What's the big deal?

by Russ Roberts on May 21, 2007

in Nanny State

In an earlier post, I wrote about the ban on trans fats in Montgomery County, MD. When I bring the topic up with neighbors, their general attitude is, what’s the big deal? Restaurants will find substitutes. Prices might rise a little. Yes, freedom is infringed, but is the freedom to buy locally-made trans fats products very important?

A number of readers here at Cafe Hayek have raised similar points in the past in conversations on related topics. Their argument goes something like this: there are so many important issues to fight for, why fight over these nanny state issues? What’s the big deal about mandatory seat belts or motorcycle helmets or the ban on trans fats. They basically do more good than harm, goes the argument, so why get worked up over something so trivial? Plus, they say, it turns off those who are skeptical about freedom. They think I’m crazy for getting excited over something so innocuous.

I disagree with these arguments. I think it is a big deal for many reasons. But before I make my case, I’d like to hear you make yours on either side of this issue. Is this kind of seemingly petty regulation worth fighting? Or should we just ignore it and save our breath and energy for more what are perhaps more important issues?

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Adam May 21, 2007 at 9:01 am

I'm strongly libertarian, but to be honest I don't think the trans-fats bans are the end of the world. Yes, they're an infringement on personal liberty. But in terms of priorities, I don't think we should spend time fighting for the freedom to eat trans-fats when there are so many more important things to worry about.

To me it's a question of the "knowability" of risks. It's hard for me, as an individual, to make a free choice to eat (or forego) something with transfats because I have no way of knowing what's in much of my food (unless I buy it at the grocery store and it's labelled). Would some kind of mandatory disclosure remedy this problem? Probably. Just make the information available if people want it, like at McDonald's. If they don't bother, well, that's up to them. As I believe was pointed out on this blog, a ban is not exactly a sensible way to remedy an information gap.

On the other hand, people understand the concept of a seatbelt and what it's supposed to prevent – and if you think the risk of going through your windshield is worth it, then by all means go ahead and take it off. That's why I find these sorts of laws so offensive, because there's no real information problem. They're just intrusive and obnoxious.

Just a few thoughts. To be clear, if the only issue out there was banning trans-fats, I'd say let's fight this. But there are so many other problems (including what I see as much more repugnant nanny state laws) that this one just isn't worth it. That's my opinion.

Matt C. May 21, 2007 at 9:04 am

Dr. Roberts-
The same might have been said about smoking on airplanes before it was banned. Who would have thought that now you can't even smoke outside in someplaces?

I think Walter Williams makes this case of the creeping Nanny government. He says the problem with seatbelt laws isn't that people get hurt or that their are medical bills that cost taxpayers, that's a problem of socialism. If all costs become socialized then we will continue to look into more creeping interference on the part of policymakers.

As we take more and more personal responsibility away from the individual, the more individuals become dependant on the State. We have become so immune to the government "taking care" of us that most people don't really understand the harm that regulation, like that of the FDA, can do to us.

I like to compare the nanny state to Kudzu. Anyone who has grown up in the southeast probably has seen it and knows what it is. Kudzu was a plant that was brought over from Japan(?) and was planted here in the US. At one point people were throwing Kudzu day celebrations. But here in the US Kudzu took on a life of its own. Just imagine a beautiful hanging vine plant. It slowly works its way up the tree, creeping along, beautiful at first, until it completely strangles a single tree. Well that's not so bad right? It's the price we pay. But Kudzu doesn't stay on just one tree very long. It begins to branch out to other trees, until it kills them too.

Sure a smoking ban or a transfat ban may seem nice in the beginning, but then government will begin to moving from one thing to another. Until we no longer can smoke in our own homes, use trans fats in our own homes, remove mattress stickers or even keep our own property.

muirgeo May 21, 2007 at 9:08 am


I'v e been reading this excellent site for a month now. Trying to learn and understand "Hayekain" economics. I'm listening to Econtalks new and past issues. I'm reading all many of the books referenced here (classic and contemporary) It's great stuff but I still haven't been moved far from my position that it's all a pipe dream. I still believe that all societies will ultimately be based on a mixed economy. I still believe that the best society will be the one were the peoples interests are truly represented while respecting the rights of the minorities. And I believe , so far, that Hayeks society will evolve into a plutocracy more resembling the serfdoms he so disliked.

