Nanny State

The Sun-Times Embraces the Nanny State


Chicago's second biggest daily responds to my article on the Windy City's Nanny State proclivities with an endorsement of many of the policies I criticize.

Reason mocks the city for requiring that fat cops shape up, providing them with nutritionists and trainers to help.

We don't. Police work is physical work. A cop has to be in shape.

Fair enough. But my mocking was more about the fact that after a year of headlines about police abuses, it just struck me a bit odd that the Board of Aldermen's biggest concern while I was in town researching the article was a proposal to assign cops personal trainers at taxpayer expense.

Reason knocks the mayor for regulating thousands of taverns—evil peddlers of demon rum—out of existence. Chicago has only about 1,300 taverns today, compared with about 7,000 in the 1940s.

We don't. A lot of those joints were buckets of blood that loomed within a short stagger of neighborhood schools. And nobody in town complains they can't find a drink.

Ah, yes. For the children.

And "buckets of blood?" Really? You know, I'll bet if we compare Chicago's crime rate in the tavern-happy 1940s with its crime rate now, the modern, 1,300-tavern era doesn't fare so well. In fact, let's go back a bit further. There was a time when alcohol in Chicago and the rest of America was banned altogether. What was crime like between 1919 and 1933? What was it like in Chicago? Also, is it really a good idea to make people travel farther from their homes to find a drink?

Reason finds fault with Chicago's gun control laws, said by the magazine to be among the most restrictive in the nation.

We don't. The Sun-Times has had to write too many stories about too many people killed by guns. Repealing our gun laws—hey, let's all ride the L with pistols—won't help.

Actually, it might. Chicago has an out and out ban on handguns right now. How's that working out? And if the use of guns for self-defense is such an abomination, why are Chicago's politicians allowed to carry, while its citizens aren't?

A couple of other nanny-state regulations cited by reason fall into a gray zone for us. Unlike strict libertarians, we support the ban on smoking in the workplace, but we agree that taverns should have been left to decide the matter for themselves.

Not sure what the difference is. Private property is private property. But fair enough. I could live with a workplace ban that exempted bars and restaurants.

And, as we wrote last week, all those surveillance cameras make us nervous, but it's hard to deny the unintended consequence that those doing the watching are being watched, too. Security cameras have caught more than a few police officers stepping over the line.

Actually, if memory serves, private security cameras caught those cops beating on citizens. Call me a crazy conspiracy theorist, but I'd guess that if a city-owned camera caught a Chicago cop breaking the law, there's a decent chance those tapes would disappear in short order. Not sure why I would think such a thing. Just a hunch, I guess.

If Chicago is a bit of a nanny state, the impulse springs from a good place—a widespread sense that this is a remarkably healthy, vibrant and livable city, and we don't want to screw it up.

I see. It's the intent of the laws that matter, not their actual consequences. Good to know.

I love Chicago. But Chicago was a world-class city long before it started instituting traffic and surveillance cameras, taxing bottled water, banning foods that offend interest groups, and shutting down taverns. Here's a thought. Maybe the Nanny State stuff is making a vibrant and livable city a bit less vibrant and livable. Maybe, just maybe, Mayor Daley and the Board of Aldermen's suffocating paternalism is part of the reason why Chicago is losing population faster than friggin' Detroit.

Addendum:  My last line was a bit overwrought.  According to Census data (link goes to xls file), Chicago lost 59,358 people between 2000 and 2007.  Detroit lost 34,318.  Given that Chicago is more than double the size of Detroit, it wasn't correct to say that the city is bleeding population "faster" than Detroit.  Chicago also gained about 8,000 people between 2006 and 2007.