Americans demand increased protection from selves

So reads the title in this "news" piece, which I found through a link from Radley Balko.

Some highlights:

"The government is finally starting to take some responsibility for the effect my behavior has on others," said New York City resident Alec Haverchuk, 44, who is prohibited by law from smoking in restaurants and bars. "But we have a long way to go. I can still light up on city streets and in the privacy of my own home. I mean, legislators acknowledge that my cigarette smoke could give others cancer, but don't they care about me, too?"

"It's not just about Americans eating too many fries or cracking their skulls open when they fall off their bicycles," said Los Angeles resident Rebecca Burnie, 26. "It's a financial issue, too. I spend all my money on trendy clothes and a nightlife that I can't afford. I'm $23,000 in debt, but the credit-card companies keep letting me spend. It's obscene that the government allows those companies to allow me to do this to myself. Why do I pay my taxes?"

"For years, legislators have done an admirable job of listening to constituents who want the dangerous, undesirable behavior of their neighbors regulated," Hinson said. "That is a good sign for those of us who wish for greater protection from ourselves. But you should see the filth I still have access to, just by walking into a store or flipping on my computer. There is still much work to be done if we are going to achieve the ideal nanny-state."

We can all agree that many choices are too important to be left up to a highly flawed individual," Nathansen said. "Decisions that directly affect our health, or allow us to expose ourselves to potential risks, should be left to the wiser, cooler heads of the government."

"But things like food and drug labels are half-measures," Nathansen said. "The regulations, however well-intentioned, often allow citizens the choice of ignoring the instructions. Many current laws were written primarily to protect others from our dangerous actions, with no concern for the deleterious effect our actions can have on ourselves. The government must do more."

To this end, Personal Rights Deferred has compiled an action list of more than 700 behaviors it wants regulated by state or federal authorities. The list includes such risky behaviors as swimming in cold weather and staying up all night playing video games.

"The fact is, personal responsibility doesn't work," Nathansen said. "Take a good look at the way others around you are living, and I'm sure you'll agree. It's time for the American people to demand that someone force them to do something about it."

The scary part, as Radley hints to, is that this is no longer parody. There really are groups of concerned citizens who lobby the government - or [mis]use the courts - to protect us from ourselves.

In a sense, though, almost every government action is paternalistic. Some moreso than others, but even "public good" justifications - which many libertarians concede as an appropriate role for government - boil down to the argument that if we don't force people to pay for these services, many will free ride on those who do, or the service might not even be purchased in the first place.

However, we must remember that government provision of these services doesn't solve the free-rider problem; it merely shifts it from a market context to a political context. Those of us who don't vote rely upon those who do to make sure that the proper politicians are elected. And even those who do vote are rationally ignorant of the political information necessary to make wise voting decisions. It is rational to remain ignorant of politics because the costs of acquiring this information are borne by the individual, whereas the benefits of becoming an informed voter are spread among the entire population.

We were all children once, and whether we were raised by our biological parents or some other guardian, our freedom to make decisions regarding how we live our lives was limited. We could not eat desert before the meal, stay up past bedtime, view pornography, drink alcohol, and do any number of other enjoyable adult activities. But, as children, we could always look forward to the day when the paternalism would end, when an authority figure would no longer stand over us and tell us what we can and cannot do.

Alas, we were mistaken. The elusive day when we could remove the shackles of paternalism never came. We are all still children - slaves to ourselves.

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The Onion is one of my

The Onion is one of my favorite websites. Their writers are top-notch.

They also had a similar article in 2000, before the Fast Food Industry lawsuits and recent obesity "epidemic" news stories. At the time, this may have seemed outrageous. Not any more!