A previous post by David Boaz poked fun at bureaucrats in Michigan for threatening a woman for the ostensible crime of keeping an eye on her neighbors’ kids without a government permit. English bureaucrats are equally clueless, badgering two women who take turns caring for each other’s kids. The common theme, of course, is that bureaucrats lack common sense — but the real lesson is that this is the inevitable consequence of government intervention (especially when politicians say they are “doing it for the children). The BBC reports:
England’s Children’s Minister wants a review of the case of two police officers told they were breaking the law, caring for each other’s children.
Ofsted said the arrangement contravened the Childcare Act because it lasted for longer than two hours a day, and constituted receiving “a reward”.
It said the women would have to be registered as childminders.
…Ms Shepherd, who serves with Thames Valley Police, recalled: “A lady came to the front door and she identified herself as being from Ofsted. She said a complaint had been made that I was illegally childminding.
“I was just shocked — I thought they were a bit confused about the arrangement between us. So I invited her in and told her situation — the arrangement between Lucy and I — and I was shocked when she told me I was breaking the law.”
…Minister for Children, Schools and Families Vernon Coaker insisted the Childcare Act 2006 was in place “to ensure the safety and wellbeing of all children”.
Appearing on the “Glenn Beck Program” with ABC’s John Stossel, Cato H.L. Mencken research fellow Penn Jillete discusses his views on health care reform, the nanny state, Canada and more.
President Obama has appointed New York City health commissioner Thomas Frieden to head the Centers for Disease Control. Public health is an important issue, but as Jacob Sullum points out at Reason, Frieden has a weak grasp of what’s “public” in the world of health:
Frieden, an infectious disease specialist who is known mainly as an enthusiastic advocate of New York’s strict smoking ban, heavy cigarette taxes, trans fat ban, and mandatory calorie counts on restaurant menu boards, embodies the CDC’s shift from illnesses caused by microbes to illnesses caused by lifestyle choices. “Dr. Frieden is an expert in preparedness and response to health emergencies,” Obama said today, “and has been at the forefront of the fight against heart disease, cancer and obesity, infectious diseases such as tuberculosis and AIDS, and in the establishment of electronic health records.” Some of these things are not like the others. When it comes to justifying the use of force, there is a crucial difference between health risks imposed by others (such as bioterrorists or TB carriers) and health risks that people voluntarily assume (by smoking or overeating, for example). In the former case, even those who believe that government should be limited to protecting individual rights can see a strong argument for intervention; in the latter case, intervention can be justified only on paternalistic or collectivist grounds. Frieden either does not recognize or does not care about this distinction.
Frieden told the Financial Times in 2006 that “when anyone dies at an early age from a preventable cause in New York City, it’s my fault.” That’s a breathtaking vision of the scope and power of government. If you eat butter or salt, or smoke, or climb mountains, or ride a motorcycle, or bungee‐jump, or run with the bulls in Pamplona, Dr. Frieden feels that he and the government are personally responsible. This isn’t paternalism; your parents usually let you make your own decisions along about the age of 18. And it isn’t fair to nannies to call it “nanny state” regulation: after all, nannies are paid to take care of children until they can care for themselves; they don’t barge into your home or your bar or your restaurant uninvited, issuing orders to adults. Maybe the right term is food fascism, for the attempt to use force to tell adults what they can and can’t eat, smoke, or purchase.
More on the distinction between public health problems and health problems that are merely widespread here.
And more about Obama’s appointment of “a bunch of statist ideologues who have been waiting years or decades for an election and a crisis that would allow them to fasten on American society their own plan for how energy, transportation, health care, education, and the economy should work” here.
Government is busy trying to protect us from ourselves. It tosses nearly a million people in jail every year for marijuana offenses. City councils, state legislators, and Congress all add ever more restrictions on cigarette smoking. Legislators demand action to stop steroid use by athletes. And the Senate Finance Committee is considering a “fat tax” on sugared drinks.
This isn’t the first time legislators have considered trying to squeeze a little money out of us while micro‐managing our lives. Editorializes the Boston Herald:
Earlier this year Gov. Deval Patrick proposed a 5 percent tax (more if the sales tax is raised) on sweetened drinks and candy bars under the pretext of battling obesity (while thinning out our wallets). Happily we haven’t heard much about it lately. But yesterday on Capitol Hill the Senate Finance Committee heard testimony about helping to fund President Barack Obama’s massive health care expansion in part with a similar tax.
The Congressional Budget Office estimates that a 3‑cent tax per 12‐ounce sweetened drink — including sports drinks and iced teas — would bring in $24 billion over four years.
