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Three Cheers for the Nanny State!


This is the non-ironic title of an op-ed in Sunday’s New York Times.  Sarah Conly, author of a book with an even dumber title, “Against Autonomy: Justifying Coercive Paternalism” wrote:

The crucial point is that in some situations it’s just difficult for us to take in the relevant information and choose accordingly. It’s not quite the simple ignorance Mill was talking about, but it turns out that our minds are more complicated than Mill imagined. Like the guy about to step through the hole in the bridge, we need help.

Is it always a mistake when someone does something imprudent, when, in this case, a person chooses to chug 32 ounces of soda? No. For some people, that’s the right choice. They don’t care that much about their health, or they won’t drink too many big sodas, or they just really love having a lot of soda at once.

But laws have to be sensitive to the needs of the majority. That doesn’t mean laws should trample the rights of the minority, but that public benefit is a legitimate concern, even when that may inconvenience some.

So do these laws mean that some people will be kept from doing what they really want to do? Probably — and yes, in many ways it hurts to be part of a society governed by laws, given that laws aren’t designed for each one of us individually. Some of us can drive safely at 90 miles per hour, but we’re bound by the same laws as the people who can’t, because individual speeding laws aren’t practical. Giving up a little liberty is something we agree to when we agree to live in a democratic society that is governed by laws. [Emphasis added]

I’ll never forget that time I saw someone drink a 32 ounce soda and then watched in horror as the three people around him dropped dead. 

The author fails to note that speed limits and many other laws are for the safety of others, not for the one committing the crime.  In the case of a law on soda size or what she calls “paternalistic” laws is that the only person directly affected is the person who chooses to drink a lot of soda in one sitting.  She dismisses those who say it will lead to mandated aerobics and broccoli, but how are those examples any different from regulating soda size?  As I wrote yesterday, the National Institute for Health is already making recommendations on the kinds of prepared foods people buy.  Why wouldn’t mandated aerobics and broccoli be next? 

The author’s book title says it all — the goal is a coercive paternalistic society where citizens have little autonomy.

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