Personal Freedom

The Cyclical Interventions of the Nanny State

Conservatives throughout Utah have for years been strenuously objecting to federal bailouts of mismanaged and failing institutions. Their arguments, which themselves are logically sound, are predicated on the principle that when one is in a hole, one should stop digging. Debt is not resolved through additional debt, just as fires are not extinguished by dousing them with gasoline. If there’s a problem, the solution is not to simply apply the same ideas and actions that led to the problem in the first place.

Unfortunately, many of these individuals tend to support government interventions which operate on this same flawed notion that one intervention justifies another.

Consider the legislative proposal of Senator Todd Weiler, who is aiming to force all motorcyclists in Utah to wear a helmet. Weiler, a self-described conservative, attempted to justify this policy because of riders who get into accidents and end up needing government assistance. “They end up on the public dime, so you should care about it,” said Weiler. “Why should we be subsidizing these people’s stupidity?”

On a Facebook thread, the Senator expanded his argument: “It’s not just the rider. It’s his wife and kids who end up on state assistance after the crash. It’s tax payer dollars at stake. I sit on Social Services Appropriations and know how much the state is spending each year on its portion of Medicaid expansion. No helmet law = Medicaid expansion from my vantage point.”

In other words, because the government uses tax dollars to provide health care services, it is therefore somehow justified in regulating the personal behavior of all individuals because they may or may not avail themselves of such assistance were something tragic to happen. It cannot be emphasized enough that there are no logical limits to what the government can or cannot regulate when using this argument. The government mandates that it provide health care services, so theoretically it could compel individuals to brush their teeth twice a day, eat a balanced meal (based on the government’s preferred guidelines), sleep at certain times of the day, not get too much sun exposure, and not participate in anything remotely dangerous such as skydiving or rock climbing. The list is alarmingly endless.

The government justifies all sorts of interventions in this manner. Because the government compels hospital emergency rooms to provide health care services to anybody and everybody who walks through the front door, it feels justified in compelling individuals to obtain health insurance. Because it offers free education and other benefits, it feels justified in cracking down on “illegal immigrants” who it wishes to not have access to the government goodie bag. One intervention begets (and allegedly justifies) another.

The proper answer, of course, is to terminate the original intervention and not merely use it as justification for another. A government properly instituted to defend the life, liberty, and property of its citizens does not and should not steal from them to provide care for those allegedly in need. Even worse, it should not use this theft as pretext for compelling the victims (the tax-paying citizens) to act a certain way so as not to need the services they were compelled to help fund.

Friends of liberty must counteract this claim, exposing it for the logical nightmare it really is. While Weiler and supporters of this type of legislation might claim that this is a small burden and worth doing to save some taxpayer dollars, it is a progressive step in the direction of big government; those serious about shrinking government and minimizing taxes must demand that we start moving in the opposite direction.

Fortunately, many legislators agreed when they killed a related bill in 2009. Rather than increasing the amount of interventions and further violating individual liberty because of something that individuals may or may not do, we encourage legislators to defend liberty, encourage personal responsibility, and extricate the government from taking money from some citizens to provide health care for others.

If a motorcyclist crashes and becomes hurt, there is no crime. Whether he lives or dies, his condition does not violate others’ liberty or property. As such, the government’s mandate is illegitimate, for the force of the state can only be brought to bear against those who must be brought to justice. Forcing people to act a certain way may be a positive thing for an individual who complies and saves his life, but it is a net negative for a society which increasingly submits to the paternalistic demands of the state.

Robert LeFevre famously said, “Government is a disease masquerading as its own cure.” We strongly hope that the flawed arguments behind this proposed legislation are not infectious and die an early death in the upcoming legislative session.