It's my impression that economic professionals often have tunnel vision and simplify everything as good or bad based on GDP. If GDP goes up but family working hours increases 33% have we gained anything?

My point is that democracy (in the general sense) needs to take precedent over the markets. The markets are extremely important to society but they are just one aspect.

Because we have a mixed economy when a motorcycle rider crashes head on into a tree we as a society have said we will take care of his injuries. His injuries are far less expensive if he is wearing a helmet. Riding a motorcycle (at least on public roads) is a privilege not a right. With it we as a society have decided that one aspect of granting this privilege is that you must were a helmet. And so goes the argument for trans fatty acids.

George May 21, 2007 at 9:24 am

People have lost their freedoms in the past when apathy was the rule of the day. Government gradually took freedom when good men and women were too busy to cry out.

A more extreme version of this is going on in Russia. There the level of indiference is much higher. Eventually, enough freedom is gone that even activists can't fight back without significant violence.

muirgeo May 21, 2007 at 9:24 am

"We have become so immune to the government "taking care" of us that most people don't really understand the harm that regulation, like that of the FDA, can do to us."

Matt how does having my meat inspected and my pills content hurt me? I think the truth is many people don't understand just how much they benefit from good regulation. I'm a Pediatrician and I don't think the average parents understands the value of the polio shot they are getting for their kid because they never seen a polio epidemic and because they've never seen a life threatening injection caused by the use of dirty needles or un-inspected contaminated vaccine products.


Don May 21, 2007 at 9:28 am

I am a big believer in slippery slopes in fighting off the early attempts to put us on a slippery decline. (Mankiw, preposterously IMHO, said that the Road to Serfdom was one big slippery slope argument. Tell the millions of people whose lives were plunged into misery by Communism that we shouldn't fight off the first petty attempts to regulate our lives because it is a waste of time!) The trans fat ban will only set the stage for the next regulatory attempt and when that happens the cumulative affect of the regulations won't be such a big deal. Just a few years ago we thought that banning smoking in the workplace was no big deal. Now we are close to a full prohibition on smoking altogether.

The most compelling argument against the transfat ban however is that numerous, small nannying prohibitions have a dulling affect on our wariness of the state. After several prohibitions, from trans fats to foie gras to smoking, we start to not see government restrictions as a big deal. Pretty soon we are prone in the face of more aggressive attempts.

Mathieu Bédard May 21, 2007 at 9:30 am

I don't think you can cut freedom into slices and then set a hierarchy for those slices; every fight is worthy of our efforts.

jp May 21, 2007 at 10:11 am

I think trans-fat bans and similar extensions of government's reach are definitely worth the effort it takes to expose and argue against them.

Plinius May 21, 2007 at 10:20 am

The only problem I have with these "smaller" libertarian issues is that they can be picked up by savvy politicians to make themselves look like they are doing something for liberty. I could envision a Republican, for instance, making a big deal about smoke restrictions to build up a reputation, but then going along with a lot of spending under the radar.

Tim V May 21, 2007 at 10:21 am

Every infringment of liberty at the expense of peoples' well-being is worth fighting. If we are to protect rights, we need to do so for the restaurant owner, the smoker, the john, the poor person, and everyone.

David May 21, 2007 at 10:42 am

"They basically do more good than harm, goes the argument, so why get worked up over something so trivial?" Prove it! On its face, organic trans-fat free food, processed and sold by unionized workers with generous employer-provided health care plans, is no doubt better for us, nutritionally and spiritually. Empirically, most people only have convincing proof of the spiritual uplift (their own). But these are also the same people who say you can't legislate morality.

Al Abbott May 21, 2007 at 10:46 am

What one chooses to ingest is simply out side the proper jurisdiction of all government. Yes, that includes lots of stuff other than trans-fats. Our failure to object is what Rand called the "sanction of the victim." This is a moral failing. We are at risk of succumbing to the regulatory state; just another path to serfdom and ultimately just as totalitarian. The Kudzu example someone already mentioned is appropriate.

bret May 21, 2007 at 10:55 am


I'm generally in complete agreement with nearly everything you write here at Cafe Hayek. However, in my opinion, your post regarding the Montgomery County trans-fat ban crossed into territory that I feel could lead to a sort of a libertarian tyranny.

