines, school stores, and food and beverages, including items sold at bake sales. …The pushback is not about students’ taste buds, but their wallets. Food fundraisers are a crucial source of revenue for schools, state education officials say. “Tough economic times have translated into fewer resources and these fundraisers allow our schools to raise a considerable amount of money for very worthwhile education programs,” the Georgia Department of Education wrote in a recent press release. …The statement called the federal guidelines on fundraisers “an absolute overreach of the federal government.”

Kudos to the Georgia officials who complained about government overreach.

But don’t forget that local governments certainly are capable of overreach as well, as this cartoon illustrates.

If you think banning bake sales is an example of government run amok, then you’ll be equally perturbed by what’s happening in California.

According to the Associated Press, some residents are being put in a no-win situation of being fined by either state or local government based on whether or not they water their lawns.

I’m not joking. Check out these blurbs from the story.

Laura Whitney and her husband, Michael Korte, don’t know whether they’re being good citizens during a drought or scofflaws. On the same day the state approved mandatory outdoor watering restrictions with the threat of $500 fines, the Southern California couple received a letter from their city threatening a $500 penalty for not watering their brown lawn. …They’re among residents caught in the middle of conflicting government messages as the need for conservation clashes with the need to preserve attractive neighborhoods. “My friends in Los Angeles got these letters warning they could be fined if they water, and I got a letter warning that I could be fined for not watering,” Whitney said. “I felt like I was in an alternate universe.”

It’s not an alternative universe. As Andy Johnson, Anthony Smelley, Charlie Engle, Tammy Cooper, Nancy Black, Russ Caswell, Jacques Wajsfelner, Jeff Councelller, Martha Boneta, Salvatore Culosi, and James Lieto can atttest, governments routinely abuse innocent people.

But at least we can take comfort in the fact that governments outside of America engage in equally silly actions.

Though I confess I’m not sure how to categorize the news that’s being reported by the BBC. As you can see from these excerpts, there’s apparently now a rule in China limiting public officials to no more than three mistresses.

We’ve heard a lot about China’s far-reaching anti-corruption campaign at the behest of President Xi Jinping. …But according to a report in the English-language newspaper China Daily, “adultery” is now banned for party members. …But just when you thought the party was taking a puritanical stand, the newspaper said that when authorities had previously accused officials of “moral corruption” they defined this as having more than “three mistresses”.

The Princess of the Levant didn’t allow me to engage in any field research on this issue during my recent trip to Shanghai, so I can’t comment on the accuracy of the story.

Though I wonder whether Chinese officials got any advice from America’s 42nd president before imposing these rules?

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I have some bad news and some good news.

The bad news is that politicians have come up with another proposal for an additional tax.

Some people like prohibition

Some people like prohibition

The good news is that they can only impose this new tax if they ease up on the silly Drug War.

That creates a bit of a quandary if you believe in freedom and small government.

But, on net, it’s a move in the right direction.

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.

Some lawmakers in New York also seem to understand that prohibition is illogical. Here are some excerpts from a local news report.

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.

That happens with cigarettes, for instance, and we examples of excessive taxation causing less revenue from Bulgaria, Romania, and Ireland. And we’ve even seen this Laffer Curve effect in Washington, DC.

Last but not least, we should never forget that the Drug War is a horrifying example of Mitchell’s Law, with one bad policy leading to another bad policy.

The War on Drugs, for example, is the reason why politicians imposed costly and ineffective anti-money laundering laws. As well as disgusting and reprehensible asset forfeiture laws.

P.S. Libertarians are not the only ones to think the drug war is foolish. Yes, you find libertarians such as John Stossel and Gary Johnson on the list of those who want to end prohibition. But you also find John McCainMona Charen, Pat Robertson, Cory Booker, and Richard Branson.

But maybe you disagree with all those people and would rather be on the same side as Hillary Clinton.

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.

Or sometimes the Drug War merely exposes government stupidity.

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You would think the bureaucrats who run government schools would want to focus on the basics, such as teaching reading, writing, and arithmetic.

After all, no nation spends more per pupil on education than the United States. And based on some Cato Institute research, I suspect the OECD estimate of about $15,000 per student is a low-ball estimate of the burden on American taxpayers.

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.

OECD NumeracyOECD Literacy

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?

Well, they keep asking for more money. But as this remarkable chart from the Cato Institute illustrates, throwing more money at the system is a great way of building bureaucracy. But it sure doesn’t do much for kids. Education spending Cato chart

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.