“Soda is one of the most harmful products in the food supply,” said Michael Jacobson, head of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, which gives you some idea of the mindset here. Jacobson would also like to raise taxes on alcoholic beverages.
If the American people don’t start saying no, there won’t be much liberty left to preserve.
Limited government and individual liberty are under such a sustained attack today that it’s easy to miss some of the small but truly nefarious assaults on the most basic freedom to be left alone. After all, when the federal government seems determined to socialize much of the economy and control the rest of it, who cares about some local nanny‐state restrictions?
Yet the willingness to override individual liberty in seemingly “small” matters reflects the same statist philosophy behind large assaults on the free society. It’s important to fight the battles, both small and large.
One of the latest political fads is setting public dress standards. Writes Greg Beato for Reason online:
What else is the law but a metaphorical belt designed to uphold proprietary and keep us from exposing our inherent baseness to each other? This, at least, is what an epidemic of legislative tailors seem to believe: Each month brings news of the latest effort to crack down on saggy pants. In December, the Jasper County Council in South Carolina passed an ordinance making it illegal to wear your britches three inches below your hips and expose your underwear — or worse — to innocent bystanders. In January, South Carolina State Senator Robert Ford introduced a bill that would make saggy pants a crime throughout the entire state. Earlier this month, Joe Towns, Jr., a state representative from Tennessee, took up the call against the surprisingly long‐lived fashion crime, which started in the early 1990s and continues to be popular despite — or perhaps because of — repeated efforts to criminalize it over the years.
Sag‐bashers object to the style on more than just aesthetic grounds. A hallmark of hip‐hop culture, saggy pants are considered an homage to prison garb, where belts aren’t allowed because of their potential utility as noose or weapon. To wear saggy pants, critics maintain, is to reject authority, embrace criminality, and visually assault the world with the garish plaids and bold patterns of fashion boxers. Also, critics assert, saggy pants make it easy to conceal knives and guns within their droopy, voluminous folds.
The ascension of President Obama may be one reason for the surge of anti‐sagging evangelism in recent months. “You know, some people might not want to see your underwear — I’m one of them,” he exclaimed during a November 2008 interview with MTV. But while Obama made it clear he wasn’t interested in trying to criminalize the style, calling laws against pants‐sagging as “a waste of time,” politicians like Robert Ford and Joe Towns, Jr., apparently don’t watch much MTV; the former even presented his anti‐sagging legislation as a kind of tribute to the new president. “You’ve got an African‐American president,” he told the Associated Press. “You don’t have to emulate prisoners no more. You can emulate somebody like Barack Obama.”
According to the Associated Press, Ford doesn’t believe his bill will pass — apparently he “just wants a spirited discussion” on the taxpayer’s dime. And even in cases where such political theater blossoms into genuine law, it often remains, well, political theater. In Delcambre, Louisiana, for example, saggy pants have been punishable by a fine of up to $500 and six months in jail since June 2007. When I called Delcambre’s mayor, Carol Broussard, to ask him how many people the town has cited for that offense since the ordinance went into effect, he said he didn’t believe any had. “There have been some warnings, though,” he offered.
Even if enforcement is rare, however, the number of places in America where, say, Britney Spears and Paris Hilton might end up with lifetime sentences just for walking down the street is somewhat alarming. Along with Jasper County and Delcambre, Lynnwood, Illinois, Mansfield, Lousiana, and who knows how many other municipalities now have specific ordinances that make it illegal to expose anything more than a three‐inch swath of underwear. In addition, as Radley Balko has documented at Reason, zero‐tolerance vigilantes like Flint, Michigan police chief David Dicks and Jackson, Mississippi mayor Frank Melton seem more inclined to follow the strong arm tactics of the Queer Eye for the Straight Guy‐style bullies than our Founding Fathers when it comes to making over their fellow citizens. “I certainly respect the Constitution, but we have some issues that are much bigger than the Constitution,” the mayor declared, as he announced his intention to issue an executive order against saggy pants even after the Jackson city council voted against such a measure on the grounds that it was unconstitutional.
Yes, some things “are much bigger than the Constitution.” That’s certainly the conventional wisdom in Washington, D.C.!
I’ll admit that I just don’t understand the style of wearing one’s pants nearly down to one’s thighs, and I’d prefer not to see some young person’s underwear. It’s an obvious issue for parental dictates as well as social pressure. But should the government be prepared to prosecute — after all, that’s what the law is all about — people with low‐riding pants? The fact that these measures are considered seriously demonstrates how far we have fallen away from the ideal of a limited government committed to protecting individual liberty.