Posts tagged ‘nanny state’

The Problem with Polls

I have no particular problem with this post from Kevin Drum where he would like to see some different polling questions about the Ground Zero mosque (though I do think they reflect some naivite about the founders' intentions in building the mosque, as telegraphed pretty strongly by its proposed name).  I think the underlying desire to raise awareness about how small changes to poll question wording can make big changes to poll outcomes is a good one.

Here is my problem with all polls like this.  Consider the question

Do you oppose construction of the Ground Zero mosque?

How I answer this is influenced by the unstated intent of the poller or whomever is paying for the poll.  That is, the answer is likely be used as justification for some government action, in this case confiscation of the property rights of the owners of the land by not allowing them to do with the land as they wish.

In this nanny state of micro-fascism, we have a very hard time separating opposition to something from be desirous of government intervention.  For example, I oppose teenagers spending all day watching crappy TV and playing PS3 games rather than reading.  I oppose overcooked steaks.  I oppose people who take forever in buffet lines, selecting one leaf of lettuce at a time.  I oppose airplane bathrooms that smell bad.  I oppose using "incent" as a verb.  I oppose writers who have really long passages without paragraph breaks.  I oppose commenters who constantly harass me about my horrible proof-reading rather than just getting over it and accepting that I suck.

However, in none of these instances would I advocate government action.  Now, of course, I go further than most, in that I also oppose government action in any number of more controversial activities that I also personally oppose but would never ask to be banned, including prostitution, meth use polygamy, driving without a seat belt, and pulling tags off mattresses.   So a better question would be:

Do you oppose government action to block construction of the Ground Zero mosque?

The Brits Are Really Losing It

Banning welcome mats...

Families living in a flat block have been told to remove welcome mats from their porches because they are a health and safety risk.

They have also been told to remove pot plants because they create trip hazards and fire risks.

Residents at the block in Burslem, Stoke-on-Trent, Staffs. say the items have never caused problems.

...and implementing Castro-style block watches

In partnership with regional chapters of the charity group Crimestoppers U.K., multiple local police forces have launched a program called "Too Much Bling? Give Us a Ring." The object of the program is to encourage people who suspect that a neighbor or acquaintance is living off the proceeds of crime to anonymously provide information about that person to the police...

A key component of the "Too Much Bling?" program is its effort to tap into any resentment and anger members of the public may feel toward suspected criminals.

In a release issued by the Sussex Police Department, which used the program to help seize more than £1.5 million between April and December of last year, Detective Sergeant Mick Richards said, "Members of the public are sick and tired of seeing people with no legitimate income living a lavish lifestyle. We are working hard towards taking the cash out of crime making use of all the powers granted to us under the Proceeds of Crime Act and other legislation.

"I am very aware that in these difficult times how disheartening it is to see people 'flashing the cash' when you know that it has come from a life of crime and that they appear to be 'getting away with it,'" he said.

More Recognition of the Health Care Trojan Horse

I have argued for a while that one of the undiscussed problems with nationalized or universal health care is that by socializing the costs of individual lifestyle decisions (e.g. eating, drinking, smoking, wearing a bike helmet, etc) it creates a strong financial incentive for the government to micro-manage individual behavior.  I call this the health care trojan horse for fascism (other posts here).

Q&O has a good post, quoting from Paul Hsieh, on this very topic.

Here's how I understood freedom and liberty worked:

Of course healthy diet and exercise are good. But these are issues of personal "“ not government "“ responsibility. So long as they don't harm others, adults should have the right to eat and drink what they wish "“ and the corresponding responsibility to enjoy (or suffer) the consequences of their choices. Anyone who makes poor lifestyle choices should pay the price himself or rely on voluntary charity, not demand that the government pay for his choices.

Does anyone have a particular argument with that?

In fact, if you believe in freedom and liberty, there really isn't another choice, is there?

But here's what's being offered as the alternative:

Government attempts to regulate individual lifestyles are based on the claim that they must limit medical costs that would otherwise be a burden on "society." But this issue can arise only in "universal healthcare" systems where taxpayers must pay for everyone's medical expenses.

The article has a lot of good examples that follow.  Mr. Hsieh's op-ed is here.

