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Several years ago, I wanted to can some peaches, so I visited a well-known regional store that specialized in scrumptious fruit. My hope was to find some peaches that were past their prime and therefore marked down.

I hit the jackpot. I walked up to the peach bin just as the produce manager was removing some fruit. “What are you doing with those peaches?” I asked.

“Throwing them away,” he replied.

“I’m looking for peaches to can. May I buy these for a discount?”

He gave me two full boxes of slightly overripe peaches. For free. He was glad someone wanted them.

So, emboldened by my luck, the following year I went into the same store and spoke to the same produce manager about peaches.

“I’m sorry,” he said, truly regretful. “I’m not allowed to give away older fruit anymore. I have to throw it out.” It seems someone had complained that their free overripe fruit was – get this – overripe and had given them a bellyache. Rather than risk a lawsuit, the store changed its policy and no longer gave away any of its overripe produce.

No amount of cajoling would budge the produce manager from his position. All that beautiful canning-quality fruit went into the trash.

Welcome to America, land of the lawsuit.

I recently spoke with a friend whose job takes him to multiple grocery stores and manufacturing facilities around the region. His observations confirmed the same thing, over and over. It’s not just fruit that gets thrown away, of course. It’s meat, canned goods, household items … the list is endless. Many stores saturate discarded meat with ammonia before throwing it away. Otherwise the past-prime meat might be salvaged from the dumpster and eaten, giving someone a bellyache. Naturally that person will then sue the store.

As my friend noted, this is just the region around one small city. Multiply this by every region around every city across the country, and it amounts to a staggering amount of loss and waste.

Americans want perfection. We demand perfection, even in discarded goods (which, of course, was discarded because it wasn’t perfect). And if our demands are not met, we retaliate. We do NOT retaliate by changing our behavior (such as not patronizing a certain store or not salvaging food from dumpsters). No, we retaliate by suing the entity with the deepest pockets in hopes of becoming independently wealthy.

In this regard, our stupidity and lack of responsibility is consistently rewarded. When someone files a lawsuit because the fruit he salvaged from a dumpster gave him a bellyache, the judge rewards him with “damages” from the store that tossed the fruit, rather than telling the defendant to grow up and quit being an idiot.

And so it goes. We expect someone “else” (preferably the government, which has the power of force behind it) to fix our stupidity, poor choices and even random accidents – by passing legislation controlling what it has no business controlling. Nothing can be left up to private enterprise anymore. Everything must be mandated from on high. A Baby Blues cartoon snarked about this in a series entitled “Good Parenting, Then and Now.” Back then if a child fell out of a tree, his parents said, “I guess you learned a lesson about climbing trees.” Today they say, “We need to pass legislation to make trees safer.”

“The only thing Americans hate more than big government,” notes columnist Anne Applebaum, “is the absence of government protection. … Americans – with their lawsuit culture, their safety obsession, and above all their addiction to government spending programs – demand more from their government than just about anybody else in the world. They don’t just want the government to keep the peace and create a level playing field. They want the government to ensure that every accident and every piece of bad luck is either prevented or fully compensated.”

But the worst thing of all – the very worst thing that could happen – is for the government to give us a “level” playing field as currently defined by progressives (who want equality of outcome, not just equality of opportunity), because it becomes a self-feeding cycle. The more the government protects us, the less we protect ourselves. Then we demand that the government protect us even more because we no longer can or want to protect ourselves.

And the sad part is, the government is thrilled to fix problems it has no business fixing, because almost by definition this leads to more control over its citizens. Government fixes generally help the government, not the people.

Doubtless by now many of you will question how far I’m willing to take this. Should the government never impose restrictions on its citizens for reasons of safety, fairness, or crime control?

Of course not. But we have a time-tested mechanism designed specifically for determining what things the government should or (more importantly) should not regulate. It’s called the Constitution. Together with the Bill of Rights, our founders set limits on the government’s ability to “protect” us. “I would rather be exposed to the inconveniences attending too much liberty than to those attending too small a degree of it,” noted Thomas Jefferson. The founders intended for us to have the freedom to succeed or fail on our own merit.

Currently, we are experiencing some of the worst unemployment rates in generations. Millions of people would appreciate the resources – food and goods – that are currently thrown away in this country. But they can’t utilize them because of potential liability.

This may backfire. The day may come when we are no longer a land of plenty, and we may look back with regret at the greed, lawsuits, lawyers, government regulations, management policies and other hindrances that keep the private sector from taking care of itself and sharing its bounty with the less fortunate.

Until we can grow up and stop expecting Big Brother to fix everything, this country will continue its slide into the toilet. But don’t worry, the government promises to “fix” the clogged toilet, too.

Maybe we have the government we deserve after all.

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