Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Monday, March 04, 2013

More on the Nanny state

Our good old Swiss friend Ana brings up the subject of the U.S. not taking care of its people. Apropos of this question is Sarah Conly's book  Against Autonomy: Justifying Coercive Paternalism,
reviewed here by Cass Sunstein

Sunstein is reasonably convinced by Conley's basic argument against the libertarian presumption that we ought to leave people alone to make their own mistakes, e.g. not mandate motorcycle helmets or seat belts, ban gigantic cups of sugar water as Mayor Bloomberg wants to do, ban smoking in restaurants, that sort of thing. Her argument is essentially that people don't know what's good for them, and that they will often end up wishing that somebody had gotten a little bit paternalistic with them.

That's true enough, but both Sunstein and Conly seem to entirely miss another, perhaps more compelling point, which John Stuart Mill, the Godfather of the libertarian argument, also missed.  It is very rarely true that a person's bad choices harm that person, and that person only. It just is not the case that if you don't wear a motorcycle helmet and you end up with brain damage, the rest of us care only out of misplaced altruism.

It's astonishing to me that somebody as smart as Sunstein doesn't see this instantly. Let's make it as easy as possible. Suppose the mangled cyclist has dependent children. We can be as Randian as we want about this and presume that nobody should give a rat's ass just because they love him. But now somebody has to take care of his kids. Or let them starve I suppose, but who really wants to go there?

Oh yeah. The guy previously worked, paid taxes, maybe improved his property thereby enhancing the neighborhood, gave to charity, and spent his income thereby enriching his hard working neighbors. Now he's lying in a long-term care facility sucking money out of other people's pockets.

I mean, how could people not see this? And yes, it's just as bad if you decide to spend your days drinking 48 ounce cups of soda and wind up weighing 300 pounds, then get diabetes, osteoarthritis and heart disease. It isn't only your problem, it's all of our problem.


1 comment:

robin andrea said...

I can't tell you how often I wish the libertarians could have the world they fantasize, if I too could have my dream world. I'm tired of this polarized dysfunction. I'm all for dividing the country and letting everyone settle where their cultural and political dreams are fulfilled. There is no saving this marriage.