Here’s a story from Massachusetts about a student being punished for doing the right thing.

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.

Now ask yourself to key question: Do we want to maintain and perpetuate a failed government school monopoly, or should we implement school choice to get better results and less political correctness?

Heck, we should be able to reform our schools if there’s already choice in countries such as Chile, Sweden, and the Netherlands.

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If you don’t like the NSA collecting and monitoring all your communications, you probably won’t be thrilled about new technologies that will give government power to monitor where you drive and control how you drive.

Let’s look at a couple of options and then ponder which is more offensive.

We’ll start with government monitoring of where you drive. Here’s part of what Holman Jenkins wrote for the Wall Street Journal.

…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.

Let’s see what the UK-based Daily Mail is reporting about an obnoxious European proposal to give government control over your gas pedal.

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.

Money laundering laws are a good example. It’s rather offensive that the government has set up a system that forces banks and other financial institutions to spy on all of our financial transactions.

But other than imposing high costs on the financial sector, this system doesn’t have much impact on the average person. To be sure, some poor people lose access to the financial system. And, yes, there are horror stories about people who have their accounts frozen because they’ve engaged in an unusual transaction, but most of us will live our lives without ever noticing that the government has created this Orwellian regime.

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.

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I’ve conducted a handful of polls in the past four-plus years of writing this blog.

* Michael Ramirez won the contest for best political cartoonist.

* In the government-thuggery contest, readers overwhelmingly selected the organic farmer being harassed by local bureaucrats.

* I was surprised that Romney easily won the 2012 election poll, but even more surprised that Obama wasn’t that far behind Gary Johnson.

* For my poll on why (or if) people support the Second Amendment, my choice came in fourth place.

 * We got a wide range of responses in the poll about the guy who took revenge in a very unique way against local law enforcement.

Now let’s do another poll. Our contest today will be to select the worst example of the regulatory state running amok.

1. Our first option deals with the Orwellian Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA), which seeks to impose bad American tax law on things that happen outside America’s borders.

The good news is that Obama has unified the world, just like he promised in his campaign. The bad news – from the U.S. perspective – is that the world is now united against this horrible piece of legislation.

Here’s some of what a law professor just wrote about FATCA for the Wall Street Journal Europe.

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.IRS Thuggery 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.

I’ve complained about a bloated and overpaid government workforce, but I’ll redouble my efforts now that I know we have bureaucrats going to one-man magic shows to check people for licenses.

On the other hand, I’m surprised that rabbit rules only 14 pages of regulations? That’s pretty spartan compared to the 74,000 pages of rules for the tax code.

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.

Here are some of the details from the Associated Press.

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.

So whether we’re looking at anecdotes or big-picture data, the message is the same. Red tape is strangling the productive sector of the economy.

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Last year, I showed an image of evolutionary stages that was so accurate that it would earn approval even from many strict creationists.

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.

Heck, why not have a cop in every house to make sure we consume 5 servings of fruits and vegetables every day? Actually, I shouldn’t say that too loud. Given the Supreme Court’s Obamacare decision, there’s apparently no limit to the federal government’s power to control our behavior through the tax code, so I’d hate to give politicians any more crazy ideas.

If you think I’m engaging in a bit of hyperbole, just remember that New York City already has gone after bake sales for peddling sweets.

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.

In other words, the welfare state hurts the poor, as Thomas Sowell explained the other day. Though I suppose fairness requires me to admit that there are those who benefit from all the various income-redistribution programs. A vast army of bureaucrats get very comfortable salaries to administer these program, and these poverty pimps, as Walter Williams describes them, enjoy much higher levels of compensation than they could earn in the economy’s productive sector.

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.

Amen. A “good choice” isn’t good if it’s the result of coercion. Paternalists sometime have admirable goals, but they err when they want to turn big government into big daddy and big mommy.

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, hereherehere, here, here, here and here.

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I’ve shared some bizarre horror stories about adults being victimized by anti-gun fanaticism, including the Washington, DC, man who got fined $1,000 for saving a child’s life and a British man who got arrested for finding a gun and turning it over to the police.

But I get more worried about the future of the country when I read reports of children being subjected to this kind of politically correct nonsense.

Consider, for instance, these absurd details from a local news report.

Lego gunA 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.

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I wouldn’t blame foreigners for thinking the United States is a bit schizophrenic.

This is a nation where you can own a tank or a machine gun, and it’s a country where there are probably more guns than people.

