The federal seat-belt-law mandate was the result of a 1980s deal between Reagan-era Transportation secretary Elizabeth Dole (proof, long before Mayor Bloomberg, that nanny-state tendencies transcend partisan labels) and Detroit automakers, who calculated that regulating their customers would help stave off regulating their own design decisions. And now? Less individual liberty, more scope for police discretion, and in some states a taste for revenue: “In California, a single seat-belt violation can be as much as $490.” [Radley Balko] Earlier on mandatory seat belt usage laws here, here (“saturation detail” police stops), here, etc. (“doggie seat belt” laws), here (Germany: Pope in Popemobile), here, and here (England: Santa’s sleigh), among others.
Updating last Wednesday’s post — about how the federal Centers for Disease Control has advised that women of childbearing years not drink a drop of wine, beer or spirits unless they are on birth control — I did a longer post Friday at Cato at Liberty. Excerpt:
And yet I would have expected no less from a CDC headed by Thomas Frieden, formerly Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s public health czar in New York City. Under Frieden, an arch-enemy of salt, sugar, and guns, the CDC to the detriment of its focus on communicable disease has involved itself in topics from playground safety to suburban housing sprawl; has boldly employed federal tax dollars toward lobbying for changes in law; has set itself against all evidence that e-cigarettes (“vaping”) can serve as vital harm reduction for persons who would otherwise smoke; and much, much more.
“Women of childbearing age should avoid alcohol unless they’re using contraception, federal health officials said Tuesday, in a move to reduce the number of babies born with fetal alcohol syndrome.” [Liz Szabo/USA Today (“CDC: Young women should avoid alcohol unless using birth control”), Tracy Clark-Flory/Vocativ (with headline above)]
Rebecca Kukla, professor at the Kennedy School of Ethics, had the following comment, quoted in the Vocativ piece:
We don’t tell pregnant women not to drive cars, even though we are much more certain that there’s a nonzero risk to their fetuses from each car ride than from each drink. The ideal of zero risk is both impossible to meet and completely paralyzing to try to meet. The idea that the pleasures and routines that make up women’s days are mere luxuries that are not worth any risk whatsoever is patronizing and sexist, and it would also turn their lives into complete hell if really taken to its conclusion. It also imposes a much higher risk reduction bar on pregnant women than on parents of small children, for no apparent reason.
We have had numerous occasions over the years to remark on the direction in which Obama appointee Thomas Frieden has taken the Centers for Disease Control.
More: Alexandra Petri, Washington Post (CDC’s warning “incredibly condescending”).
Julia Vitullo-Martin in the New York Post and Joseph Bottum in the Free Beacon review Lisa McGirr’s new book “The War on Alcohol: Prohibition and the Rise of the American State.” “Is there another American story, another account of a major American era, that has been so completely hijacked and turned against its actual history?” writes Bottum. “The truth is that Prohibition, in its essence, was a deeply progressive movement.”
In the drive for alcohol prohibition in the United States, as in many other paternalistic crusades to this day, a major theme was to demonize business; that somehow helped in shaking the sense that the main point of banning something was to restrict the freedom of the customer. Memes absent, opinion cartoons were the most persuasive tool available. “In the late 19th century, the cartoonist Frank Beard (not to be confused with ZZ Top’s ironically clean-shaven drummer) was among the most influential of those illustrators. He was a committed ‘Dry,’ whose images of seedy tavern owners, corrupt officials, and neglected children gave the Prohibition movement a moral force and an instant visual power.” [Joanna Scutts, Tales of the Cocktail]
Meanwhile, yesterday was Repeal Day, celebrated each year as the anniversary of the nation’s rejection of the Great Experiment. As David Boaz recalls, Cato has done two discussions commemorating the event, including one with me last year. Here is the other, from 2008:
Pierre Lemieux in Cato’s Regulation magazine on the tendency of “public health” to pursue prescriptive moral reform in the guise of regulating health risks:
“In many respects,” writes [Bernard] Turnock, “it is more reasonable to view public health as a movement than as a profession.” “Public health,” the Encyclopedia of Philosophy tells us, “is focused on regulation and public policy.” Public health experts claim a jurisdiction that covers anything related to welfare, little of which consists of genuine public goods. The basic thrust of public health is to remove decisions from the domain of individual choice. For example, public health experts believe that driving is a privilege, not a right, and probably extend this characterization to any activity that they don’t like or for which they think they would easily qualify (like parenting rights).
Slippery slopes mar the whole history of public health…if one wishes softer examples, from the treatment of the insane to Prohibition, to the current harassment of smokers, and to the partial nationalization of “public” places. Despite some reversals, the slope is as slippery as it ever was.
Related, cruel but predictable: HUD plans nationwide ban on letting public housing tenants smoke in their own units [Washington Post]
It’s looking now as if decades of health alarmism about whole milk was misguided: in one survey, “contrary to the government advice, people who consumed more milk fat had lower incidence of heart disease.” More from me at Cato at Liberty (“Government on Nutrition: Often Wrong, Seldom in Doubt”) and from David Boaz on how the embarrassment to officialdom contrasts with “the humility that is an essential part of the libertarian worldview.”
I have no criticism of scientists’ efforts to find evidence about good nutrition and to report what they (think they) have learned. My concern is that we not use government coercion to tip the scales either in research or in actual bans and mandates and Official Science. Let scientists conduct research, let other scientists examine it, let journalists report it, let doctors give us advice. But let’s keep nutrition – and much else – in the realm of persuasion, not force. First, because it’s wrong to use force against peaceful people, and second, because we might be wrong.
On a lighter note, regarding government’s bad advice on eggs and cholesterol, from the comedy/documentary film “Fat Head”:
Don’t count on donuts, frozen pizza, coffee creamers, or canned cinnamon rolls to go on tasting the same — and don’t count on the federal government to respect your choices in the matter [Peter Suderman, earlier] And of course it was public health advocates and the federal government who helped push foodmakers into the use of trans fats in the first place. Some choices do remain to you in the realm of food, so say yes to Mark Bittman’s red lentil dal, no to his politics [Julie Kelly and Jeff Stier, Forbes]
“The Puerto Rican government is proposing a new law that would label the parents of obese kids as ‘child abusers.’ …Senator Gilbert Rodriguez Valle introduced the bill that would establish a process of identifying obese children in school … If the social workers [sent to investigate] see no improvements after a year, the parents could be fined up to $800.” [The Guardian via Lenore Skenazy and Paul Best, from whom the quoted passage is excerpted]