The Nanny State

February 7, 2012

Public health officials have increasingly claimed a large responsibility to legislate health to society at large, propping up the mandates of the Nanny State at the expense of personal freedom.  Relying upon a number of pseudoscientific arguments, these vocal advocates argue that the state must enforce certain behavior among its citizens for one of two reasons: first, the state must protect people from themselves, or second, the state must protect people from others who would encroach on their autonomy, says Michael Keane of the Institute of Public Affairs, a public policy think tank in Australia.

In campaigning that we must protect people from themselves, public health officials ascribe to the "disease model," whereby a person's actions are divorced from his or her own decision making.

  • In the case of a person who gambles recklessly, their actions are excused as a biological necessity -- that this person is predisposed to the addictive behavior and should therefore be protected from it by legislation.
  • This level of intrusion, however, far exceeds commonly accepted standard for medical ethics as it arguably defies much of what we might call being human.
  • Furthermore, it fails to incorporate willpower as a relevant force in its model, thereby removing culpability and the importance of self-control from consideration.

Another tactic that is equally pervasive among public health advocates is to focus on the damaging effects of one's actions to third parties.  This can be seen in one-to-one arguments, such as the effect that one's choice to smoke has on the inhaler of second-hand smoke, and one-to-many arguments, such as the effect that one's choice to smoke has on society's health care costs.

The fundamental difficulty with both of these systems and the policies that they advocate is that they limit personal choice -- an idea that in numerous other spheres created great prosperity throughout the Western world.  When one recognizes that most people are rational actors and capable of weighing the costs and benefits of an action if aware of them, the need for the Nanny State is diminished.

Source: Michael Keane, "Ideology, Not Science," Institute of Public Affairs, January 2012.

For text:

http://www.ipa.org.au/publications/1978/ideology,-not-science

 

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