George McGovern Takes on Economic Paternalists


Former Democratic presidential nominee George McGovern, who has been moving in a libertarian direction for a couple of decades (partly as a result of suffering the regulatory hassles associated with running his Connecticut inn), defends subprime mortgages, payday lending, and interstate health insurance shopping against "economic paternalism" in today's Wall Street Journal:

Under the guise of protecting us from ourselves, the right and the left are becoming ever more aggressive in regulating behavior. Much paternalist scrutiny has recently centered on personal economics…

Since leaving office I've written about public policy from a new perspective: outside looking in. I've come to realize that protecting freedom of choice in our everyday lives is essential to maintaining a healthy civil society.

Why do we think we are helping adult consumers by taking away their options? We don't take away cars because we don't like some people speeding. We allow state lotteries despite knowing some people are betting their grocery money. Everyone is exposed to economic risks of some kind. But we don't operate mindlessly in trying to smooth out every theoretical wrinkle in life.

The nature of freedom of choice is that some people will misuse their responsibility and hurt themselves in the process. We should do our best to educate them, but without diminishing choice for everyone else.

Michael Lynch delved into the controversy over payday loans in the April 2002 issue of reason. Recent reason coverage of subprime mortgages here

[Thanks to John Kluge for the tip.]