Okay, I’ve got the perfect summation of everything that is wrong with America, thanks to a letter to the editor written by a guy from Indiana that criticized a recent FFF op-ed by Sheldon Richman.
The op-ed, “Bloomberg’s Soda Policy: The End Doesn’t Justify the Means,” criticized New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s plan to ban supersized sodas. The op-ed was reprinted by Warrick Publishing in Boonville, Indiana, which publishes Tri-State Media, the Princeton Clarion, and the Daily Republican Register.
The letter to the editor was written by a Boonville resident named Brandon Harris. The letter summarizes perfectly what we’re up against here in America — and what the paternalistic state has done to so many Americans.
Expressing his disagreement with Sheldon’s critique of Bloomberg’s soda-ban proposal, Harris writes:
As a person who is addicted to sodas myself I do understand and know the health risks regarding sugary sodas. I think that what Mayor Bloomberg is doing is wonderful because he is fighting against obesity and diabetes…. I would like to see a similar ban in Warrick and Vanderburgh [Indiana) counties…. I believe that it is the job of the government to protect the health and well-being of its citizens. There is too much obesity and something needs to be done to stop it. (Emphasis added.)
So there you have it — a perfect depiction of the statist mindset that undergirds the paternalistic state — the mindset in which adults effectively consider themselves children and consider the government to be their daddy.
As far back as 1992 I wrote an essay entitled “Electing Our Daddy,” which described the problem exemplified by Harris. As you read what I wrote, see if it doesn’t describe Harris’ mindset perfectly:
Twentieth-century Americans took an opposite view. They did not want freedom of choice because they did not trust themselves or their fellow citizens with it. Thus, American adults empowered their daddy (and other governmental officials) to punish them for doing bad things to themselves. “Johnny — Bad! Bad! You know you’re not supposed to be putting harmful things into your mouth.” And Johnny is a 40-year-old banker.
This is the battle that we libertarians face in restoring a free society to our land. All too many Americans don’t want freedom. They don’t want to take responsibility for themselves. They don’t want to make choices. They want to be taken care of by the government. They want security. They want to be children and they want the government to be their daddy. They want the government to punish them when they do bad things to themselves … or are irresponsible … or are selfish and uncaring.
Isn’t that what the drug war is all about? It’s the job of the state, statists argue, to prevent us from doing bad things to ourselves, whether it’s drinking sodas, smoking cigarettes, drinking booze, or ingesting narcotics. We need our daddy to punish us for doing such things by sending us to our room in a federal penitentiary, perhaps even for the rest of our lives. After all, isn’t that what daddies (and mommies) do when their children are bad.
Unfortunately, the paternalistic mindset is not limited to the issue of ingesting harmful substances. It’s also what welfare-state programs like Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid are all about. According to the statists, America’s child-adults cannot be trusted with managing their own retirement and healthcare. They would be irresponsible and not save enough money, perhaps spending it all on things like sodas, tobacco, or gambling. Thus, our daddy must protect us from ourselves by setting up schemes like Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.
In the mind of the statists child-adult, we Americans would not voluntary help others in need. And as well all know, it’s right to share with others. So, the state is charged with the task of making certain we are good, caring, and unselfish. That’s why it sets up programs like Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid that force us, on pain of fine and imprisonment for refusal to participate, to share with seniors and the poor.
We libertarians simply have to accept the fact that there will always be people in society who want to be taken care of by the government and who are willing to sacrifice freedom in exchange for being take care of by the government. The chance of convincing someone like Harris to embrace libertarianism is nil.
That’s why we shouldn’t waste too much time trying to convince the Brandon Harrises of the world to embrace the principles of economic liberty. Instead, we should mostly devote our efforts to continue finding the people in life who reject statism and who embrace the principles of individual liberty, free markets, freedom of choice, individual responsibility, voluntary charity, and limited government.
Then, as our numbers mount, we stand a good chance of finally reaching a critical mass that overcomes the statist mindset and shifts our country to libertarianism, leaving people free to drink sodas, smoke cigarettes, drink alcohol, smoke marijuana, snort cocaine, or do none of those things. Each person choosing for himself how to live his life, so long as he does so peacefully, and living with the consequences of his choices — that’s what a free society is all about