As a side note, I was watching the movie "The Golden Compass"  the other day.  The author and the original book are quite critical of religion, at least of the organized kind, and the evil fascist entity against which the protagonists fight is a world-controlling church.  The movie actually purged most of the religion criticism (or at least made it more subtle) and made the bad buys more generically totalitarian, but hangover criticism of the book stuck to the movie as well.

It was not really a particularly good (or bad) movie, but it had one set of lines spoken by the Nicole Kidman character that I couldn't believe came out of Hollywood.  The protagonist, Lyra, asks Kidman about the contradiction between Kidman's unwillingness to let anyone tell her what to do and the rule-making and absolute obedience that her organization demands of all citizens.    I need to go back and watch the movie to get it exactly right (of course, no one on the movie sites found it memorable enough to post).  But it was something like "Only a few of us are capable of making good decisions for ourselves.  We few have to make decisions for everyone else.  It is really for their own good."  It was really a brilliant summary of the modern political mentality, and slipped through I think only because people in Hollywood took it as a criticism of the religious right, not recognizing it as an equally damning indictment of the left.  (if anyone has the exact quote or a link, please post.  It was on the dirigeable fairly early in the movie, I think).

Update: OK, the Golden Compass lines I wanted start about the 3:00 minute mark in this video [thanks to commenter for showing how to link to a specific point in a YouTube video].  Here is how I transcribed it:

Kidman (Mrs. Coulter):  The Magesterium [the world-girdling totalitarian organization] is what people need, to keep things working, by telling people what to do.

Lyra:  But you told the master that you do whatever you please

Kidman:  That's right, clever girl.  Well, some people know what's best for them, and some people don't.  Besides, they don't tell people what to do in a mean and petty way, they tell them in a kindly way, to keep them out of danger.

Its really hilarious to read through reviews, as I have trying to find this quote.  Apparently (though I missed it at the time) it became a left-right debate about the movie.  The hilarious part is all the left-leaning blogs criticising the right for not seeing how well the shoe fits, without for a second considering that this is a perfect recitation of their end game as well.

Again, about 3:00 into the below:

Regulation and Civil Liberties

One of the things I have always found frustrating and confusing is the number of folks who call themselves "civil libertarians" who simultaneously have not problem with economic and nanny-state hyper-regulation.  In fact, ACLU types are often at the leading edge of calls for more regulation on safety or prices or property or whatever.

I have never been able to understand how the two are not inextricably linked.  How can bright-line protections of freedoms of choice and action be essential in one sphere of our lives but unimportant in others?  Here is just one example of how they work together, from none other than our egregious Sheriff, Joe Arpaio:

Arrest records from crime sweeps conducted by the Maricopa County
Sheriff's Office add substantial weight to claims that deputies used
racial profiling to pull Latino motorists over to search for illegal

even when the patrols were held in mostly White areas such as
Fountain Hills and Cave Creek, deputies arrested more Latinos than
non-Latinos, the records show. In fact, deputies arrested among the
highest percentage of Latinos when patrols were conducted in mostly
White areas.

On the arrest records, deputies frequently cited minor traffic
violations such as cracked windshields and non-working taillights as
the reason to stop drivers.

"These are penny-ante offenses that (police) almost always ignore. This
is telling you this is being used to get at something else, and I think
that something else is immigration enforcement against Hispanic
people," Harris said....

Brian Withrow, an associate professor of criminal justice at Wichita
State University, said racial profiling is very difficult to prove.

States have thousands of traffic laws on the books, so police can
almost always find a reason to stop someone.
The U.S. Supreme Court has
ruled that police can legally use minor traffic violations as a
"pretext" to stop someone they suspect of other crimes. Withrow said
the only way to prove racial profiling is by looking at large numbers
of traffic stops to see if "patterns and practices" of selective
enforcement exist. Otherwise, it's difficult to tell whether police are
stopping motorists for legitimate reasons or merely based on race or

Withrow agreed that the arrest records alone are inconclusive. But
he found it troubling that they show that Latinos were arrested more
frequently than non-Latinos even when the patrols took place in mostly
White areas such as Fountain Hills.