This ban is a local community (Montgomery County) imposing a restriction on its members. The idea that no all communities should never be able to impose even a relatively mild restriction on its members by duly elected representatives is too extreme for me.

I also consider it to be beyond the libertarian framework. Consider the following passage on page 320 of the paperback edition "Anarchy, State, and Utopia" by Robert Nozick (a prominent libertarian thinker):

"The operation of the [libertarian/utopian] framework has many of the virtues, and few of the defects, people find in the libertarian vision. For though there is great liberty to choose among communities, many particular communities internally may have many restrictions unjustifiable on libertarian grounds: that is, restrictions which libertarians would condemn if they were enforced by a central state apparatus. For example, paternalistic intervention into people's lives, restrictions on the range of books which may circulate in the community, limitations on the kinds of sexual behavior, and so on. But this is merely another way of pointing out that in a free society people may contract into various restrictions which the government may not legitimately impose upon them. Though the framework is libertarian and laissez-faire, individual communities within it need not be, and perhaps no community within it will choose to be so. Thus, the characteristics of the framework need not pervade the individual communities. In this laissez-faire system it could turn out that though they are permitted, there are no actually functioning "capitalist" institutions; or that some communities have them and others don't or some communities have some of them, or what you will."

In other words, while Nozick just spent the previous several hundred pages of his book explaining why the "central state apparatus" must morally be libertarian, he's very quick to agree that communities themselves, need not be at all.

Many people simply want to have restrictions imposed on themselves and others. To insist that every community such as Montgomery county not impose restrictions is paradoxically, in my opinion, the tyranny of no tyranny.

CRC May 21, 2007 at 10:56 am


"how does having my meat inspected and my pills content hurt me? I think the truth is many people don't understand just how much they benefit from good regulation."

Your comment indicates some fallacious thinking that government must be the instrument of these inspections and oversights. It isn't necessarily so.

As to Mr. Robert's original question, I do believe that each of these "small" things would be fine if it weren't for the fact that they end up being the justification for the next thing. In other words people don't very often use a very absolute method of evaluating government intervention, they use the fact that "well, we already regulate such-and-such, so…" which is how the slippery slope happens.

At the end of the day, I feel confident that all of these things, large OR small boil down to someone else telling me that a) they know better than me what I should/shouldn't do, and b) they will enforce this knowledge through the force of government. This is fundamentally wrong. It is arrogant and offensive.

If concerned people wish to inform and educate me (and others) about the dangers of some particular thing (like trans fats). Great! I welcome that. But forcing my choices. No thanks.

BTW, I'd like to add that the free-market seemed to be dealing with the trans fat issue on its very own well before the government stepped into "fix" the problem (Note the abundance of "0 trans fat" labels across a variety of snack food in the grocery stores…perhaps my assumption is wrong and this was prompted by government regulation. More likely it was a respond to consumer demands.) Still another example of the government's "omniscience" being an example of looking in the rear view mirror.

CRC May 21, 2007 at 11:06 am


"how does having my meat inspected and my pills content hurt me? I think the truth is many people don't understand just how much they benefit from good regulation."

Here is a good example/model that would work for any industry (food, drugs, restaurants, automobile, financial/banking, schools, etc.):


In fact, something like this would likely emerge as a joint-venture of insurance companies that insure product and service providers in these industries ("You want us to insure you against getting sued by your dining customers? Fine, XYZ Restaurant Inspecting will be by once a month on a surprise visit to ensure that you are taking proper measures to avoid making people ill or killing them from food in your restaurant. And, in return, we'll happily display a nice sticker on your front windows that tells people we have inspected and vetted your restaurant.")

Mikie V May 21, 2007 at 11:14 am

I believe these smaller and seemingly insignificant infractions upon our liberty are more insidious than they appear as well. It's the PR marketing that starts to slowly etch into people's heads that the state is the only efficient apparatus here that can provide 'necessary' services.

Yes, they probably do more good than they harm, however, that in and of itself is the rub. If something 'governmental' seems to work (in a utilitarian sense) then people will more likely opt for government as a solution to much greater problems.

Should they be fought with more zeal than legislation with a larger scope on our liberties? No idea, and I don't want to try and make that call.

