May 31st, 2012

Nanny State Smackdown


photo credit: peasap

Because it believes you are unable or unwilling to take care of yourself, the state aims to do it for you. This trend started subtly at first, of course, for who would welcome tyranny when presented as such? No, the nanny state increases incrementally, working by degrees to assert control over your life.

At times, stories of the nanny state’s interventions catch fire in the news, as has happened lately with two examples. Both of these stories are but an infinitesimally small fraction of the many ways in which the state treats adults as children, and imposes mandates that implicitly assume that such persons are too stupid to make appropriate decisions for themselves.

Like Utah, the state of Idaho exerts illegitimate control over the state’s alcohol supply. There, the Liquor Control Division recently ruled that a certain drink may not be sold at state-controlled liquor stores, nor in private bars. The drink in question is called “Five Wives Vodka,” and features a drawing of five 19th-century women with kittens in their petticoats.

In a letter written to the drink’s Utah-based manufacturer, the alcohol-banning agent in Idaho wrote the following (multiple typos in the original):

Social responsibility is very important aspect of the marketing and sales of distilled spirits in the State Idaho. The Idaho State Liquor Division is responsible for the safety and well-being of the citizens of our State.

Products that we feel are marketed toward children, or are in poor state with respect to our citizens will not be authorized for distribution.

We feel Five Wives Vodka concept is offensive to a prominent segment of our population and will not be carried.

Thus, because some bureaucrat believes that the title and/or image is offensive to Mormons, he has prohibited it for sale—while hypocritically allowing Polygamy Porter, another drink, to be sold. According to NPR, the title and drawing are not even a reference to polygamy, but are, as the company’s director of marketing said, “five wives who just like to get together and have a cocktail.”

But the bureaucrats disagreed. “My team made the recommendation that this is offensive to women, and it’s offensive in addition to the whole [Mormon] faith, because they’re playing on that whole polygamy thing,” Idaho liquor control division director Jeff Anderson told the Los Angeles Times.

Of course, only individuals can determine whether they find something offensive. Products should not be restricted from the open market simply because some illegitimately-empowered government agent believes that somebody may not like it. This is a classic example of the nanny state, and is oddly even more restrictive than Utah—a state with very strict anti-alcohol policies—where the drink is allowed for sale.

The nanny state’s regulation of beverages appears to be in vogue at the moment. In New York City—where one might expect such absurdity to be common fare—Mayor Bloomberg is about to enact a ban on large sugary drinks to “combat obesity.” Gone are the days of the government confining itself to protecting the lives of its citizens—now it uses its supreme authority to mandate behavior it believes will extend their lives. What’s next, mandated vitamin consumption with jail time for those who refuse?

Of course, this mandate is absurd since instead of being able to buy one large drink, people can buy two medium drinks. How does the Head Nanny respond to this? “Your argument, I guess, could be that it’s a little less convenient to have to carry two 16-ounce drinks to your seat in the movie theater rather than one 32 ounce,” Mr. Bloomberg said in a sarcastic tone. “I don’t think you can make the case that we’re taking things away.”

This latter claim comes in response to the argument that this mandate limits consumer’s choices, and is therefore a bad idea. Whether that is true or not (of course it’s true), it is beside the point. The point missed by so many is that the government has no authority to enact such bans in the first place. People cannot dictate to their neighbors what size (or type) of a drink they may consume, and therefore cannot empower the state to do it on their behalf.

But legitimate authority and moral behavior has never been a concern of the nanny state. Its smackdowns come with no regard for the liberty and property of those being affected. Propagandized with feel-goodery and justified as altruistic behavior, the nanny state’s initiatives inevitably come at the expense of the liberty and property of those it aims to assist. In pursuit of promoting a worthy end (such as not offending people or helping fight obesity), its agents employ evil means.

No better conclusion to a topic such as this could be provided than by this one from C.S. Lewis:

Of all tyrannies a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victim may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated, but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.

16 Responses to “Nanny State Smackdown”

  1. E. Zachary Knight
    May 31, 2012 at 10:40 am #

    Thanks for this great post. I have long been trying to decide how to approach the topic of drug prohibition and Mayor Bloomberg has now given me the perfect launching point. This insanity has got to stop.

  2. jimz
    May 31, 2012 at 8:10 pm #

    Connor,
    Interesting almost subliminal insert, “legitimate authority” and “moral behavior”. Who could these terms be refering to?

    Otherwise, I found the ban on beverages pretty funny, as it does not apply to milkshakes or alcohol. I just visualized someone supersizing a vodka martini, meanwhile telling someone else they can’t have the larger soda.

    On the other hand, occationally there are products so bad for human health, perhaps the governement does have responsibility to ban them. Such as DDT, or Thalidomide, and I think hydronated oils might also be completely banned.

  3. jimz
    May 31, 2012 at 8:27 pm #

    I just thought of something else. Is there ever a gluten-free alternative for LDS sacraments? Could someone put a baked potato or rice craker on the sacrament table for personal consumption? (in case someone has celiacs) There is precedent for it. (D&C 27:2)

    The use of wonder bread for sacrament is kind of like mandating vitamin consumption. If someone has gluten sensitivity, and really believes in the LDS faith, they are in for a bit of a quandary. And yes, a single piece of bread can cause major problems for someone with celiacs. I just looked it up, I suppose its not as major of a problem as I thought, sacrament is not on the list of ‘Saving ordinances” for mormons. It does however potentially exclude members with celiacs from a social ritual of mormonism.