Yet it’s also a country where little kids get suspended for throwing imaginary grenades while playing alone on a playground. A country where cops arrest 10-year olds for having toy guns. And a country where small children get kicked out of school for pretending their hands are guns and saying “pow, pow.”

And now, apparently, it’s a country where kids can’t point a pencil at a buddy and make shooting noises.

Oh my God, It’s an assault pencil!

Here are some of the absurd details from a local CBS news report.

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.

With apologies to Martin Niemöller, I can’t resist this bit of satire.

First they came for the pop tarts,
and I didn’t speak out because I didn’t care for breakfast pastries.

Then they came for the pink bubble blowers,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a bubble blower.

Then they came for the cupcakes,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a cupcake eater.

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.

These are all example from my series comparing brainless policies in the United States and United Kingdom. Though I’m ashamed to say that this latest story puts the United States in the lead in this government-stupidity contest.

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Whether they’re banning bake sales, federalizing school lunch menus, or criminalizing Big Gulps, the nanny-staters feel they have some special wisdom that gives them the right to tell other people how to live their lives.

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.

Parternalists obviously disagree. For a very reasonable explanation of this mindset, here’s some of Cass Sunstein’s work, as excerpted by The New Republic.

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.

P.S. If Sunstein’s name sounds familiar, it may be because I have criticized him for endorsing more redistribution based on FDR’s awful Economic Bill of Rights.

On the other hand, I have favorably cited his research to show that too much regulation can cause needless deaths.

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I’ve had fun documenting and comparing examples of government stupidity in both the United States and United Kingdom, and today’s story clearly belongs on those lists.

Send this kid to a re-education camp!

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?!?

Here are some of the details from a local news report.

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.

There’s a reason this story may seem familiar.

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.

  1. The person (I assume a teacher) who filed the initial complaint should be suspended.
  2. The bureaucrat (I assume school principal) who suspended the boys should be fired.
  3. The children (all of them, not just the two who were suspended) should be given toy guns and encouraged to play like normal kids.

Have I missed something?

The Un-Free State

What else should be done to stop the continuing wussification and wimpification of modern society?

P.S. It’s probably no coincidence that these displays of government stupidity took place in Maryland. This is the state, after all, that crashed on the Laffer Curve, imposed regulations making it difficult for summer camps to protect kids from sunburn, and considered a law to give bums panhandling permits.

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I’ve shared several horror stories of government incompetence and bureaucratic nonsense as part of my series comparing stupid policies in the United States and United Kingdom.

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.

The United States responded by paying to have a bunch of bureaucrats attend a conference so they could learn how to respond to a zombie attack.

I’m not sure which of those decisions wins the prize for government stupidity, but today’s story suggests that it’s time to start chanting “U-S-A, U-S-A.”

After all, surely the United Kingdom can’t surpass the moronic decision by Maryland school bureaucrats to suspend a little boy for pretending his hand was a gun and “shooting” another child.

Here’s all you need to know, as reported by the Washington Examiner, about this laughable – yet nauseating – example of nanny-state political correctness.

Child Hand-Gun

I guess he should play with dolls instead

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.

Seems like the United States wins this contest for government stupidity.

But, wait, maybe I was blinded by patriotism. Perhaps I wanted America to win and that caused me to overlook equally inane decisions in the United Kingdom.

Indeed, that was the case. Showing that stupidity can reign supreme on both sides of the Atlantic, it turns out that two boys in England were reprimanded for make gun shapes were their hands.

But that’s not all. There have been other idiotic episodes of anti-gun lunacy in the United Kingdom.

And let’s not forget the woman who got in trouble with the police for trying to scare away some thugs by brandishing a knife in her own home.

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.

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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 I fully expect to see that foolish proposal get enacted at some point. After all, this is the country where a women who was being threatened by thugs got in trouble with the police for brandishing a knife in her own home.

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I don’t like bloated government. It undermines economic performance by diverting resources from the productive sector of the economy and often leads to destructive tax policy.

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?

From the United Kingdom

From the United States

I’ve even shared some instances of moronic behavior from the private sector, and I have another story that may belong in that category.

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.

But whatever the cause, it’s a sorry sign for civilization. I’ve previously explained that I’m very pessimistic about the United Kingdom’s fiscal outlook. Based on this story, I also should worry about the nation’s mental outlook.

But I’m not throwing stones blindly. I’m fully aware that the United States is a glass house, whether the metric is reckless fiscal policy or a dearth of common sense.

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