Shane May 21, 2007 at 11:46 am

Simply put, corporations are not people and do not have the rights of people. I don't care that the law treats them as individuals. If it was a just law, then corporations would be put to death when their practices kill multiple people. Merck would be executed in the public square. This insistence on the freedom of corporations is utterly destructive to a society.

The problem is even greater than that: not only do you attempt to give corporations and businesses the rights of individuals, you wish to give them MORE rights than people. A person who habitually and demonstrably engaged in activity that resulted in the death, maiming and lowered quality of life of thousands of people would surely have to pay a social price. You economic libertarians do not seem to have a problem with that.

I sincerely believe that corporations should be utterly locked down. They are our servants. Don't buy into this idea that corporations are the salvation of the world: without regulation, they use 6 year olds in coal mines.

alex May 21, 2007 at 11:47 am

Not fighting the nanny state on the small stuff emboldens them. They start to think what they're doing is right and they will come to believe, probably correctly, that you are unwilling to stand up and fight on the slightly larger stuff. It also provides them the opportunity to point back at the small stuff and say "You didn't mind when we banned X why are you so worked up about Y. It's the same thing"

Robert P. May 21, 2007 at 11:50 am

The passage of "nanny" laws general requires increased government spending and enforcement. The "nanny" laws increase red tape and divert smart entrepreneurial citizen's time away from the restaurant. Also the "nanny" laws give their constituents a false feeling of doing what is right when they are harming our rights.

Randy May 21, 2007 at 11:59 am

I think a better bet is to force people who believe in myths to face the logical consquences of their beliefs. Human beings are believers by nature. They will believe in even the most bizarre things as long as their chosen beliefs offer them hope. So the best bet is to simply keep putting out the truth. In this way, the alternative of the truth will be available when the inevitable crash occurs.

Matt C. May 21, 2007 at 12:08 pm


"how does having my meat inspected and my pills content hurt me? I think the truth is many people don't understand just how much they benefit from good regulation."

The FDA is risk averse. They will hold possible life saving medicines and devices that could save thousands of lives all the time. They keep people who have terminal illness from having the option to possibly take medicine that might help or even cure their disease. There are private opportunities that could do testing of drugs. Many insurance companies now do their own testing and decide whether or not they will cover the drug, even though it has already been “approved” by the FDA. It is a good example of how government regulation takes the responsibility away from doctors and their patients. No offense to you as a doctor, but most doctors don’t have a good “sit-down” with their patients over the immediate effects of drugs. The FDA takes the onus off of the doctor to explain these impacts and this allows drug companies to sell drugs that to doctors that the doctors may or may not have a good understanding about.

I would suggest reading Arnold Kling’s Crisis of Abundance for more information on the last point.

Regarding meat inspection, the inspections weren’t done for health reasons, as it has been commonly put out there. As transportation and refrigeration came about there were increasing calls by local meat packing plants in the states to regulate the competition of the big meat packers in the Chicago land area. So it became a state by state issue, trying to protect outside competition from the local guy. When the states’ meat packers were losing their ability to compete they petitioned the national government. This was all done in the name of “health” concerns, when it was just a protection racket. Thus it inturn costs more money for the meat you buy.

Mike H May 21, 2007 at 12:15 pm

I agree with much of what has thus far been said. It's just one step towards a bigger Nanny State, but I think many, including the government, are missing an important point.
What happens to the producers of substances that contain trans-fats? Have they not been harmed by a ban on their product?
And I have a more important question: Do we (as a democratic republic) have the right to hurt them this way?
Is the "good" that is done by such a ban outweight the harm it causes?
Should the last question be the yard stick against which governments make policy?

Methinks May 21, 2007 at 12:19 pm

I’m in agreement with the majority of the posters on this thread. All liberty, no matter how small, must be jealously guarded.

Russia’s biggest downfall, IMO, is that its society is highly paternalistic. Russians look to the head of state, whether a Czar or a Communist leader, to look after them as a parent looks after a child. This attitude permeates Russian speech and literature. I’ve had a devil of a time disabusing Russians (still in Russia) of the notion that government is responsible for their well-being. This kind of thinking inevitably breeds totalitarianism.

Allowing government to dictate what we ingest puts us on the road to the same fate as Russia. It allows politicians to engineer society. More than complacency, it breeds a terrifying reliance to meet our needs on an institution which is incapable of doing so. It puts us at its mercy.

