The Nanny State
In the first chapter of “On Liberty” by John Stuart Mill, it states,
“Over himself, over his own body the individual is sovereign.”
Mill believes that the individual should have the freedom to do with his body as he sees fit, as long as it does not become a nuisance to the rest of society. The rest of society does not have a right to infringe the liberty of the individual even if it believes it is for “his own good, either physical or moral.” But what would Mill think of today’s government?
Today, the US government likes to boast that it is the freest, if only one of the freest nations in the world, and many of these freedoms are enshrined in the constitution. The First Amendment alone protects five freedoms such as freedom of speech. But this blog entry will not focus on Mill’s freedom of speech but rather self-harm and the freedom to do so.
The US government creates substantial amounts of laws that limit freedom or as some may say “nanny” us because they are protecting us. Mill considers the nanny state to be the paternalism of the state, he would disagree with even the most benevolent despot but today we consider the “nanny” state to be the role of government responsibility in assigning economic and social goods. This blog will only look at the paternalism of the state.
Examples of the “nanny state” range from one extreme, such as snorting cocaine, all the way to smaller problems such as making it illegal to ride a motorbike without wearing a helmet and wearing seat belts while in a car. If you just take the latter example, riding the motorbike, it sounds quite reasonable. I would be very surprised if anyone reading this blog did not realize the dangers that go along with riding motorbikes without a helmet at fast speeds or even at slow ones, and some of us may also agree that by enforcing a law to make everyone wear helmets we are making the rider safer. But wouldn’t a rider also be safer if they didn’t ride a motorbike at all? It’s still possible to hurt yourself on a motorbike while wearing all the necessary protective gear, in fact you could very well be thrown off the motorbike, wouldn’t it be safer to ban motorbikes all together? Surely we would all be safer if we drove cars because there are seat-belts and airbags but there are about 43,000 deaths per year related to car accidents even if we eliminate the 40% alcohol related deaths in car accidents, there are still 25,800 deaths per year. I don’t know about you but I’m thinking of staying home from now on.
But isn’t that unreasonable? Surely we would all be safer if we stayed at home, provided nobody runs there car into my house. Well I could build a big wall around my house, and I can make sure there are no pointy edges on any of my furniture because I could very easily fall and hurt myself on a sharp edge. Well, wait a minute! I want to enjoy life; I want to go skydiving or scuba diving with sharks. I want to be free to drink alcohol, perhaps even a four loco, in reasonable amounts, do you?
For a lighthearted look at the nanny state I have also added a video from reason.tv, and their winner of Nanny of the Month for November 2010.