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Many years ago I worked as a legal secretary in a Sacramento law firm. I became friends with an attorney named Anne, and we kept in touch even after we both departed for different jobs. In her new position, Anne became instrumental in crafting the then-new legislation in California requiring mandatory helmets for motorcyclists.
The legislation sparked massive protests. Standing on the seventh-floor office of my new job overlooking Capitol Mall in Sacramento, I watched thousands of leather-clad bikers roaring up toward the state Capitol to protest.
Later, as we got together for lunch, I asked Anne how the legislation was coming. She launched into a story about how her office was being besieged by angry protesters. “But we’re just trying to protect you,” she had told the frothing bikers at a public hearing, her eyes shining with the righteousness of public policy. While I’m sure it wasn’t her intent, the words came out sounding incredibly condescending.
When I told my husband about this incident, he was indignant at the arrogance implied by this attorney’s remarks. “The government has no right to tell someone what kind of protection to wear on the road,” he said. “BUT – and this is a big ‘but’ – the bikers then have no right to expect someone else – particularly the state – to pick up the costs if they bash their head in during an accident.”
And that, in a nutshell, is why our government is becoming increasingly tyrannical with regards to nitpicky legislation: because people don’t want to take responsibility for their own actions. “The emerging tragedy,” notes Walter Williams, “is our increased willingness to use the coercive powers of government, in the name of health or some other ruse, to forcibly impose our preferences upon others.”
Allegedly this kind of coercive power is meant to keep people from hurting themselves, either through helmet laws or smoking laws or (most recently) the banning of sugary drinks over 16 ounces in New York City. “We’re not taking away anybody’s right to do things,” assures NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg in reference to the suggestion that people wanting more than 16 ounces of a sugary drink will need to order two cups. “We’re simply forcing you to understand that you have to make the conscious decision to go from one cup to another cup.”
Ostensibly this impulse to overprotect is a desire for state and local governments to avoid paying for someone’s stupidity. There is a natural inclination on the part of stupid people to try and blame anyone but themselves when they bash their unprotected heads on the highway or develop lung cancer or grow too large to get out of bed. Worse, these people expect the state to pick up the tab for their medical treatments. Under these conditions, is it any wonder the state will try to fix stupid?
Underneath the surface, of course, we find a government that is happy – delighted, in fact – to embrace all possible restrictions and limitations on our behavior, since it grants them more power and control. As long as people insist on doing stupid things – and then blaming others for their own stupidity – then the government will take great delight in regulating our lives to the nth degree as an excuse to save us from ourselves.
“Obesity is a nationwide problem, and all over the United States, public health officials are wringing their hands saying, ‘Oh, this is terrible,'” Mr. Bloomberg said in an interview on Wednesday in the Governor’s Room at City Hall. “New York City is not about wringing your hands; it’s about doing something. I think that’s what the public wants the mayor to do.”
I don’t suppose it’s ever occurred to Mayor Bloomberg – or any other public official, for that matter – to do something totally and completely radical: Refuse to pay for peoples’ stupidity. If citizens knew they would be imposing astronomical financial burdens on themselves or on family members for smashed skulls or lung transplants or the health costs associated with obesity, then people would be less likely to do things that can hurt them.
In other words, as much as I’d like to heap any and all blame for this kind of ridiculous legislation on the government, I can’t. When Bloomberg tells us it’s “what the public” wants him to do, he’s partially right. “The public” expects to take no responsibility for their actions and behaviors, however destructive. Therefore the government will treat “the public” like the undisciplined and irresponsible snot-nosed brats they are.
It’s an unholy and unhealthy alliance. On one hand, we have people smoking or getting fat or riding around without seat belts or helmets or having babies out of wedlock or “hooking up” and getting nasty sexually transmitted diseases. They can’t afford to fix the repercussions of those actions, so they pass on the costs to the state, which burdens everyone. Since people have spent years being conditioned to the idea that the government is there to rescue them, even from their own stupidity, they don’t think twice about the repercussions of their behavior.
On the other hand, we have state and local governments who, since they’re paying for peoples’ stupidity, arguably have every right to dictate what people can and cannot do. As a result, our freedoms diminish.
Freedom is a two-way street. A free person must be a responsible person. Yes we all make mistakes; but why should YOU pay for MY stupidity? When I ask you to pay for my actions, then you have the right to dictate what my future behavior will be.
In other words, you can’t have it both ways. You can’t ask the government to keep its nose out of our business but then expect it to pay for stupid decisions.
“The cost of your health problems from your bad decisions should be borne by you, not me,” noted a commenter. “If you get fat from sugary drinks, don’t expect the rest of society to shoulder the costs of your decisions.”
And that’s the problem in a nutshell, of course. When society bears the costs of stupidity, the government will try to fix stupid by making legislation, and we ALL suffer from a loss of freedom.
If you surrender your freedom to the government, it won’t stop at what the government can do FOR you. A slave may be fed by his master. But he can also be whipped … for his own good.