Jared May 21, 2007 at 12:27 pm

As a resident of Montgomery County, I think this is worth being upset about. Small battles are worth fighting because you've got a better chance of winning, and libertarians need to take our wins where we can.

As a scientist, I think this is worth fighting because the actual data to support this kind of ban is nonexistant. We can put aside all questions of information gaps, because there's no risk in the first place. I don't have the papers in front of me, but I recall that the study which the New York ban rested on concluded that transfats are as much of a health risk as canned peas. Which is to say, not at all.

Finally, all the previous commenters have hashed over the "give an inch, they take a yard" arguments to say why people who are concerned primarily with freedom don't like this kind of nannying. But I think its also worth pointing out that even the people who are willing to sacrifice freedom for these kind of marginal increases in safety won't be satisfied by this either. Thomas Merton put it well: "The truth that many people never understand, until it is too late, is that the more you try to avoid suffering the more you suffer because smaller and more insignificant things begin to torture you in proportion to your fear of being hurt."

Objectivist May 21, 2007 at 12:39 pm

There has to be some government and laws. What do you think English Common Law was about? We need some laws, like we have in our constitution, in order to form a society and have it operate. We have a government tax us and provide us with public goods because the private sector is unwilling to provide them. That ought to be common sense.

As to government regulations like seat belts, trans fats, etc., the sad fact of the matter is that people in general are very ignorant of their priorities. I am not being paternalistic. Its a fact. In study after study after study, from health care to food, its been proven that people simply don't know what the hell their interests are at all. Now then. This is not an arguement for a police state or nanny state. Acknowledging the caveat that there is no marginal rate of substitution between freedom and economic benefits, as it is entirely subjective like one's utility, I would argue that if a law prevents problems or curbs them, and thus in the long run accrues economic savings, then I think the case for supporting such laws, even with he curving of freedoms at the margins (no law clearly states that you will renounce all rights), can be made.

James May 21, 2007 at 12:49 pm


Having your meat inspected may not harm you at all, but that's beside the point. If you want your meat inspected, you could certainly pay someone to do this for you. But many people would rather spend their money on other things besides having their meat inspected, or perhaps they'd rather have it inspected by a different agency or according to different standards, so government meat inspection amounts to forcing people to pay for what they do not which to purchase.

My guess is that you'd call such a practice extortion and object to it if people working for any agency other than the state were to force others to pay for what they do not wish to purchase. If you care to be consistent, you can't grant a special moral holiday to agents of the state. Forcing people to pay for things that they do not wish to buy, (to include meat inspection, drug inspection, trans fat prohibition, etc) is just as objectionable no matter who does it.

Alan Gunn May 21, 2007 at 12:55 pm

Very few people can understand even basic economics. (If you doubt this, read just about anything written by lawyers.) But people can understand freedom, and Americans once did (though they tended to make exceptions for minorities of various sorts). It was our (past) commitment to freedom, not a mastery of economics, that got us the free market that made us prosper. Now that we're losing that commitment, as shown by the "no big deal" response to the criticism of the trans-fat ban, we are also well on our way to losing what we have left in this country of the free market.

Objectivist May 21, 2007 at 12:58 pm

Besides the ideological debate here about the premise of what government should and should not be, lets remember a few things. Most people have incomplete information about things. This unfortunately may lead to market failures. How does one overcome this on a large scale? If people are not in a position to objectively weigh their interests, then what? Do we allow someone to die because they refused to buy some medicine, although they don't really want to die and they are merely ignorant? Now then, aside from a state's intuitive interest in maintaing the health and saftey of its population for selfish purposes (i.e. power), are these not issues for individuals as well?

There has got to be some pragmatic approach to this issue of regulation. I think the private sector regulating itself is a tricky proposition, as there may be perverse incentives against them patrolling themselves, even accounting for boycotts by consumers, loss of revenue, etc.

CRC May 21, 2007 at 1:14 pm

"Do we allow someone to die because they refused to buy some medicine, although they don't really want to die and they are merely ignorant?"

This is an interesting situation you have described. Here are the facts:

1. The person is ignorant of the benefits of a particular medication
2. The person refuses to buy and use the medication (presumably because of this ignorance)
3. The person does not wish to die (most of us don't)

How to solve this problem?

