Maybe Libertarian Paternalism Is an Oxymoron

At a Harvard public health conference I attended last month, people striving to find common ground would begin their remarks with statements like "every rational person agrees that cigarette taxes and motorcycle helmet laws are justified." There was much slippery use of the pronoun we, as in "how do we redesign the world so that people exercise more and make good food choices?" To give you a further sense of how isolated I was in worrying about the totalitarian implications of public health, the second most libertarian speaker (next to me) was University of Chicago law professor Cass Sunstein, whose main function was to reassure the attendees that paternalism can be reconciled with libertarianism. Frankly, the conflict between the two was not a major concern at the conference, even though its ostensible focus was "responsibility for health." But Sunstein's examples of how default options can be set to steer people toward what they themselves will ultimately recognize as better choices fit well with the general assumption that social engineering is inevitable and should be aimed at making everyone healthier. I was therefore intrigued by this Wall Street Journal debate between University of Chicago economist Richard Thaler, Sunstein's collaborator on the "libertarian paternalism" concept, and New York University economist Mario Rizzo, who argues that the idea is either meaningless or incoherent. Since the whole thing (unlike most Journal content) is available online free, you can judge for yourself who wins the argument. 

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  • ||

    I'm kind of surprised that public-health types would even be aware that libertarianism exists. The whole field is based on the concept that experts should tell (and compel) the rest of us how to live.

  • ||

    The whole field is based on the concept that experts should tell (and compel) the rest of us how to live.

    Libertarianism or public health?

  • thoreau||

    I looked at the thread title and said "Dan T. will post in here."

    I was right.

  • ||

    That would be public health. Libertarians may tell, but they won't compel.

  • Jennifer||

    Very sad, their default assumption that any "rational" person thinks it's justified to compel people to behave they way others think they should. If you don't have freedom to make bad choices, you don't have freedom at all.

  • ||

    Libertarianism or public health?

    Dan T, libertarians support your right to paternalism. You are free to hire a father figure to punish you for things you enjoy doing. In fact, I would fight and die to support your right to do so!

    But in the Libertarian world, you can't force your father-figure fetish on the rest of us who don't have your same hang-ups. Some of us didn't get spanked for sneaking cookies out of the cookie jar when we were kids, and so we haven't been conditioned to see authoritarian denial as a form of love or affection.

    For us, someone putting a gun to our head and saying "you can't eat that", well it makes us feel a little uncomfortable.

    Understand?

  • ||

    In other words, some of that stuff stuff folks try to shove under the "libertarian" tent - libertarian paternalism, liberaltarianism, Eric Dondero - just isn't libertarian.

  • ||

    Dan T, libertarians support your right to paternalism. You are free to hire a father figure to punish you for things you enjoy doing. In fact, I would fight and die to support your right to do so!

    Hell! I'd fight to be hired for that position.
    I can't think too many things better than getting paid to punish Dan T.

    Danny! Assume the position.

  • ||

    In other words, some of that stuff stuff folks try to shove under the "libertarian" tent - libertarian paternalism, liberaltarianism, Eric Dondero - just isn't libertarian.

    But the apparent fact that they see libertarianism as something they want to be associated with may at least be a good sign.

  • ||

    But the apparent fact that they see libertarianism as something they want to be associated with may at least be a good sign.

    No... Everyone says they are for "free speech", even the most zealot pro-censorship person. Everyone says they are for "Democracy", even when they support the most vicious dictators.

    Nowadays, everyone (including Noam Chomsky) is calling themselves a Libertarian... but that doesn't mean that they are Libertarian in the slightest.

  • ||

    NoStar, hold on a minute - I am looking for my stilettos. And my camera.

  • ||

    Dan T, libertarians support your right to paternalism. You are free to hire a father figure to punish you for things you enjoy doing. In fact, I would fight and die to support your right to do so!

    But in the Libertarian world, you can't force your father-figure fetish on the rest of us who don't have your same hang-ups. Some of us didn't get spanked for sneaking cookies out of the cookie jar when we were kids, and so we haven't been conditioned to see authoritarian denial as a form of love or affection.

    For us, someone putting a gun to our head and saying "you can't eat that", well it makes us feel a little uncomfortable.

    Understand?


    What I am beginning to understand is just how bizarre the libertarian viewpoint really is.

