Thursday, April 05, 2007

Here There Be Monsters

The fog of government is ahead, and our charts give us only vague, but frantic warnings. All around are the dead seas of the Nanny State and the rocks of Tyranny. We soon sail into uncharted waters, neither able to see horizon, star, nor shoal, and not even able to sound the depth. Will we becalm ourselves in the Nanny Sea, or dash against the rocks of Tyranny? Neither, if we turn back while we can.

Increasingly, we've bought into the notion of preemption: if something you do increases the likelihood of danger to others (or to yourself), you should be A) barred from doing it or B) found to have intentionally caused whatever calamity happens as a result of your dangerous action.

The War on Drugs keeps us from harming ourselves .. but at the price of a loss of not just the freedom to self-medicate, but the freedom to travel with a large amount of cash on hand. Our property can be taken without trial, on only the suspicion of a police officer whose department benefits directly from the sale of our property at auction.

Our young people are seduced by the glamor of these substances, and by the fun of the party, though they are soon to find neither glamor nor fun when the price must eventually be paid. But rather than simply teach them that, and let the consequences of life serve as a warning, we yield our liberties and spend billions interdicting, prosecuting, incarcerating, and finally supporting people whose only crime is using the wrong substance. No, people should not self-medicate, especially with banned substances. That would be illegal and dangerous.

Drunk drivers are public enemy #1, it seems, for increasing the risk to others. Being drunk behind the wheel doesn't hurt anyone; crashing does. Drunk driving simply increases the risk of accident. But by making the risk itself illegal, we give the government the authority to inspect our bodies when we have not harmed anyone, whether we've been drinking or not. No, people should not drink and drive. That would be illegal and dangerous. But we've allowed the government to have authority it should not have.

Each behavior or product against which we rise up in holy indignation to promote, regulate, or ban, gives government that much more authority in our lives. Each tax increase, each spending increase, each War on Whatever, extends the power of government.

Because when government grows in ways we like, it invariably grows in ways which we don't. And when it grows, it doesn't ever un-grow. At least, not yet.

When government grows in expenditure, it also grows in authority, sooner or later. If we don't want government to intrude on our liberties, we must not let it spend more money. It doesn't matter if taxes are increased or cut, or if promises to preserve liberty are made. Eventually, a larger government will find a way to extend its power.

One effect of the expansion of power is to "regulate" the money being spent. It would be irresponsible use of public funds not to account well for it, after all. But the way the accounting works usually does very little to account for how the money is spent, but rather is designed to show that it is being spent well. Beneficiaries of government largess are obligated to submit to regular surveys showing how much better off they are with the program than before it.

When government grows in the power to regulate business, it grows in the power to regulate our personal lives, as well. A law passed today to keep that other fellow from polluting the air with carbon monoxide (a poisonous gas) will be used tomorrow to regulate the very breath from our lungs. When we give it the power to regulate the breath from our lungs, it will somewhere else grow to tax that breath, to measure it, dole it out, and ration how much we can exhale -- or inhale.

There is a clamor on the left for universal health care. Everyone must be cared for. It's a human right.

What the Nannyists don't realize (at least, they don't say) is that expanding government to take care of us is eventually impossible unless it takes steps to control us. After all, how can we be kept well if we're allowed to do all kinds of dangerous things, like playing in the snow, walking in the rain, or (Heaven forbid) riding a bicycle without a helmet? Civil servants, as Heinlein said, soon become civil masters.

It won't happen this time, they promise.

But it will become a standard talking point that dangerous behavior, as defined by the statistics, raises everyone's taxes, or health insurance, or both. That's not such a bold prediction, since one hears it already, even without universal coverage. When the government is charged with keeping us healthy, we will be protected, controlled, and never again free.

It's something of a chicken-and-egg problem. Are we sailing quietly into a tranquil Nanny State Sea because we want to ban, by legislative fiat, our reckless endangerment by others, or is the call to ban unsafe activity the result of incipient Nannyism?

It can't go on forever. Sooner or later, government must contract. We must come to understand that our position, though not known exactly, is far too close to both the Tyrant's rocks and the Nanny's maddening doldrums. The longer we wait, the more difficult it will be to escape disaster in an orderly — and peaceful — way.

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