Monday, September 12, 2005

Column on the "success" of Nannyism

When a Success is a Failure

Tibor R. Machan

My favorite newsmagazine from the UK, THE WEEK, titles a brief report in
its August 27, 2005, issue?on its weekly ?Health & Science? page??Smoking
Ban Success.? The item deals with the recent finding that ?New York?s ban
on smoking in bars, restaurants and other public places ? has done wonders
for the city?s hospital workers.? This, THE WEEK reports, comes from the
New Scientist, another magazine from the UK. (THE WEEK is a news digest of
sorts, subtitled ?All You Need to Know About Everything that Matters?The
Best of the British and Foreign Media.?)

The report goes on to say that prior to the ban a group of researchers
recruited 24 non-smokers from places where smoking went on and the results
were far worse then three months after the ban commenced. The exposure to
smoke ?dropped from 3 to 0.05?; cotinine levels came down by 80% and ?the
eye, nose and throat irritations were halved.?

In short, coercing people to behave in healthful ways produces some
healthful results. But does that justify the ban?

There are, of course, two substantially different classes of public
places, those that are, in fact, not public at all, namely, privately
owned business or clubs or similar venues, and those that are public
service establishments, such as the Department of Motor Vehicles or court
houses. The former are supposed to be the sovereign realms of their
proprietors, who in a free society would have the right and authority to
decided whether smoking or hurling bowling balls or serving beer, wine and
hard liquor will go on there, provided this is fully disclosed and no one
is mislead by misinformation. The latter are supposed to be realms
wherein the public authorities or regulators decided what is to be done,
and here the decision can follow the standards that have been settle on by
way of a democratic vote or the judgments of appointed officials in line
with criteria that?s suitable to the use to which the realms are put.

That is how it would be in a free society. Since in such a society there
is no officially protected monopoly as to what bars, restaurants or
similar privately owned places can operate, these would be completely free
of official intervention except possibly after the fact, if it were to be
shown that criminal conduct ensues within them. People wouldn?t need to
go there to receive services or to obtain employment.

Just as no one is authorized to enter my home?or, at least, ought not to
be so authorized?unless there is probable cause for thinking that I am
violating someone rights therein, the same goes for all privately owned
establishments where men and women come and go of their own free choice,
meeting the freely agreed to terms of both proprietor and customer.

Now it can be argued that now and then a coercively imposed policy can
reap desirable results?for example, so far as health, wealth, beauty or
some other end is concerned that many people wish to achieve. But the
issue here is not that?no one disputes this possibility from paternalistic
legal policies.

The issue is that free men and women are not kids to be regimented about
by their elders. They are to be respected not so much for what they decide
but for being adults who are supposed to make their own choices and not be
subject to the will of other people, even if being so subject could
produce something desirable for them. This is their right but, also, when
they are treated as the Nanny state treats them, there are dire
consequences from that, too. (Just consider Katrina and how too many
people failed to cope because they were counting on government to do it
for them.)

But then in America we now are clearly gravitating toward a society in
which Nannyism is triumphing. The US Supreme Court?s ruling in Kelo v. New
London, CT, testifies to this?the court decided that if city officials
believe that confiscating private property will produce the desirable goal
(for some) of economic development, go ahead and do the taking with
impunity. The various cigarette bans, too, prove that individual rights
are now officially violated across the legal landscape and supported by
the major political factions. Each side is merely interested in having its
agenda get official backing, and then the march toward a paternalistic
order is just fine.

One of the consequences of a regime of liberty is that men and women may
not be stopped from embarking upon conduct that may do them harm. This
idea is clearly upheld, still, when it comes to freedom of religion and
press or speech. Despite the hopelessly ridiculous, often
self-destructive, creeds people embrace, they are free to do so because,
well, they are adult human beings, not children or invalids. Despite the
nonsense some of them choose to read or write, there is no prohibition
against this because, well, they are adults who are taken to be
responsible for their own lives and conduct.

The fact that this isn?t acknowledged and upheld in law about the rest of
what adult men and women would embark upon in their lives, be it for
better or worse results, is certainly not any evidence of success in our
society or anywhere else. Here Americans are, in fact, treated no better
than are women in Iran or others in various totalitarian societies.

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