Posts Tagged ‘nanny state’

“Despised lifestyles are now identified as noncontagious epidemics”

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]

Whole milk not so bad for you, it seems

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”:

The petty tyranny of the FDA’s coming trans fat ban

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]

Puerto Rico considers bill to monitor, fine parents of obese kids

“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]

Scotland’s sad state of statism

We’ve covered many of the individual controversies before — including police crackdowns on the singing of sectarian songs, and the introduction of named government functionaries charged with looking after the interests of every single child (not just, e.g., orphans or those whose custody is contested). And some of the endless nanny statism: Prices of alcohol are too low! The public’s eating habits must improve! And all of Scotland is to be smokefree by 2034, with the legal fate of those who might wish to continue smoking not yet specified. Brendan O’Neill in Reason pulls the whole depressing thing together. Scotland also has not only thousands of CCTV surveillance cameras but also “camera vans,” which “drive through towns filming the allegedly suspect populace.” And did we forget the warnings from Police Scotland about unlawful speech on social media?

December 31 roundup

Lists of lists, if not indeed lists of lists of lists:

  • Lenore Skenazy picks worst school safety overreaction cases of the year [Reason] and worst nanny state cases [Huffington Post]
  • Radley Balko, “Horrifying civil liberties predictions for 2015”, and you won’t need to read far to get the joke [Washington Post]
  • Feds probe NY Speaker Sheldon Silver over pay from law firm — not his big personal injury firm, but an obscure firm that handles tax certiorari cases [New York Times; our earlier Silver coverage over the years]
  • “Doonesbury” Sunday strip gets filed 5-6 weeks before pub date, so if its topicality compares unfavorably to that of Beetle Bailey and Garfield, now you know why [Washington Post and Slate, with Garry Trudeau’s embarrassing excuses for letting papers run a strip taking the Rolling Stone/U. Va. fraternity assault story as true, weeks after its collapse; Jesse Walker assessment of the strip twelve years ago]
  • Jim Beck’s picks for worst pharmaceutical law cases of the year [Drug & Device Law]
  • “The Ten Most Significant Class Action Cases of 2014” [Andrew Trask]
  • Washington Post calls for steep cigarette tax hike in Maryland, makes no mention of smuggling/black market issue so visible in New York [my Cato post]

Friday at Cato, Repeal Day celebration: “Prohibition Still Doesn’t Work”

Register here for the 5 p.m. Cato event. Description:

Featuring Walter Olson, Senior Fellow, Center for Constitutional Studies, Cato Institute & Editor, (@walterolson); Stacia Cosner, Deputy Director, Students for Sensible Drug Policy (@TheStacia); Michelle Minton, Fellow in Consumer Policy Studies, Competitive Enterprise Institute (@michelleminton); moderated by Kat Murti, Digital Marketing Manager, Cato Institute (@KatMurti).

On December 5, 1933, the 21st Amendment to the Constitution was ratified, supposedly ending our nation’s failed experiment with prohibitionism. Yet, 81 years later, modern-day prohibitionists continue to deny the laws of supply and demand, attempting to control what individuals can choose to put into their own bodies.

Please join the Cato Institute for a celebration of the 81st anniversary of the repeal of alcohol prohibition. Panelists will discuss modern prohibitions—from the Drug War to blue laws; tobacco regulation to transfats—drawing connections with their earlier antecedent.

Alcoholic beverages and other commonly restricted refreshments (bring on the trans fats!) will be served following the discussion.

#CatoDigital (formerly #NewMediaLunch) is a regular event series at the Cato Institute highlighting the intersection of tech, social media, and the ideas of liberty.

This event will be live-streamed and questions may be submitted via Twitter using #CatoDigital.

If you can’t make it to the Cato Institute, watch this event live online at and follow @CatoEvents on Twitter to get future event updates, live streams, and videos from the Cato Institute.

Regulating consumers by way of regulating producers

An observation from John Goodman via David Henderson:

Almost all government restrictions on our freedom are indirect. They are imposed on us by way of some business. In fact, laws that directly restrict the freedom of the individual are rare and almost always controversial….

But the vast majority of government encroachments on your freedom of action come about through laws that constrain an employer or a seller – without much controversy. …

After proceeding through examples from workplace safety regulation, liquor control, medical device regulation, occupational licensure, and other areas, Goodman adds:

Let’s take one more example from the health care field. The Obama administration is about to impose new regulations affecting home health care workers. They must receive minimum wages and overtime pay. But as far as I can tell, this rule applies only to workers who are employed by agencies and not to workers who are directly hired by an elderly or disabled patient. No matter how they are employed, the economic effects will be the same – a blow to the seniors and people with disabilities. In one case the effects would be visible; in the other they would be invisible. It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that if there were no agencies in home health care, there would be no new regulations.

The growth of the firm may be inevitable, desirable, or both for separate reasons, but it also makes regulation more feasible by generating an entity more suitable for bearing the regulatory harness. Incidentally, is blocking the Obama home health carer overtime regulations a high priority for the incoming Republican Congress, and if not, why not?

Fireworks on the 4th? Bring your own Coke

Eight of the twelve most affluent counties in the United States are in the Washington, D.C. area, and high among them stands Howard County, Maryland (Columbia/Ellicott City), where the celebrations tomorrow will be a bit constrained:

Some find it a damper on the festivities to bring Howard County’s Fourth of July fireworks into compliance with County Executive Ken Ulman’s December 2012 edict sharply restricting the sale of sweet beverages and high-calorie snack food at county-sponsored events. Under the regulations, which are “the first and only of their kind in the state,” at least “50 percent of packaged food offered at county events must contain 200 calories or less per portion”; prepared food, such as funnel cakes and soft-serve ice cream, is not covered. [Baltimore Sun via Quinton Report] The rules exempt the county’s “Wine in the Woods” event, held each May.

Whether or not the policy mirrors the preferences of voters in Howard County (and who knows, it might), it serves the function of affluence signaling in the conspicuously prosperous county. One reason families pay a premium to move to a county like Howard is the implicit promise that their kids will grow up with plenty of worldly, educated, skinny role models and that the government is not going to be run in line with the wishes of poorer or lower-status residents. Message sent!

[adapted from my Free State Notes blog]