L. Neil Smith's

Number 13, September 1, 1996

What if the Most Dangerous Addiction is Dependence on Government?

By Vin Suprynowicz

Special to The Libertarian Enterprise

         Although the Food and Drug Administration has responsibility over 20 percent of the internal commerce of the United States -- virtually every purveyor of food, medicine, and medical devices must pass muster -- that's not power enough for FDA Commissioner David Kessler.
         In an interview in the Aug. 18 edition of USA Weekend magazine, Mr. Kessler argues that his quasi-religious mission to "protect" Americans from anything unhealthy empowers him to try and regulate tobacco, as well.
         "No more Joe Camel?" asked reporters Jim Sexton and Wayne Biddle.
         "No more Joe Camel except in those magazines that do not have a significant youth readership," replied Commissioner Kessler, blithely asserting a new veto power over the First Amendment freedom of the press without so much as batting an eye.
         But isn't smoking "a freedom-of-choice issue?" asked Mr. Kessler's interviewers.
         "What choice do you have if you're addicted?" Mr. Kessler responds. "Do you pick up a cigarette and say, 'I'm going to smoke this one and 400,000 more?' Maybe you can argue that the first cigarette smoked by a child at 13 or 14 is an issue of free choice, but certainly once they're addicted, it's freedom denied."
         So it's now government's role to prevent us from being tempted into voluntary behaviors which might limit our other freedoms later on.
         Where might such a doctrine lead us?
         Some might call it "freedom" to allow an adult of normal intelligence to risk 10 percent of his or her paycheck on the ponies, or playing poker. But what if they lose? Aren't they thus deprived of the future "freedom" to spend that money more wisely, on a comfortable retirement? Shouldn't the federal government step in to protect us from the temptation of gambling?
         Get out the Tommy guns, we'd better go back to alcohol Prohibition, too. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that booze destroys more lives and families than tobacco ever could.
         And what about young people disabled in motorcycle accidents? How on earth can an 18-year-old child (Yes, the federal nannies lump in 18- and 19-year-old gang members who shoot each other in drug wars as "children" when compiling those frightening "child gunshot death" statistics) be trusted to make such a decision?
         In order to protect our more important "freedom" to be able-bodied for the rest of our lives, isn't government justified in taking away the less important "freedom" to ride motorcycles?
         Mr. Kessler actually bragged to the magazine about one of his proudest achievements: "We've changed the label on virtually every product in the supermarket. I mean, it's readable; it's understandable. The latest statistics show that half of Americans look at the label before they buy."
         Which means half don't.
         And what's the cost of installing all new labels every few months, as the regulations change? Aren't these costs passed along in food prices? How many families now settle for cold cereal two nights a week due to these wondrous new regulations?
         The FDA doesn't bother to track that, of course, any more than bureaucrats can measure the increase in world hunger that results when they ban a pesticide that formerly killed millions of mice in third-world grain silos, due to some infinitesimal long-term "health risk."
         Ultimately, all this federal hand-holding cultivates the myth that anything can ever be made completely safe, that Big Brother can remove all the sharp corners from our lives. And as our dependence and our helplessness grow, of course, so do the bureaucratic payrolls, leeching away the moneys we could have used to fund more voluntary choices, in the first place.
         Many a traveler to Third World countries has remarked on how sophisticated, energetic, happy, and entrepreneurial the local 13-year-olds are, when compared to our own.
         Of course. They haven't been placed in the charge of unionized government bureaucrats, assigned to drain all the energy and initiative out of them, leaving their natural ability to make rapid, accurate decisions in the face of real-world consequences to atrophy, year after year.
         On Aug., 10, when a power outage seized much of the West coast for about five hours, most stoplights either shifted to flashing red or shut down completely. In cities large and small, most intersection became -- in essence -- four-way stops.
         Chaos and widespread gunplay? Not at all. Traffic did slow down, but drivers immediately realized they had to take turns, and watch out for themselves.
         Despite all the squawking that any reduction in government nannyism will leave corpses littering the streets, Americans are still more resilient than the bureaucrats like to admit. They adjust pretty quickly to any number of dangers ... including the danger we once called "freedom."

Vin Suprynowicz is the assistant editorial page editor of the Las Vegas Review-Journal. The web site for the Suprynowicz column is at http://www.nguworld.com/vindex/.

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