    You guys would forgo a cheaper and improved health system (you know, like the kind everybody else seems to have) based strictly on the childish notion that the most important thing in life is not having to follow any rules? Or is it this irrational fear that the government is going to force-feed you carrot sticks at gunpoint?

    Serously, the over-the-top cynicism towards America and her institutions is a little much.

  • ||

    a cheaper and improved health system (you know, like the kind everybody else seems to have)

    name two

  • ||

    Very sad, their default assumption that any "rational" person thinks it's justified to compel people to behave they way others think they should.

    So if I stole money from you, would you compel me to give it back? Or does that somehow not count?

  • ||

    You guys would forgo a cheaper and improved health system (you know, like the kind everybody else seems to have) based strictly on the childish notion that the most important thing in life is not having to follow any rules? Or is it this irrational fear that the government is going to force-feed you carrot sticks at gunpoint?

    I can't speak for any other libertarian, but (if I correctly understand what you're referring to) I would forgo such a healthcare system b/c I don't believe that it will be cheaper or improved.

  • ||

    Cheaper for who? Not me, I get free health care through my job, and a health system where even malingering idlers are entitled to health care is a system that I am funding through increased taxes.

  • ||

    You are free to hire a father figure to punish you for things you enjoy doing.

    Hell, I'm willing to punish Dan T. for free! In fact, I might even be willing to pay for the privilege.

  • Jennifer||

    So if I stole money from you, would you compel me to give it back? Or does that somehow not count?

    Dan, when a troll has to resort to deliberate semantic misunderstandings, that's a sign that his troll-fu is weakening. Really, is pretending that "I should be allowed to take health risks if I want" equals "I should be allowed to steal from whomever I please" the best you can do?

  • ||

    So if I stole money from you, would you compel me to give it back? Or does that somehow not count?

    You got it.....that somehow doesn't count.

    Well, actually, we all know why it isn't the same thing, but it is so obvious it need not be discussed.

  • ||

    But the apparent fact that they see libertarianism as something they want to be associated with may at least be a good sign.

    No... Everyone says they are for "free speech", even the most zealot pro-censorship person. Everyone says they are for "Democracy", even when they support the most vicious dictators.

    Nowadays, everyone (including Noam Chomsky) is calling themselves a Libertarian... but that doesn't mean that they are Libertarian in the slightest.


    Oh, I have no illusions that any of these people actually will embrace any libertarian ideals. My only point is that we may have reached a point where they at least feel the need to give us lip-service (as opposed to completely ignoring us as a bunch of kooks).

  • ||

    Dan, when a troll has to resort to deliberate semantic misunderstandings, that's a sign that his troll-fu is weakening. Really, is pretending that "I should be allowed to take health risks if I want" equals "I should be allowed to steal from whomever I please" the best you can do?

    Now who's engaging in deliberate misunderstandings?

    I'm not saying that the two ideas are the same, I'm just pointing out that you don't mind compelling people to behave a certain way if you think it will lead to good results.

  • Jennifer||

    I'm not saying that the two ideas are the same, I'm just pointing out that you don't mind compelling people to behave a certain way if you think it will lead to good results.

    No, dollface, you're pretending not to see the difference between people being forced to act a certain way for their own good versus people being forbidden to cause harm to others.

  • thoreau||

    Judging for the title of thread winner is proving to be rather difficult. The top entries are:

    R C Dean | May 30, 2007, 3:00pm | #
    You are free to hire a father figure to punish you for things you enjoy doing.

    Hell, I'm willing to punish Dan T. for free! In fact, I might even be willing to pay for the privilege.



    and

    Eric the .5b | May 30, 2007, 2:40pm | #
    In other words, some of that stuff stuff folks try to shove under the "libertarian" tent - libertarian paternalism, liberaltarianism, Eric Dondero - just isn't libertarian.



    RC's offer has more of the "spray coffee over the keyboard" factor, but Eric the 0.5b's mention of Eric Dondero (no relation) has greater "H&R inside joke" appeal.

    Tough call.

  • ||

    Since it seems as clear as anything in this affair that Valerie Plame was not a covert agent the day before Novak's column either, I think we can chalk this up to Joe Wilson's habitual disingenuousness. . .

    Nobody ever said that she wasn't working for the CIA -- the question is whether she was a covert spy or a paperpusher, and the answer seems pretty clearly to be the latter.

  • ||

    But the apparent fact that they see libertarianism as something they want to be associated with may at least be a good sign.

