Sunday, March 04, 2007

The Mal-Effects of Paternalism

The erosion of individual liberty lies in direct correlation with an increase in governmental involvement in every day life. In other words, government paternalism and the loss of freedom go hand in hand. Such paternalism is intended to cure societal ills, but what does it really do? Supporters of such practices must believe that the government is better suited to decide for individuals than the individuals themselves. The movement has widespread support (which is oftentimes contradictory) among America’s left yet what advocates of government paternalism fail to grasp is that government policies intended to help individuals by steering them towards the ‘correct’ decisions actually have the opposite effect.

New York City, in recent months, banned the use of trans-fatty acid (better known as trans-fat) in all restaurants in a move to curb obesity among its citizens. The thought was that the government knows better than the individual what the individual should and should not eat. Whether or not NYC’s ban of trans-fat actually contributes to reduce obesity in the city is irrelevant because what the ban symbolizes has far greater and more devastating effects. What the paternalistic government does is give the individual, as is inherent in human nature, an excuse to not shoulder the burden of responsibility himself.

Because the government has decided to involve itself in such paternalistic practices, such activity has come to be expected by the people. So when children become fat, for example, parents rush not to blame themselves for not feeding their children correctly, but rather blame the government for not preventing such obesity to occur. It is simply easier and less guilt-ridden for parents to do so. If the government did not involve itself in attempting to correct obesity, however, parents would recognize that it is their burden, and not the government’s, to take care of their children properly.

So while Americans get fatter, or do more drugs, or continue to utter racial epithets, supporters of government paternalism will advocate more and more government involvement in the decisions of individuals. Such will only exacerbate the problem. Less government involvement, although a seemingly riskier proposition to those who feel that society is held in balance by the government, would allow responsibility to be shifted back to the individual. And supporters of paternalism might be surprised at what they see. Without the government to act as the easy excuse, individuals would be responsible for themselves. After all, who else has the right to be responsible for them?