"That tells me that that is who is being targeted," Withrow said.

On the Front Lines of Building the Nanny State

Paula Brown is on the front lines of building the nanny state.  Her son and his friend built a bicycle ramp out of rocks and old boards in the street in front of Ms. Brown's house.  The youthful construction couldn't stand the stresses involved, and the boy's friend suffered a nasty crash, sending him to the hospital with multiple broken bones.  Ms. Brown, who was present in the house as the boys built their jury-rigged Evil Knievel ramp, believes that the government needs to be doing more:

"We've got good drinking and driving laws here, but why no helmet laws?" asked Paula Brown, Cam's mother.

The Browns moved to Scottsdale in August from Vancouver, where helmets are required for bikes, skateboards and scooters.

"We make our kids wear helmets for anything on wheels," Brown said.

Tammy Blackwell, Tristan's mother, also would support a helmet law
for kids. "My husband and I went out and bought helmets for ourselves
because of this."...

She complains that, since Scottsdale doesn't have a rule, peer-group pressure is more compelling to kids than common sense.

Evidently the city's modest signs recommending helmet use and the
more existential, "Skate at Your Own Risk" aren't making a dent.

The real logic gap in this story is that the kid who was hurt was wearing a bike helmet at the time.  So the severe injuries involved had nothing to do with helmet wearing, and everything to do with the lack of adult supervision by Ms. Brown.

The Road To Fascism Is Paived with Pet Issues

I am looking forward to reading David Harsanyi's book Nanny StateHit and Run has an interview with some good stuff.  I think he gets at the nature of the threat very succinctly:

The problem is each citizen has a pet issue. It may be a smoking ban.
Or the need to coerce the obese to stop stuffing their faces. And when
you add all of those up we have the nanny state. While all these
piddling intrusions can be separately viewed as non-threatening, once
you bundle them together we have a movement with the potential to
inflict tremendous damage on our basic freedoms.

Let's Make Sure Politicians Have NO Real World Experience

Via Cato and IBD:

Sen. Hillary Clinton says she wants to establish a national academy
that will train public servants. Why do re-education camps come to
mind? "¦ Somehow we doubt there will be many lectures in making
government smaller, deregulating business, cutting taxes or increasing
individual freedom. Is there a chance that this "new generation"
attending the academy will hear a single voice that isn't hailing the
glories of the nanny state? Will students being groomed for public
service ever hear the names Hayek, von Mises or Friedman during their
studies? "¦ Government at all levels is already overflowing with
bureaucrats who suck up taxpayers' money and produce little, if
anything, of economic value. More often, the bureaucracy actually gets
in the way of economic progress.

This way, government employees can know absolutely nothing about the real world or productive enterprise, and never have to be burdened with listening to anyone in school who doesn't think government is the be-all end-all, kind of like, uh, Hillary Clinton.

Should Juries Be Able to Ban Products?

I have written on this before on the context of Vioxx, but is it really rational public policy to have juries be allowed to effectively ban products, products that both legislatures and regulatory bodies have explicitly or implicitly deemed as legal?  Ted Frank takes this on at Overlawyered in a nice follow-up post on a $31 million jury verdict against Ford:

SUVs are designed to have high clearance to traverse rugged terrain.
This raises the center of gravity and affects the handling: it's a
known tradeoff of the laws of physics. There are a wide variety of
tests of varying degrees of scientific merit one can use to suggest a
vehicle is "too prone" to roll over, and plaintiffs have the benefit of
cherry-picking which tests to apply to which vehicles. You'll find lots
of lawyers complaining that the Bronco II allegedly responded poorly in
"J-turn tests", where the steering wheel is turned 330 degrees in one
third of a second and held there for another 4.67 seconds. Ford
designed the Explorer to pass the J-turn test to take away this claim,
and the trial lawyers started using different methodologies to claim
that the Explorer was too prone to roll over.

Empirically, however, the Bronco doesn't roll over more than several
other SUVs on the market, which is why NHTSA, in both the Bush I and
Clinton administrations, refused to recall the Bronco when the
plaintiffs' bar asked it to. When I say Ford was held liable for
producing an SUV, I'm not spinning: it was because it was held liable
for producing an SUV.