Well, #1 can be solved through information and education. Admittedly this will be imperfect, but we do live in an imperfect world and it is doubtful that state interventions will solve that imperfection either short of forcibly "informing" and "educating" people on every danger, risk, fix, solution.

Now, assuming that #1 is out of the equation. The person is not ignorant (i.e., uninformed) any longer, but#2 and #3 still exist as facts. How do we solve that problem? Well, as cold-hearted as this seems, it sounds like this is THEIR problem. I don't see how I suddenly have the right (individually or through the proxy of the state) to forcibly medicate someone (another able-minded adult I should say…my kids are a different matter) "for their own good".

Freedom will have imperfect outcomes. Over time these imperfections should diminish as people become more informed and educated about the various things they encounter throughout life.

CRC May 21, 2007 at 1:17 pm

I wonder why I feel compelled to mention DDT?

The Albatross May 21, 2007 at 1:17 pm

I am reminded of something that Walter Williams said at my high school graduation: "if you want to boil a frog — heat the water slowly."

Ivan May 21, 2007 at 1:19 pm

These nanny laws are a disaster. If you don't like smoking, patronize a place that doesn't allow smoking. If you don't want to eat trans fats, buy foods without trans fats. Oh, it's not on the label? Try asking. I have vegan friends who will ask a waitress or cashier about every single ingredient that goes into their food, or read ever single ingredient on the package (monodiglycerides–no, thank you) before they buy it. What happened to personal responsibility? I don't smoke because I know it's not healthy. But I'll go to smoking bars (I have chosen to live in Portland, Oregon, one of the last frontiers in the nanny state battle) because their is no evidence that my health risks will increase (really, even the surgeon general can't make the case with the evidence). I wear my seatbelt all the time–not because it's the law, but because based on the evidence, I think it's a lot safer for me to do so. Oh, being overweight is a health risk? Oh, wait, it turns out being overweight according to the BMI (invented in the when people were still using leeches as a medical tool) have a LOWER risk of heart disease than people considered normal weight.
It seems as though many commenters think the politicians are correct about the dangers of these things just because they keep repeating them. These people are only good at one thing–getting elected and spending OUR money as THEY see fit. One size does not fit all, and we should not allow our government to try to put identical straightjackets on each one of us.

Methinks May 21, 2007 at 1:36 pm

"Most people have incomplete information about things. This unfortunately may lead to market failures." – Objectivist

Name one real "market failure". I'm always suspicious of the normative thinking that leads to this statement.

We make decisions for ourselves with asymmetric information all the time. The government always has even less information and imposes decisions on the rest of us. This works neither in theory nor in practice.

Dan May 21, 2007 at 1:37 pm

In the name of good public health, the government should ban the following substances: sugar, caffeine, nicotine and alcohol. In addition they should require everyone to exercise for a mandatory 45 minutes a day and ban the consumption of more than 2,500 calories a day.

That sounds like fun.

muirgeo May 21, 2007 at 1:45 pm

Forcing people to pay for things that they do not wish to buy, (to include meat inspection, drug inspection, trans fat prohibition, etc) is just as objectionable no matter who does it.

Posted by: James


What's the difference bewtween Patent law and Trans fat law. I could argue I have no patents and plan for none…why should I support the patent office with my tax dollars?

I think the answer is because we democratically decided a patent office is a good idea for our society, not for only for businesses but for society…same with trans fats…as long as democracy is allowed to function let people decide the laws of society not corporations.

Sometimes I feel you guys have boiled it down to a choice between democracy and corporate rule. It's Orwellian to me…some laws are more equal then other laws as long as they support corporate interest??

CRC May 21, 2007 at 1:47 pm


The scary thing to consider is how far off do you think such edicts are once the state starts paying for everyone's healthcare?

I mean it seems quite reasonable. If I (the state) pay for your health care, then I (the state) ought to determine what activities and foods you should partake in that will minimize my costs.

Methinks May 21, 2007 at 2:14 pm

"The scary thing to consider is how far off do you think such edicts are once the state starts paying for everyone's healthcare?

I mean it seems quite reasonable. If I (the state) pay for your health care, then I (the state) ought to determine what activities and foods you should partake in that will minimize my costs."

