Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Here I come, to complain ineffectually

It has been requested that I weigh in on the latest batch of so-called “nanny laws” — and I always aim to please. “Nanny laws” are laws so-called for their intrusive regulation of citizens’ personal lives. (Of course, for someone of my political inclinations, this encompasses, er, most of the laws passed in the last 216 years.) Particularly egregious are the bans on trans fats established recently in both Philadelphia and New York City. I have heard it claimed that this degree of state intervention in justified, because it is a matter of public health. Look –

– it’s not like we’re talking about the Joker poisoning the city’s freakin’ water supply, aight? There’s absolutely nobody who eats this stuff and thinks that they’re doing their body a favor. These are adult individuals, consciously making the choice to purchase and ingest food that they know is bad for them.

The argument, as usual, is that this will help people. Well, yeah — you can always help people by curtailing their liberties, whether they be large or trivially small. Impose a curfew and nobody gets mugged after dark, but what would be the fun in that?

It’s also a basic rule of politics that There Ain’t No Such Thing As A Free Lunch — whenever you pass a law to help people, you’re also hurting somebody else, in this case various restaurants and manufacturers. It’s easy to be dismissive of the needs of organizations, but also easy to forget that organizations are ultimately nothing more than a collection of individuals who bear the brunt of the economic fallout of increased regulation. It’s impossible to measure exactly what that fallout is — probably equally impossible as measuring the exact damage that trans fats do. How the hell do you weigh something like that?

And how far does this go, anyway? Am I going to find myself lurking into a seedy downtown bar — shoulders hunched, hands shaking, palms sweating, eye glancing furtively from side to side — approaching a delightfully buxom waitress, giving her a code word and a secret handshake — her smiling warmly at me, guiding me to the back, pulling on the wine bottle three slots from the left, opening a secret underground passage — descending into a dimly lit club, where rotund men and women dine secretly upon greasy burgers and doughnuts?

Okay, I’m exaggerating. This is not that. But it does set a troubling precedent. You can’t even trust your government to deliver a letter — you want to entrust them with your own body? Everybody’s trying to save us from ourselves — God, why can’t all these people just leave us the hell alone?

BanTransFats.com founder Stephen Joseph, who grew up in England, said the heated reaction to the ban seems uniquely American.

“I was on a talk show a couple years ago and the host said, `Well, you’re trying to bring socialism to America!’” Joseph said, “I mean, what an incredible overreaction for trying to change a cooking oil.”

Bring socialism to America? Oh, sure you are, Steve — just one baby goose-step at a time.

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