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Ever since the term “nanny state” was used by British MP Iain Macleod in a column in The Spectator in 1965, it has become a regular part of the parlance of freedom-loving people everywhere who fight to keep government in its place. In David Harsanyi’s Nanny State: How Food Fascists, Teetotaling Do-Gooders, Priggish Moralists, and other Boneheaded Bureaucrats are Turning America into a Nation of Children, the nanny state is defined as
…a place where government takes a hyper-interest in micromanaging the welfare of its citizens, shielding us from our own injurious and irrational behavior…A nation plagued by cowardly elected officials — men and women who refuse to protect my autonomy and my right to be unwholesome, degenerate, or offensive.
From nationwide consumer protectionist measures to banning children’s’ monkey bars and swing sets, the policies of the U.S. as nanny state have permeated deep into our culture, slowly but surely transforming America into a nation of ninnies.
The sacrosanct right to autonomy that Harsanyi’s argues for has been flagrantly trounced in recent years by a number of regulations. The banning of junk food ads during children’s television programming (and the Cookie Monster’s contemptible conversion to an all-vegetable diet) is a sad example of the government overstepping its authority and attempting to play the role of parent and moral compass.
If Americans want to be as Harsanyi asserts, “unwholesome, degenerate, and offensive” or just plain stupid, it is not the state’s place to intervene as long as the individual’s actions are not impinging on the rights of another. What interest does the state have in mandating that helmets be worn while driving a motorcycle or that seatbelts be worn in a car?
There has been a disintegration of the demarcation between acting for the “public good” and “private good.” It is perfectly reasonable for the government to mandate that all pit-bulls be walked whilst on a leash, as an untethered pit-bull poses a distinct threat to all around it. It is however, illogical for government to apply higher tax rates to foods with higher fat and sugar content in an effort to end obesity; the state is not a weight loss coach.
This intrusion into the private sphere marks the undoing of American Social Darwinism. The nanny state allows those who would not survive purely on their own devices to continue to exist, where in a world free of government meddling, these individuals, falling victim to themselves, would be removed from the gene pool. Social Darwinism also applies to the business world; the strong survive while the weak perish (except in Pennsylvania, where the government prohibits such brutish competition).
Pennsylvania’s Liquor Control Board is a tremendous ultimate insult to both citizens and businesses. Established four days after the repeal of prohibition, the Board was described by then Governor Gifford Pinchot as a way to “discourage the purchase of alcoholic beverages by making it as inconvenient and expensive as possible.”
The Board is responsible for all liquor licensing and retailing in the state, meaning that no private interests have any direct part in the sale of alcohol. Private entities can only act as supplier to the state, and even then have to contend with the problems that come from monopoly, especially the Board’s recent denial of price increase requests from vendors.
With such prohibition-like regulations in place, one can only imagine the potential for black market operations as consumers try to obtain a wider variety of alcohol for a cheaper price. Today it’s government-run liquor stores; tomorrow it could be backyard distilleries and people running speakeasies out of their basements.
Again, what does the state gain in “the greater good” from controlling alcohol distribution? Its monopolistic control over the industry eliminates businesses competition, allows it to exert unfair price controls and prohibit certain beverages from reaching consumers. (Remember the effectiveness of the “Four Loko” ban?)
Justifying state control of such a large market in the name of acting for the “good” of the people only works until people are annoyed enough to do something to circumvent the system (with booze on the line didn’t take long).
As the nanny state has its hand in the food you eat, the alcohol you consume, the advertising you’re exposed to and how your children use the playground, it is only logical that healthcare also be on the regulatory short list.
The great debacle that is (or was) Romneycare is yet another instance of the nanny state at work. An attempt at “universal” coverage, this plan (like many nanny state initiatives) was implemented for the “good of all” without everyone paying for it. The Pacific Research Institute’s John R. Graham explains:
The 2006 reform jeopardized the solvency of private health plans in the Bay State. Unfortunately, insurers’ solvency is not something patients, physicians, and voters have reason to observe closely, so the political class suffers from perverse incentives once it starts micromanaging health insurance. As a result, higher costs have been passed on through higher per capita spending and premium growth.
Because it was politically intolerable to allow premiums to rise in line with the costs of Romneycare, the state’s insurance commissioner denied 235 of 276 rate increase requests in April 2010. For a short time, no new policies were offered, and plans suffered significant losses. The next month, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts, the state’s largest carrier, announced a $55 million provision for anticipated losses in the second quarter alone.
Without a doubt, the Environmental Protection Agency remains the biggest nanny of them all. With regulatory increases looming on the horizon as the EPA moves to ban residential sales of certain types of rodent poison, discussions of the Agency’s past regulatory calamities have reignited.
In 1972, the agency banned the pesticide known as DDT, spurred by a media movement and Rachel Carson’s infamous Silent Spring. The chemical was later subject to an international ban through the Stockholm Convention. Many however, have questioned the decision to ban what is inarguably an extremely effective means of pest control.
The late Dr. J. Gordon Edwards and many other scientists campaigned tirelessly against banning the chemical, arguing
DDT is not a carcinogenic hazard to man. DDT is not a mutagenic or teratogenic hazard to man. The uses of DDT under the regulations involved here do not have a deleterious effect on freshwater fish, estuarine organisms, wild birds or other wildlife.
He also unearthed EPA connections with far-left anti-DDT groups. Then EPA Administrator William Ruckelshaus admitted to membership in the anti-DDT National Audubon Society and “streamlining” procedures in order to get DDT banned expeditiously. But this should come as no surprise; ties with the far left seem to be commonplace in regulatory agencies.
The regulatory nightmares continue; most recently for the energy industry. Hot Air’s examination of two of the EPA’s most recent proposals (the Clean Air Transport Rule and Utility Maximum Achievable Control Technology) indicates that when it comes to championing the “good of all” price is no object:
The study estimates that the proposed changes “would lead to nationwide employment losses totaling 1.44 million job-years by 2020 and increase Americans average electricity bills by 11.5 percent.”
Less easily quantified, but also of great concern, is the fact that manufacturers of all stripes use approximately 1/3 of all the electricity in the country. They pay utility bills just like the average consumer, and power costs are factored into their overhead.
When manufacturers see a more than 10% increase in electricity costs, those expenses will be reflected in what they must charge for their goods with the final bill once again being passed on to the consumer. (And that’s in addition to the aforementioned consumer already being hit with a bump in their own utility bills at home.)
There was certainly logic to President Nixon’s decision to create the EPA, but like many other regulatory agencies, it has become overgrown and bureaucratically bloated, a victim of ever-expanding, unchecked governmental growth. Such a body can indeed play a role in keeping watch on how our planet is treated, but regulations that are focused on stifling business rather than protecting the Earth fall are merely political, nothing more.
The EPA and other regulators are useful only when rights are violated, when individuals’ autonomy is threatened. The nanny state itself is an inherent contradiction; in its quest to protect the public from itself, in its pursuit of “the common good” it violates the free market principles and Darwinism upon which the United States was founded.