Moreover, a vehicle should be viewed in totality: an auto that is
more likely to roll over may be safer in other particulars that more
than compensate for that increased propensity. So I question the
premise. One can't change the rollover propensity without creating a
different vehicle entirely. The vehicle should be viewed holistically,
and holistically, the Bronco is a safe car when used as designed.

Perhaps we as a society would be better off taking the nanny-state
step of banning SUVs, forbidding people from wildnerness driving
because too many drivers don't know how to drive SUVs in highway
conditions, but that's a decision that not only would end the American
auto industry, but should be made other than by a 12-person jury of
laypeople. This vehicle rolled over because the driver drove off the

I had similar thoughts about the Vioxx cases:

Anyway, the point of this post is that this verdict represents a very dangerous assault on individual choice.  Recognize that there are many, many activities in life where individuals are presented with the following choice:

If I choose to do X, my life will be improved in some way but I may statiscally increase my chance of an early death.

may react at first to say that "I would never risk death to improve my
life", but likely you make this choice every day.  For example, if you
drive a car, you are certainly increasing your chance of early death
via a auto accident, but you accept this risk because driving allows
you to get so much more done in your life (vs. walking).  If you ride a
bike, swim, snow ski, roller blade, etc. you are making this choice.
Heck, everyone on the California coast is playing Russian Roulette with
an earthquake in exchange for a great climate, beautiful scenery, and
plentiful jobs.

The vast majority of drugs and medical therapies carry this same
value proposition:  A drug will likely improve or extend your life in
some way but carries a statistical chance of inducing a side effect
that is worse than the original problem, up to and including death.
The problem is that we have structured a liability system in this
country such that the few people who evince the side effects can claim
more money in damages than the drug was worth to all the people it
helped.  For example, if a drug helps 999 people, but kills the
thousandth, and that thousandth person's family is awarded $253 million
in damages (as in this case), the drug is never going to be put on the
market again.  Even if the next 1000 people sign a paper saying we are
willing to take the one-in-a-thousand risk to relieve the pain that is
ruining our lives, they still are not going to get the drug because the
drug companies know that some Oprah-loving jury will buy the argument
that they did not understand the risk they were taking and award the
next death another quarter of a billion dollars....

By the way, have you noticed the odd irony here?  Robert Ernst (the
gentleman who died in the Vioxx case) is assumed, both by the FDA and
the litigation system, to be unable to make informed decisions about
risk and his own health.  But a jury of 12 random people who never
experienced his pain can make such decisions for him?  And us?

Alex Tabarrok at Marginal Revolution said it even more succinctly:

How did we arrive at a system in which 12 random Texans are assigned
responsibility for evaluating the scientific merits of statistical evidence of
this type, weighing the costs and benefits, and potentially
a productive blue-chip American company into bankruptcy protection?

Big Ben and the Nanny State

By now, most will have heard that the young star quarterback for the Pittsburgh Steelers, Ben Rothlesburger, crashed his motorcycle and sustained head injuries in part because he was not wearing a helmet.  You can bet that someone in the legislature will introduce a helmet law in the next week, since most nanny-state legislation of this type usually gets passed in reaction to one high-profile incident where some legislator can grab some press.

Here is what really upset me yesterday:  Listening to a sports-talk radio station yesterday talking about this accident, I heard a number of people call in and say the following:

"I don't blame Ben for riding without a helmet -- that's legal in Pennsylvania.  I blame the state for not having a helmet law"

Wow - you don't see the death of individual responsibility highlighted any more starkly than that.  Much more on the topic here.

By the way, helmet laws are a particularly interesting bit of nanny-statism, since motorcyclers are such a small percentage of the population.  In most states where this law gets passed, the votes of people who will never ride a motorcycle and for whom the law will always be irrelevant generally overwhelms the wishes of motorcyclers themselves.  I wonder how many women who piously preach that the government can't tell us what to do with our bodies typically vote for helmet laws that tell people, uh, what they can do with their bodies.