    The history of the term "liberal" is instructive. The socialists' success in stealing that label from limited-govt types was hardly a good sign for the future.

  • Daniel||

    Speaking as a lurker, I vote for Eric only because the Dondero reference actually caused "spray coffee on the keyboard" syndrome here. That in no way detracts from RC's entry.

    Daniel

  • ||

    No, dollface, you're pretending not to see the difference between people being forced to act a certain way for their own good versus people being forbidden to cause harm to others.

    No, actually I'm not. I'm cool with the idea that it's okay to force people to do certain things. You're the one who denies it.

  • ||

    Jesus H

  • ||

    If your country were in mortal danger and your choice of leaders came down to cigar chomping Winston Churchill or smoke free Richard Daynard, whom would you choose? Perhaps some of you would choose Daynard on the ground that he would be a better example to "the children." I for one take the simple man's approach, namely, that humans will always indulge in booze and tobacco and gambling and sex, it is a matter of moderating these appetites, not stomping them out, and it is sheer lunacy to make one's habits in this regard (assuming they are under relative self-control) a test of anything (other than perhaps a measure on the bore/insufferable scold index). I guess I will never get invited to the public health elect's smoke free whole grain fun fests!

  • Ross||

    Luckily for all of us Americans, the federal government started mandating nutritional labeling in 1972, and now we're all incredibly healthy. Thank G*d for socialism.

  • squarooticus||

    You guys would forgo a cheaper and improved health system (you know, like the kind everybody else seems to have) based strictly on the childish notion that the most important thing in life is not having to follow any rules?

    Putting aside the laughable notion that anything the government does is cheap or of high quality (you should read Rothbard or Hoppe if you are actually interested in educating yourself), the answer is that I would demand the right to forego such a system, both as a payer and as a recipient.

    It isn't the notion of government providing health insurance (or roads, or food quality inspectors, etc.) that offends me. What offends me is that they will force me to pay for it essentially at gunpoint, even if I examine the choices and decide to go with a different service provider.

    The threat of force implicit in everything government does by virtue of the power to tax and the power to print legal tender is the source of the vast majority of my discontent with government.

    Kyle

  • ||

    CIA,

    Boggle.

    Did you read the document released yesterday by Fitzgerald? (PDF at bottom of linked MSNBC story )

  • ||

    Well, we are healthier than we were in 1972.

  • ||


    It isn't the notion of government providing health insurance (or roads, or food quality inspectors, etc.) that offends me. What offends me is that they will force me to pay for it essentially at gunpoint, even if I examine the choices and decide to go with a different service provider.


    The government doesn't force you to pay for anything, you do it voluntarily as part of the social contract. Taxes are the price of living here, but nobody is forcing you to live here.

  • Matt Tievsky||

    Dan T.: "The government doesn't force you to pay for anything, you do it voluntarily as part of the social contract. Taxes are the price of living here, but nobody is forcing you to live here."

    Doesn't that legitimate any law, so long as there's a right of exit?

  • ||

    No, actually I'm not. I'm cool with the idea that it's okay to force people to do certain things. You're the one who denies it.

    Libertarians are against the INITIATION of force. Therefore, telling someone they can't eat donuts is bad, because the it represents the INITIATION of force.

    Using force for self defense (such as to prevent someone from robbing or stealing from me), is OK, because self defense is not the initiation of force.

    It is the difference between Switzerland maintaining a small military for self defense, and the United States maintaining a military to invade and occupy other countries.

    You guys would forgo a cheaper and improved health system (you know, like the kind everybody else seems to have) based strictly on the childish notion that the most important thing in life is not having to follow any rules?

    Really? I live in a place with one of those "cheaper and improved" health care systems, and it sucks. Basicly, I am young, and in good health, and Canada is less of a police-state in other areas (i.e. War on Terror, War on Drugs), that I am willing to make the trade off, but if I ever got a serious illness like cancer or something, I would go to the U.S. for treatment. The Canadian system is just aweful.

    Now, if you want to make the arguement that the U.S. has a government funded, government micromanaged national health care system, so that Canada vs. the U.S. is Socialism Type A vs. Socialism Type B, then OK, you got me. The U.S. is not a free-market, so I can't claim free-markets beat non-free-markets in health care from this example. However, people like you very much like to pretend that there is a free-market in health care.

  • Matt Tievsky||

    I should've added: Furthermore, if we're going to take the "social contract" argument seriously, that means taking the Constitution seriously. And it doesn't seem to authorize the federal government to provide health insurance (states are another matter).

