How Do Conservative Paternalists Define Freedom?

Having taken on left-liberals in my last post, it’s only fair to take a shot at the right too. Here‘s the Deseret News editorializing on why our recommendations for Utah are wrong:

The report’s authors are clear about their definition of freedom. “In our view, individuals should be allowed to dispose of their lives, liberties, and properties as they see fit, as long as they do not infringe on the rights of others,” they write. But few personal behaviors can intrude more on the rights of others than drinking alcohol and gambling… [T]he enormous alcohol industry, relentlessly pushing everything from glamorous images to new products such as sweet-flavored alco-pops, would, if left unfettered, eventually rob more people of freedoms.

The line taken here seems to be that if you make bad decisions that decrease your life satisfaction, you have lost freedom (to whom?). And if you encourage someone to make a decision that might be bad, you’ve violated his rights. For the benefit of the Deseret News, I’ve compiled a new list of policy recommendations for Utah based on this new definition of freedom:

1. The enormous credit card industry gets people hooked on cheap credit, and the debt they take on means less freedom. Enact a state monopoly of credit.

2. Television and books encourage people to sit at home rather than get up and exercise, resulting in an epidemic of obesity and, of course, violating their victims’ rights. Tightly regulate their use.

3. Many people get involved in mistaken relationships when they are young, sometimes resulting in children and often resulting in heartbreak. Clearly these young lovers have taken away each other’s freedoms. Ban fornication. Fund a virtue police to monitor young couples. Iran has a system that works, at least compared to decadent, unfree societies in the West.

3 thoughts on “How Do Conservative Paternalists Define Freedom?

  1. I used to work for a member of Congress and remember this sort of conservative paternalist argument during debate of the pro-alcohol monopoly CARE Act (http://washingtonexaminer.com/blogs/examiner-opinion-zone/beware-care#ixzz0xAoLkNga). The line used by the lobbyists from the distributors is either to emphasize a public health argument, that without our tiered system we’d have soccer hooligans roaming the streets like Britain, or a federalist argument of “What works for alcohol laws in Utah is different than what works for alcohol laws in Georgia.” The member I worked for responded that he liked a good scotch in any state.

    I know you track alcohol regulations, raw milk, and trans-fat bans, but I’d be curious if in the future you can find more measurements of nanny-state related food regulations. So for example in Virginia, there was a failed effort to change our direct farmer-to-consumer sales (http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/10/19/AR2007101902757.html?nav=rss_business). A lot of food safety laws are federal, especially with the new FDA bill, but some restrictions are state based, such as Virginia’s absurd regulation on the sale of pickles and similar products (http://www.buylocalvirginia.org/index.cfm/1,30,585,0,html/Pickle-In-The-Middle-Food-Safety-Law-Questioned). I’m not sure how easy it would be to find these regulations nationally for each state, but I know there’s a growing effort on this front to protect and expand freedoms, like Keep Food Legal (http://www.keepfoodlegal.org/).

    1. The federalist argument would at most serve as an argument for why the federal government shouldn’t override state laws on the issue, not for why those policies actually work. They can *claim* that they work for Utah, but then they should go ahead and provide some evidence to that effect!

      Good point about food regulation. We’ll have to see what we can do with that in the next index.

  2. Your proposals are a bit too modest. To solve these problems we will have to do more:

    1. Credit is usually taken to purchase houses, cars, or education. Governments should have a monopoly on provision of these things in the form of public housing, mass transit, and college. They are really public goods, because people who live in their own homes and can travel easily make better citizens, which our democracy requires. People denied these things are more likely to become criminals and threaten society. Credit to buy stock and unnecessary houses is speculation, leading to bubbles, which nationalization will eliminate.

    2. Lack of exercise is a major risk factor in many diseases, e.g. diabetes, heart disease, and osteoporosis. Since society pays for the treatment of these diseases, a minimal exercise regime should be made compulsory, with annual testing, led by government-certified fitness providers.

    3. Too many marriages end in divorce, resulting in a situation indistinguishable from out-of-wedlock marriage. Clearly many people today are getting married who should not, and the biggest victims are the children. The requirements for a marriage license must be strengthened. Since money is a major cause of divorce, potential partners should meet minimal financial requirements. They should be tested for personality compatibility, and and their DNA should be checked for compatibility of MHC and other significant genes. Those with the philandering gene should face increased financial requirements. Separate parent licenses should be required to have children, with mandatory training by government-certified training providers.

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