Increasingly, you hear people justify helmet laws by saying "well, taxpayers have to pay the medical bill if someone gets hurt riding without a helmet."  I addressed this argument that public health care justifies total control of our lives in this post on health care as a Trojan horse for fascism.  (and here)

OK, You Got What You Wanted

Those of you who wanted a strong federal welfare-nanny-state response to New Orleans, you have got your wish:

It is impossible to over-emphasize the extent to which this area is
under government occupation, and portions of it under
government-enforced lockdown. Police cars rule the streets. They (along
with Humvees, ambulances, fire apparatus, FEMA trucks and all
official-looking SUVs) are generally not stopped at checkpoints and
roadblocks. All other vehicles are subject to long lines and snap
judgments and must PROVE they have vital business inside the vast
roped-off regions here. If we did not have the services of an off-duty
law enforcement officer, we could not do our jobs in the course of a
work day and get back in time to put together the broadcast and get on
the air.

This is not poor federal management - this is exactly-what-you-always-get federal management.  Putting a premium on control and process over results is built into their DNA.  My prediction is that those areas outside federal control and allowed to be accessible to private aid and to individuals who want to, yeah I know its crazy, come into the area and take responsibility for fixing their own house rather than waiting for the feds to do it for them will fair much better in the long run.  More on the federal urge for technocratic control here  and here and here and here.

Something about this reminds me of an observation made over and over in interviews with American soldiers from WWII.  They recounted that in German villages, after a battle, the German citizens were out in the streets, starting to clean up and rebuild before the dust had even settled, while in France, villagers would just sit forlornly in the debris and wait for someone to come do something about it.

Update:  I know you are getting tired of these stories, but here is yet another example of the FEMA folks opposing private relief efforts in the name of "control"

Starting right after midnight I began receiving calls from FEMA, HHS,
TRANSCOM and other groups whose acronyms I still cannot explain.  LCDR
Kennedy from FEMA called to understand what I was trying to do.  I told
him.  Fifteen minutes later Mimi Riley, Deputy Director from NDMS
called to beg me in a plaintive and exhausted voice not to carry out
this mission.  She had many reasons "“ you need doctors on the plane,
Chicago is too far from their home, how will we track the patients,
this is a military operation and we were not military. 

explained to her that we had two doctors on the plane one of whom was a
retired Air Force Doctor who had run the military hospital in Baghdad
after the invasion.  I thought we could trust him to run an airplane of
people from New Orleans to Knoxville.  We were working with NDMS
hospitals in Tennessee and Chicago so they would have a good tracking
system.  (I guess Mimi never heard of the Great Migration of African
Americans from New Orleans and the south to Chicago after the flood of
1927 and during the Depression.  Many people from New Orleans are more
at home in Chicago than Houston. )

Mimi was unmovable.  We
were not military and that was that.  She tried to sound grateful for
our intentions but she was not going to have outsiders help.  I even
offered to GIVE her the planes and the crews and the hospitals and let
her run it through her NDMS system but she would have none of it.  She
asked me at least to delay until noon the next day and I said I would

A good revamp of FEMA after this is all over would put a heavy emphasis on private action and FEMA's role in aiding rather than controlling and limiting this effort.  Unfortunately, I don't expect that to be the outcome.  I fear that large government technocrats and lefties who are always suspicious of private bottom-up action will control the agenda in framing the FEMA debate.

OOPS:  Did I say that technocrats and lefties distrusted anything but top-down federal power.  I forgot the righties as well (from dubya's speech the other day):

It is now clear that a challenge on this scale requires greater federal
authority and a broader role for the armed forces -- the institution of
our government most capable of massive logistical operations on a
moment's notice.

Sounds like Lyndon Johnson and the Great Society.  As a libertarian, I dread the next election.  Two parties competing to see who can enhance federal power more.  Blech.

Yet another:

The patients and staff at Methodist could have been evacuated before
Hurricane Katrina hit. But instead they were condemned to several days of fear
and agony by bad decision-making in Louisiana and the chaotic ineptitude of the
Federal Emergency Management Agency. Some of the patients died.

Incredibly, when the out-of-state corporate owners of the hospital responded
to the flooding by sending emergency relief supplies, they were confiscated at
the airport by FEMA and sent elsewhere.