  • triticale||

    Well, we are healthier than we were in 1972.

    What you mean we, Kemosabe?

    I, for one, am 35 years older. Having made my living with my muscles for some of that time, my knees and back are in worse shape. Since moving to office work, I've put on weight. My eyesight and teeth have deteriorated.

    Next fatuous claim?

  • Gabriel||

    Dan T.

    Odd, I don't recall ever signing the "Social Contract", nor do I recall ever having read one.

    Can you provide a copy to me?

  • ||

    Hell! I'd fight to be hired for that position.
    I can't think too many things better than getting paid to punish Dan T.


    Hell, I'm willing to punish Dan T. for free! In fact, I might even be willing to pay for the privilege

    Dan T, observe the amazing power of free markets. You only had to mention that you were a glutton for punshiment and you already have people offering your their services at cut throat rates.

  • squarooticus||

    The government doesn't force you to pay for anything, you do it voluntarily as part of the social contract. Taxes are the price of living here, but nobody is forcing you to live here.

    I don't see why my decision to continue working at my good-paying job, to play amateur senior hockey, and to live within a 3 hour drive of my aging parents has to come bundled with substandard health care, poorly maintained roads, confiscatory taxes, corrupt cops with a monopoly on security, and general fascism.

    Maybe it's just me, but "take it or leave it" isn't exactly the definition of freedom.

    Kyle

  • ||

    The government doesn't force you to pay for anything, you do it voluntarily as part of the social contract. Taxes are the price of living here, but nobody is forcing you to live here.

    The laughable thing, of course, is that you AREN'T REALLY ALLOWED TO LEAVE!!! If you are born a U.S. citizen, you are required to pay U.S. taxes, even if you are living outside the U.S.!!! You still need to pay U.S. taxes, even if you renounce your citizenship - the IRS does not recognize the lose of U.S. citizenship as making you exempt from U.S. taxes.

  • ||

    Dan T.

    Odd, I don't recall ever signing the "Social Contract", nor do I recall ever having read one.

    Can you provide a copy to me?


    It's a metaphor, not a literal paper contract.

    You consent to it by being here.

  • squarooticus||

    You consent to it by being here.

    I could write a lot about how foolish this notion is when the clauses of the "social contract" aren't specified beforehand (or, as in our case, actually are specified but simply aren't followed), but I will simply say "Godwin's Law", and leave it at that.

    Kyle

  • ||

    It's a metaphor, not a literal paper contract.

    You consent to it by being here.


    For a contract to be binding on the parties to it in any meaningful sense, there needs to be mutual consent to its terms. If the "terms" of the "social contract" aren't ascertainable, then mutual consent cannot exist.

  • ||

    In the WSJ article, Thaler wrote, "Under that law, firms that offer to at least partially match their employees' contributions, enroll their employees automatically, and automatically escalate their contribution rates are given a waiver from some burdensome paperwork. No coercion is involved."

    The statist mind at work: unless you do what the government "suggests" you do, we're gonna stick you with a bunch of burdensome paperwork -- aaand, this is not coercion.

  • ||

    I love it when Dan T whips out his "social contract" schtick.

  • Chucklehead||

    If you are born a U.S. citizen, you are required to pay U.S. taxes, even if you are living outside the U.S.!!! You still need to pay U.S. taxes, even if you renounce your citizenship - the IRS does not recognize the lose of U.S. citizenship as making you exempt from U.S. taxes.

    Is this true?

  • ||

    Rex Rhino says: "Dan T, libertarians support your right to paternalism. You are free to hire a father figure to punish you for things you enjoy doing. In fact, I would fight and die to support your right to do so!"

    I strongly support the right of Dan T. to fight and die to support his right to allow others to coerce him. Not quite so eager to put my own okole on the line for Dan T's right to oppress himself.

  • Gabriel||

    Dan T.You consent to it by being here.

    Last time I checked, a contract is only valid if both parties agree to its contents.

    That said, what about minors who are unable to give consent or to choose where they live, yet are required to pay taxes on income that they gain?

    Honestly, I don't know if you are some gimmick, troll, or both rolled into one astoundingly ignorant package, regardless inability to grasp the irony of your responses is highly amusing.

  • Gabriel||

    Can someone tell me if Dan T. is channeling James Taggart?

  • ||

    Dan T.

