Monday, April 7, 2014

The Nanny State Blues

Ranting variations on a theme

One of the persistent memes in US politics today is that people are essentially incapable of taking care of themselves, and thus the government must be called upon to take care of them – to act in their best interests. I’m not even going to get into the silliness of government officials knowing what’s best for anyone (and how do we know they're more qualified than the folks they're assigned to take care of?); that’s an entirely different discussion. I’m afraid that anyone with even a lick of sense and powers of observation would have to agree with the first principle here – a significant number of people are, quite frankly, not doing a good job of taking care of themselves, and really do need someone to take care of them; the matter of who should do so we’ll leave for another day.


One of the justifications for passing the silly ACA six years ago was that there were millions of uninsured people out there. A segment of the demographics counted was the young people who simply felt that they didn’t need health insurance, or that it was too expensive.

I’ve had some personal and anecdotal experience in that area, as I once worked for a company that offered really nice health insurance coverage at what I felt was a very reasonable price. A young coworker who was also a personal friend determined that he and his lovely wife were young and didn’t want to pay the premium for their coverage.

This was fine until she contracted a rare form of terminal cancer. Her illness and death left him not only emotionally but financially devastated, because he felt that he “couldn’t afford” his portion of the company subsidized the health insurance. How many of the health care bankruptcies in our country start with a tale much like this one?

Yet I am reluctant to endorse legislation which makes it mandatory for a person to purchase health care insurance. It seems a violation of their rights to me.


Every other day in the media and the financial papers, it seems, there is another story about how Americans have only saved an average of $1000, $40000 or some other absurdly low figure in their 401Ks or IRAs. Surely something ought to be done about it, right? Honestly, I’m afraid many people are not quite bright enough to figure out that they really are going to need some money to retire on some day. Maybe they’re relying on hitting the MegaMillions jackpot at some point.

I’m sure a number of them say to themselves, “Some day, when I’m making $X a year, I’ll start to put money in a 401K. Some sweet day!” But for most of them, that day never quite rolls around, and when the kids are finally out of college and the nest is empty, they look around and think, “Wow! I really need to get to work on this retirement thing.”

So, the government proposes some mandatory retirement plan (I thought we already had a pyramid scheme mandatory plan called Social Security) like MyIRA, where they’ll put your money away in an account earmarked just for you. If you’re foolish enough to believe they can be trusted not to spend all of that money, too, I’m not sure your survival instincts are well-developed enough that you’re going to survive long enough to retire, so it may be a moot point.

Again, I don’t believe in coercion to force people to buy government sponsored bonds and slow growth funds in a MyIRA, but someone’s got to beat them about the head and shoulders to wake them up, right?


What about recent legislation in New York which keeps those poor, coke-swilling fat folks from drinking too large a cup of sugar syrup? I mean, it’s painfully obvious that obesity has reached gargantuan (see what I did there?) proportions in the U.S.A these days. Someone ought to do something about it!

Maybe if we just require bigger (supersized?) nutritional labels on the food we buy in the convenience stores, people will be able to read them. I hadn’t realized there was a connection between Type II diabetes and myopia, but perhaps I’m just oblivious to the obvious.

Verily, verily, I give unto you the most obvious commandment of them all. In order to lose weight, you must “Exercise more and eat less”. I have a personal friend who lost over 150 pounds by following those two simple rules over a year’s time. A stunning transformation!

I’m pretty certain even a kindergarten child can understand the concept, so we are we a nation of fatties? It can’t be a matter of awareness, it has to be all about self-control. But should we cede to the government the right to determine our diet? What if I like chocolate cake? Should some bureaucratic be allowed to rip it from my grasp? He can take if from my cold, dead, hands, if he dares.


What about safety issues, like motorcycle helmet laws, seatbelt laws, the mandatory use of child safety seats? When you remove my automatic, cynical reaction which tells me that someone at Graco is lobbying their congresscritter to keep making stricter child safety seat laws which oh so coincidentally coincide with their introduction of the latest, greatest and…dare I say it?...more expensive model, there’s not a whole lot of there there.

First, I believe that wearing a helmet makes riding a motorcycle somewhat safer, or at least not quite as likely to result in massive head injuries. I never ride anywhere without one, and I would never let a passenger ride without one. But do we really have to tell adults that they must wear them or be cited? If you're over 21, and I tell you not to stick your face in the lion's mouth, my responsibility pretty much ends there, if you decide to do it anyway. Again, I think some senator's brother-in-law owns a helmet manufacturing company, and came up with a new way to drum up some business.

Don't even get me started on the new "overfill protection" propane tanks we all had to buy to replace our perfectly good old "unsafe" tanks.

Child safety seats I can actually support, to some degree, as we all have an obligation to protect the small and helpless in our care. But it just seems crazy that every other year a new study comes out telling us which way they have to face, directly contradicting last year's data. I think that if you're hurtling down the road a mile a minute in a great big pile of steel, Murphy's Law is eventually going to catch up with you, and people are going to get hurt, no matter which way their seat is pointing.

I'm actually amazed sometimes, as I cruise down the multi-lane freeways, that all these people, each with their own agenda, manage to navigate to and fro every day with as little mayhem as they do. Think about it.

Ok, I'll climb down off my soapbox for a bit now.

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