Exactly. precisely why health care should not be provided through government. If people aren't made to bear the costs of their lifestyle choices (obese couch-potato), then they will have no incentive to change. Sort of the "a square common to all will be swept by none" rule. If they are forced to change by the collective, then their liberty is infringed upon.

Methinks May 21, 2007 at 2:19 pm


You have some strongly held beliefs, yet you haven't laid out why you believe what you believe.

You repeatedly agonize over liberty leading to serfdom. the last time I asked you to explain how that will happen, I got an incoherent list which started with "Reagan" and ended with "servitude". There was no actual argument – just literally words seperated by commas.

Perhaps before you ask people here to defend liberty, you should make a coherent case against it.

Jon May 21, 2007 at 2:24 pm

First off I'd like to state that I am reformed republican, saved by a combination of my own reading and the tutelage of Dr. Chris Coyne, a graduate of GMU and an amazing professor of Austrian/Free Market Econ.

Here is my problem with this trans-fat ban, yes it may seem petty and there are other things which libertarians could spend their time fighting, but at the same time, aren't libertarians supposed to be the champions of personal freedom and individual liberty? What else can we call ourselves if we simply let the little things by?

the invasion of liberty that this represents is, I believe directly linked to the "plan" to nationalize healthcare. See my post related this here:

I just see this as absurd. People know what will and won't hurt them (for the post part anyway). It's ridiculous to think that simply because someone doesn't think that it's "right or appropriate" last time I checked most libertarians held to the idea that value was subjective and as long as you weren't violating someone else's property rights, you were okay. When did we stray from that?

Dayl May 21, 2007 at 2:24 pm

I remember when people (generally Democrats), laughed at Giuliani when he focused on the "squeegee men" in order to improve life in NYC. Guess what? No one laughs about that anymore. When it comes to freedom, I do not believe in relativism. The smallest infringement is unacceptable. The Nazis started out with the little things and when no one stood up for their rights, the pushed for more and more and we ended up with gas chambers. The people who push this kind of legislation want to tell you and me how to live our lives, make no mistake about it.

Jon May 21, 2007 at 2:37 pm

@ Muirgeo
"I think the answer is because we democratically decided a patent office is a good idea for our society, not for only for businesses but for society…same with trans fats…as long as democracy is allowed to function let people decide the laws of society not corporations."

So if we vote it's somehow moral or okay? How about a group of individual's decides to rape someone, does that make it okay?

I think you would be hard pressed to find someone that actually believes that democracy=morality

Brad May 21, 2007 at 2:38 pm

I generally don't like scientism provoking law. The problem comes when scientists, who believe they have the facts correct, have to create a hysteria to move politicians to act. When dealing with risky behavior, this process tends to overstate the risk, resulting in laws that oversolve the problem. When the scientists turn out to be wrong (e.g. MTBE), the consequences of having their theories encoded as legislation are great. Regulations must be reversed, newly entrenched interests must be coopted, etc. On this trans-fat thing… weren't we all supposed to cook with margarine two decades ago? And now doing so can kill us? Shouldn't we be a little skeptical of that particular science before acting politically on it?

Dan May 21, 2007 at 2:45 pm


I in no way endorse my earlier post, but you make a good point.

I think that part of the nyc trasn-fat ban had something to do with the rising medical costs that the city is paying. they figured that banning trans-fat would make people healthier, reducing the medical costs to the city.

CRC May 21, 2007 at 2:48 pm


"I in no way endorse my earlier post, but you make a good point."

No worries. I didn't take it that way at all. I got the point you were making. I was just building on it. Thanks for making it!

As to the NYC stated-funded healthcare costs and the trans fat ban…this exactly proves my point (and grave concern).

Randy May 21, 2007 at 2:52 pm

A little off topic, but I have argued before that no legislation should become law unless passed by at least a two thirds majority in both houses of Congress. While there may be a few exceptions, I think that not many nanny state trivialities would ever become law with such a requirement. Why exactly should 51% of the population be allowed to enforce its will on the other 49%?

CRC May 21, 2007 at 2:59 pm


That would certainly erect a fairly decent "filter" or "barrier" to most of what we see today.

There are times when I think that the founding fathers (who appear to have been rather leary of big government) didn't put enough barriers, safeguards and checks and balances into place. Their wisdom got them only so far.