    Is this a 'Living Social Contract'?

    Your version may be different from mine.

    But seriously, If I lived here and decided as some do to rob, cheat, murder, and generally make a social nuisance of myself, am I still agreeing to the 'Social contact' ?

    Do illegal aliens sign up upon crossing the border?

    I really want to know! I must have slept through Civics Metaphors class.

  • ||

    Dan T. says, "Well, we are healthier than we were in 1972."

    Ummm, no, I'm thirty-five years older. The only thing healthier about me now is that mentally, I've overcome my earlier statist indoctrination, unlike Dan T.

  • Gabriel||

    The bigger problem with the social contract is that it cannot be used to justify governmental actions such as taxation, because government will initiate force against anyone who does not wish to enter into such a contract, thus negating the legitimate definition of "contract".

    Here is a social contract I can live with:

    I swear-by my life and my love of it-that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine.

  • ||

    Did you read the document released yesterday by Fitzgerald?

    The one where he simply announced that Val was covert, with no supporting facts or analysis? And in contradiction to his earlier statement that his office really hadn't looked into the question?

  • ||

    One more ludicrous Dan T. post: "The government doesn't force you to pay for anything, you do it voluntarily as part of the social contract. Taxes are the price of living here, but nobody is forcing you to live here."

    Really? I just forked over a bunch of money to apply for a passport. What if the U.S. government denies it, based on my posts at Reason? If I try to take a plane flight to a foreign country without a passport, will I be allowed to enter the country of my choice anyway? I've already been treated like a terrorist at the airport, humiliated by being forced to go through the bomb-detecting puff detection device and extra-thorough screening processing because I had an expired driver's license.

  • ||

    Ahh, the social contract - that would be the one that one party can amend at any time without the consent of the other?

    Sweet deal, if you can get it.

  • ||

    So back in my mother's day formula for babies (without added DHA) was "healthier"...

    Some people still think margarine is better for you...and that "low fat diets" should be the ideal.

    Will public health "nudges" nudge us in the direction of whatever idea is popular at the time?

    This is frightening.

  • D.A. Ridgely||

    Dan T., your Uncle Mister sends his pity.

  • ||

    I think D. A. Ridgely has bested me and topped (pun intended) R. C. Dean.

  • ||

    Okay, I get it. If I, a la Dan T., profess to see no difference between a horse and a bicycle, will some of you actually argue with me?

  • ||

    Let's cut the public health types some slack. Many of them want to use the coercive force of government to promote their nannyism, and when they combine that with a failure to see the difference between public health issues that involve externalities (like the early campaigns to clean up malarial pools or communicable disease that Sullum rightly praises in his latest article in Reason on the subject) and public health issues that are "nobodies bizness if you do" (like eating lard from a can) then we do get some low grade and offensive tyranny. But many public health folks are like the movie Supersize me, they want to nudge us in a direction opposite from what corporate advertising is nudging us. You know, using gov. or non-profit money to nudge folks to eat strawberries instead of Crisco, or using gov. power or consumer pressure to limit advertising of the latter type. I'm not sure I got a problem with that. You guys think its ok for corporations to spend bizallions of dollars to trick kids into eating Fruit Loops but its tyranny for the government to use a commercial inducing kids to not drown their food in unhealthy condiments? Puh-leeze.

  • ||

    I couldn't help but realize a beautiful irony: on recent threads pro-immigration libbies have trotted out the old mare that argues "past opponents of immigrants said the Germans and Italians would ruin the nation, they were wrong, therefore current opponents who say that Mexicans will ruin the nation must be wrong too." Well, many early libertarians like Spencer and Sumner used to be opposed to early public health efforts like sanitation reform, vaccination compulsion, forced cleaning up of malarial pools, etc.,. Those reforms worked out great (anybody got Rubella?), so I geuss current libertarians who oppose public health measures must be as demonstrably nutty as we are supposed to think the immigration opponents are now.
    Your welcome for the Logic 101 lesson. Papers are due next Thursday.

  • ||

    I use these as examples in my high school economics classes and I imagine will next semester in the junior college econ class. Both involve the concept of externalities, and since both smokers and motorcyclists impose costs onto non-smokers and non-riders (via increased insurance rates) via their actions, some regulation is permissable. In fact, it is perhaps required.

    As a libertarian, I would favor complete non-discrimination and total assumption of individual accountability and responsibility. In other words, both should pay the true costs of their insurance (as opposed to the subsidized-by-non-user rates they actually get) and the true costs of their health care. But since a motorcyclist's brains splattered on the side of the road have to be paid for by more than just the biker, it is hardly an imposition to require helmets.

    It is no different in many ways than pollution.

  • Jennifer||

    You guys think its ok for corporations to spend bizallions of dollars to trick kids into eating Fruit Loops but its tyranny for the government to use a commercial inducing kids to not drown their food in unhealthy condiments?

    One, I'm not forced to pay for Froot Loops commercials, but I am forced to pay for those public-service ads. Two, kids don't need to be "tricked" into wanting to eat sweet things, and there has never been a single case of somebody being tricked into eating a Froot Loop when she thought it was actually a mandarin-orange slice. Third, if the parents are incapable of saying "no" to every single sweet-food request the kid makes, the kid has poor prospects for the future regardless of how many "Broccoli is Cool!" commercials he sees or does not.

  • Jennifer||

    Both involve the concept of externalities, and since both smokers and motorcyclists impose costs onto non-smokers and non-riders (via increased insurance rates) via their actions, some regulation is permissable. In fact, it is perhaps required.

    You can say the same thing about pregnancy. All other things being equal, a pregnant woman will need a hell of a lot more healthcare than a non-pregnant woman.

  • D.A. Ridgely||

    Okay, I get it. If I, a la Dan T., profess to see no difference between a horse and a bicycle, will some of you actually argue with me?

    No, but some of us will profess to.

  • ||

    Jennifer-You're right that corporate interests pay for the Fruit Loops commercial and that in some instances the government pays for the health promotion commercial. But that's an example of market failure, there is little money in health promotion (or at least in the kind that works, promoting exercise and discipline) but there is a ton in selling kids sweets (as you note, they are inclined towards it). But kids are unhealthy if they eat too much sweets and they are healthy when they engage in exercise or eat wholesome foods, and since most people hate to see kids sick, this is a public concern. So what should the public do about it, pray tell? It cannot even try to counteract the corporate nudging with its own nudging? Should we all just sit admist sick kids and say "Well, if ONLY their parents were more responsible!" I guess we'd be a lot more self-righteous, but we'd also have a lot of sick kids. Libertarians act like advertising has no effect (and no irrational effects). I guess that's why companies and pols spend bizallions of dollars on this no-effect having thing that just bounces off of us rugged individualists.

  • Jennifer||

    Libertarians act like advertising has no effect (and no irrational effects).

    And you act like it has an irrational effect which parents are helpless to resist. No parent with an ounce of sense has any inkling that vegetables might be healthier for their kids than Froot-Loops, right? And the market will fail here because we all know nobody's ever made a dime selling books and videos promoting things like exercise. (Which is why Jane Fonda lives in poverty to this day, but that's another issue.)

    But kids are unhealthy if they eat too much sweets and they are healthy when they engage in exercise or eat wholesome foods, and since most people hate to see kids sick, this is a public concern. So what should the public do about it, pray tell? It cannot even try to counteract the corporate nudging with its own nudging?

    Those members of the public who happen to have children can nudge the hell out of their own kids via tactics like refusing to buy their kids too many sweets, and making the kids eat healthy and get some exercise. Unless you can show hard proof that junk food commercials turn parents into helpless sugar zombies I'm not going to start shouting "A Froot Loops commercial! For God's sake, somebody do something!"

  • Jennifer||

    Oh God ... oh Christ ... what can I do? It keeps telling me to follow my nose, man. My nose. It always knows. The flavor of fruit and everything else, too. It knows everything.

    I didn't know. All the time I said commercials were no big deal I didn't fucking know. And now it's too late. For me and for us all.

  • triticale||

    But since a motorcyclist's brains splattered on the side of the road have to be paid for by more than just the biker, it is hardly an imposition to require helmets.

    The rain will wash that splatter away soon enough. As for those whose brains are merely scrambled and not splattered, why should any of us pay anything for that? His choice; his problem.

  • ||

    Ken says: "Jennifer-You're right that corporate interests pay for the Fruit Loops commercial and that in some instances the government pays for the health promotion commercial ..."

    You had me at "Jennifer, you're right" -- if only you had put a period there and ended the post we could have accepted your mea culpa maxima (which I believe is Latin for "sorry I wrecked your Nissan")

  • ||

    I use these as examples in my high school economics classes and I imagine will next semester in the junior college econ class. Both involve the concept of externalities, and since both smokers and motorcyclists impose costs onto non-smokers and non-riders (via increased insurance rates) via their actions, some regulation is permissable. In fact, it is perhaps required.