Doug May 21, 2007 at 3:28 pm

Here's one of my arguments:

"Live and let live" is the most prudent philosophy to follow. Government officials, moralists, and other will always try to tell you what to do and how to live your life "the right way". There is a very high probability that a politician will eventually tell you that you can no longer partake in some activity you enjoy if you allow the gov't. to make arbitrary laws outlawing certain activities.

Therefore, adopting a "live and let live" stance will prevent politicians from taking away your freedoms. Just remember, for every person that just loves hobby X, there's many people who loathe it, and many more who wouldn't care if it was outlawed.

bret May 21, 2007 at 4:09 pm

Randy wrote (and seems to be a common thought here): "Why exactly should 51% of the population be allowed to enforce its will on the other 49%?"

First we need to distinguish between "THE" population and "ONE" population. Montgomery county is not THE entire population, just ONE single population within the much larger nation.

Now consider the following as the next step. Five friends decide to rent an apartment together. Prudently, they write up a contract among them outlining their duties and responsibilities regarding living together. This includes things like payments, who does the dishes, etc. In addition, because they know they can't foresee everything, they have a clause that states that further responsibilities and restrictions can be imposed by majority rule, but also that if someone in the minority doesn't like the rule, they can leave. They all sign, find and lease an apartment, and move in.

Nothing in the above paragraph that offends libertarian sensibilities, is there?

Now, it turns out that one of the friends smokes. Three of the others decide they don't like smoking in the house and ban it by majority decree. Still no libertarian problem with that, is there? They all entered into the private contract of their own free will. So the majority imposed a restriction on the minority.

Next step. Instead of 5 friends, consider 100 associates who buy a condo complex. The contract looks remarkably like the one for the five friends. All 100 people sign the contract. A smoking ban is instituted in the entire premsises by majority democratic rule as stipulated in the contract that they all signed. It passes 51-49. Still no problem from the libertarian viewpoint, am I correct?

Next step. There are mega-private guarded gate communities in Orange County (CA) with many thousands of residents. They pass and impose restrictions on the residents all of the time (like no-smoking). In addition, restrictions are placed on businesses that are allowed to operate in the community. Sometimes additional restrictions are placed on business even after they've been opened for quite some time (like no-smoking). Again, the businesses knew that regulatory changes were a possibility going in, and it's all private. No problem for Libertarians yet, right?

Next step. What if such a private community extended to 1,000,000 or even 10,000,000 people? As long as it remained private, contractual, and explicit, there would still be no problem from the libertarian viewpoint with imposing additional restriction per the contract, correct?

And that's where we'll stop.

The point is that even libertarians have absolutely no problem with the majority imposing rules on the minority in certain circumstances and the size of the association across which those restrictions are imposed don't matter much either.

The rest of us, who aren't (as?) libertarian, simply think you're splitting hairs when it's okay for a private community with a population of perhaps millions can self impose restrictions, while a public incorporate township or county cannot (according to the libertarian principle voiced here). I think that by choosing to move to or stay in a community, you are implicitly agreeing to be subjected to their current and future regulations and that there is little difference in the implicit agreement and the explicit agreement when becoming part of a private association.

The Cynical Libertarian May 21, 2007 at 4:14 pm

Liberty is not something that should be traded and haggled with. "I'll swap you two gun bans for a dozen energy consumption regulations," is not how men should deal with their freedoms.

The importance of any individual freedom is relative. To me, freedom and speech and the right to arms are important, but I don't ride a motorcycle. To someone else, the right to ride a motorcycle and feel the wind in his or her hair might be infinitely more important than keeping a rifle above the mantlepiece or lampooning politicians on the internet.

Politicians are like the sea, they wear away at the rock of freedom relentlessly. If you let them in, even a tiny little bit, they've got a foot hold and they'll exploit it, enlarging it, opening up new holes, until there's nothing left.

All liberty should be defended with equal vigour.

Objectivist May 21, 2007 at 4:16 pm

What incomplete information may lead to market failure? Let's say I am a smoker back in the 1950's. Tobacco companies know that smoking incurs health risks, via research, but they also know that letting out such information will drive off their clientele (some of them). If I am a smoker, I don't know that it has adverse affects on my health, as there is no serious research out there to condemn smoking. If I knew smoking was bad for me, I would quit. So, I have incomplete information, which has led me to make a less than optimal choice, given my preferences.

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