    So, because an insurance company can't seem to interject a clause that cancels out payment to a motorcyclist involved in an accident sans helmet, government regulation is not only permissible it is required?? Insurance companies seem to do a pretty good job of employing actuaries to determine who is and is not at risk for XYZ (whether it be auto accidents or lung cancer) and adjusting the rates accordingly.

    I agree with you that the insurance rates should reflect the actual costs of the actions and not the taxpayer subsidized, for example long term healthcare, ones that are currently in effect.

    Now I see why HS students seem to have no real concept of "cause and effect" and personal responsibility. Remember, so long as you let the government tell you what to do, they will take care of you.

  • D.A. Ridgely||

    But since a motorcyclist's brains splattered on the side of the road have to be paid for by more than just the biker, it is hardly an imposition to require helmets.

    Surely, the clean up costs can't be that much.

  • Robert||

    The history of the term "liberal" is instructive. The socialists' success in stealing that label from limited-govt types was hardly a good sign for the future.

    You write about it as if it were conscious deception. The switch could not have come about unless a large proportion of liberals changed their mind about what was good. They knew they were liberals and that their ideas were good, so if their ideas changed, that changed what "liberal" meant. Similarly, those opposed to liberalism knew whose ideas were bad, so if the liberals adopted new ideas, those new ideas would then constitute liberalism and be opposed by those who opposed the old ideas.

  • Don Meaker||

    Sounds like Dan T is ok with me using force to take his property.

    So it isn't theft, right?

  • ||

    Gosh Jennifer, what a rugged individualist you are! Diania Shrugged indeed.
    But you never answered anything.
    1. What will we do about all those sick kids once those irresponsible parents do what they have been doing, and that is shoveling Fruit Loops in their kids until they are sick? Screw 'em? You just keep repeating "but they should be more responsible." Indeed they should. But once we know they are not, now what?
    2. I don't have to think that commercials make us mindless zombies, but they certainly make many more people buy a product than would otherwise. That's a fact, Jack (or Jill in this case), which of course is why companies and politicians spend billions of dollars on commercials. You think they have NO effect, or in the great libertarian tradition they are just information sharing exercises? That's pathetically bad reasoning, have you SEEN a commercial lately? Very little information conveyed (like with Fruit Loops, according to the last one I saw the only 'information' from it was that a large talking bird and his children followers were lost in the Amazon forest, but he sniffed his way out to a bowl of Fruit Loops. Boy, that provides a lot for the rational cost benefit analysis every consumer engages in, right?).

  • Chucklehead||

    So, because an insurance company can't seem to interject a clause that cancels out payment to a motorcyclist involved in an accident sans helmet...

    I'd be willing to bet that government regulations prohibit such clauses in the first place.

  • Jennifer||

    You think they have NO effect, or in the great libertarian tradition they are just information sharing exercises? That's pathetically bad reasoning, have you SEEN a commercial lately? Very little information conveyed (like with Fruit Loops, according to the last one I saw the only 'information' from it was that a large talking bird and his children followers were lost in the Amazon forest, but he sniffed his way out to a bowl of Fruit Loops. Boy, that provides a lot for the rational cost benefit analysis every consumer engages in, right?).

    That is indeed pathetically bad reasoning. It's also a pathetic attempt at a strawman false dichotomy. The commercial contains the following information: "Froot Loops taste good." That's all it needs. Exactly what sort of rational cost/benefit analysis do you think commercials should use to appeal to five-year-olds?

    While we're at it, maybe Mattel should be required to put the following disclaimers on Barbie and Hot Wheels commercials: "Hey, kids! Instead of buying our toys, why don't you invest your allowance in a money-market account? The cost/benefit ratio would be far better that way."

    What will we do about all those sick kids once those irresponsible parents do what they have been doing, and that is shoveling Fruit Loops in their kids until they are sick? Screw 'em?

    If a kid suffers illness because he's never, ever allowed to eat anything except Froot Loops, that's a form of neglect and we've already got laws against that. However, I suspect your "cost/benefit analysis" in that regard works something like this: "I am currently in less-than-optimal health. I have in the past consumed Froot Loops. Clearly, the latter led to the former. The government should Do Something about that."

    Incidentally, how much junk food do you think kids should be allowed to eat, and how much government regulation do you think necessary to make sure they never exceed the limits you've set?

  • Vermont Gun Owner||

    Dan T. | May 30, 2007, 3:40pm | #

    Well, we are healthier than we were in 1972.


    Damn! He's got us there! I AM healthier now than I was when a decade before I was born.

  • ||

    Jennifer
    It takes a while to construct arguments from the fragments you give, but here goes:
    "Exactly what sort of rational cost/benefit analysis do you think commercials should use to appeal to five-year-olds?" I'm not sure they should be appealing to five year olds, since those impulsive little devils cant and shouldn't make decisions on whats best for them to eat (I'm guessing even Libertarians agree with the basic premises of contract law that five year olds lack capacity). Let me anticipate your next comment: but it is the mom and dad who actually buy. I guess you've never been on the recieving end of a "Dad can we have it" marathon a la Bart and Lisa Simpson. And, of course, kids DO make such decisions in places like schools, where corporate interests essentially bribe administrators to carry their unhealthy products with little alternative (and the kid won't complain after his informative Fruit Loops commercial). This was covered in Supersize Me for example.
    "If a kid suffers illness because he's never, ever allowed to eat anything except Froot Loops, that's a form of neglect and we've already got laws against that."
    Wow, that's terrible. Of course a kid can be sick from eating quite a variety of junk food, Fruit Loops being just one. But you're on the right track with the wrong intention here: public health types would argue that if the government can intervene in a family to actually jail the parents and take the kid when their is neglect that leads to unhealthiness, then why can't the government use commercials to nudge the parents and the kids into more healthy practices? I mean, you're the libertarian, isn't that much less coercive? Ditto for restricting the commercial speech which pushes such junk.
    "Incidentally, how much junk food do you think kids should be allowed to eat, and how much government regulation do you think necessary to make sure they never exceed the limits you've set?" This is, dare I say it, delicious! I should think that kids should eat an amount of junk food less than the amount than would make them sick. And I've already told you what I think the government should do to get there, inform and educate parents and kids and maybe restrict commercial advertising.
    But I'll keep lobbing softballs as long as you keep running from the batters box screaming in fear and tear-y eyed: there are a ton of unhealthy kids in this nation who eat way too much junk food. What, other than saying "these parents should be more responsible" (which we already do, and of course should do) should be done about it?

  • ||

    Yeah, I know. I'm late to the party. Anyway...

    What, other than saying "these parents should be more responsible" (which we already do, and of course should do) should be done about it?

    Here's what should be done:

    I talk to friends and neighbors and harness the power of the Internet to form voluntary groups of people who are concerned about junk food and childhood obesity, or, alternately, I donate my own money to existing groups of this sort. This money (or volunteered time and effort) is used to educate and persuade people to make better, healthier choices.

    Here's what should not be done:

    Too lazy to get off my ass and do anything about it myself, I demand that Congress pass laws to take money from my fellow citizens to horrifically overpay for programs that, at best, have no appreciable impact on the problem at hand.

    Does that answer the question?

  • ||

    Jake
    That's a reasonable response. I might add though, what would we do if, given our voluntary non-profit effort, we are still overwhelmed by corporate ads (after all, we may care, but their livelihood is at stake, so they are not going to let up)? In Supersize Me they note that fruit and vegetable advertising in the US is 1/100th that of Pepsi alone! That's a lot of organizing!

  • ||

    In Supersize Me they note that fruit and vegetable advertising in the US is 1/100th that of Pepsi alone!

    So? I don't think Pepsi is generally considered a substitute for lettuce. In Pepsi's case, there's not much market growth available (without expanding to overseas markets) for expanding the size of the soft drink pie - that gazillion dollars they spend on advertising is overwhelmingly aimed at getting more of that pie from Coca-Cola. There's no need for radish growers to spend nearly as much on advertising as Pepsi does, because there's no big Coca-Radish company that you need to fight to maintain market share.

    Since fruits and vegetables are closer to a commodity market than a product market, there's not much point trying to differentiate one's own stock from the next guy's (though the "organic!" labels are making steps down that road).

    Comparing the advertising budgets of fruit farmers to those of cola producers is... well, it's less similar than comparing apples and oranges. I've not seen Spurlock's film, but unless there's a hell of a chain of logic leading up to that bit of information, it's likely a non sequitur.

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