  4. chris
    May 31, 2012 at 11:11 pm #

    jimz – our bread is homemade every week. My kids spend a lot of time looking for the biggest piece while we shake our heads :)
    Wonderbread is a tragedy and if it ever turned up I’d start bringing the bread myself. Just tell the YM while they’re preparing it to “use this” and bring whatever you like. I’m sure they’ll go with it!

  5. E. Zachary Knight
    June 1, 2012 at 6:29 am #

    Jimz,

    What goes on the Sacrement table is at the Bishops’s discretion. For example, we have at least two gluten intolerant people in my ward and one autistic man who either can’t or won’t eat ( I can’t remember which exactly) bread. So the bishop has authorized the placement of gluten free crackers in plastic baggies to be placed with the sacrement for those people.

    So no, the Church does not force people to eat wonder bread every week to receive that ordinance.

  6. jimz
    June 2, 2012 at 5:20 pm #

    Chris, thats cute! Gotta look for the largest piece!
    E. Zachary Knight, thats interesting, I suppose thats the most compassionate thing a bishop can do for celiac members, I am glad its happening. Its approved by lds scripture also.

    In general however, the main ritual is bread and water for lds members. I did a search in the lds org webpage. They supplied the following references for the sacrament. Luke 22:19–20, 3 Nephi 18:1–11). and few others. D&C 20:75–79 etc. These suggest bread, and wine, so I am not sure when water was used.

    Getting back to the main topic. I don’t know where the line should be drawn as far as the states responsibility to watch out for its people, and what we need to do for ourselves.

    ‘Because it believes you are unable or unwilling to take care of yourself, the state aims to do it for you.’

    There have been times where the state has done this, for what many people might see as more important issues, like alcohol, that was banned for a period of time. But what about other things, like Crosswalks, and traffic lights, are these nanny state issues? Shouldn’t we be able to tell when the road is clear and its safe to go?

    What about the state determining who I should marry, and who I shouldn’t? Thats something which the LDS have been involved with projecting their own values on to the general public. That is what I was trying to point out about this thread, ‘legitimate authority” on issues, I suppose is the plug for the lds leadership. I shouldn’t be surprised as this is an lds blog. Anyone elses attempt at influencing governement, is this considered ‘ilegitimate authority’ by the lds people?

    Other thoughts on the topic, Is soda consumption amount is that really a moral issue? I think this is being sold as a health issue, not a moral one. I could make the case that its not a moral issue, because I read somewhere that mormon dominated regions are #1 in jello consumption. So apparently LDS don’t have a moral issue with processed sugar.I don’t imagine that jello or sugar will ever motivate the LDS into political activity. Instead might have a bone to pick with someone else telling them they are consuming too much!

  7. JL
    June 4, 2012 at 3:37 pm #

    Loved the Lewis quote (new to me).

    In a previous ward, a sister brought her own small piece of bread in a baggie and slipped it to the priests for inclusion on the sacrament table and to be blessed.

    The soda fiasco in New York is ridiculous beyond belief.

    As for the vodka, I would not care if it were not for the fact that these continued encroachments come from too many of us not caring.

  8. jimz
    June 4, 2012 at 3:45 pm #

    Jl,
    I have to finally admit that its not really addressing the real issue. I think our culture just has some bad habits we as a nation have to look at, when it comes to eating, the way we relate to food, how its produced, and what its supposed to mean overall. Piece work isn’t going to do much.

  9. Clumpy
    June 11, 2012 at 10:21 am #

    @Jimz There are many stripes of libertarianism/constitutionalism, many of which address some of the problems with the “natural law” argument. You seem to be making several different arguments so I’m not sure what you’re trying to say, though I’d recommend reading up on the philosophy and its differing schools to see if there’s one you’re comfortable with. And as you point out, the LDS (my) Church doesn’t necessarily align completely with Connor, or LDS libertarians, on every issue. For example, the Church heavily supported (and never withdrew support from) prohibition, though we often urge Federal withdrawal in other areas.

    If anything I think all of this identifies that any confident political philosophy lacks the subtlety and flexibility to hold up to rigorous analysis. For example, in a “natural,” stateless society, I would be unable to cordone off natural resources or land and prevent others from using them. A natural law perspective, on the other hand, says the government can imprison people for violating the monopoly on my “property” that it itself creates. Go figure.

  10. AV
    June 11, 2012 at 12:33 pm #

    I believe that according to natural law & God’s laws, God would want this drink banned, not only because it’s alcohol, but also because it references and jokes about what God calls a ‘vile whoredom’.

    Would God want some drink sold, alcohol or not, that references a man on the front of the drink with his mistress in an affair?

    God has never allowed polygamy & never will. Thus to advertise something by reference to a serious sin, is very offensive to religious people who understand God’s laws & to God himself.

    And for the record, Joseph Smith declared over & over that he never preached or practiced polygamy and he gave us scriptures that warned against it in every instance. We are to judge every man’s doctrine by those scriptures that Joseph left us. (D&C 132 was not part of Joseph’s D&C, it was added by polygamists, many years after Joseph died)

    True prophets can’t lie, anymore than God can. Joseph always fought, warned, & taught against polygamy his whole life. We need to study & believe only his actual words & scriptures that he signed his name to & published while he was alive, & not believe vile hearsay & accusations against Joseph, even if the whole world may claim he did the vile acts he taught so valiantly against.

  11. jimz
    June 11, 2012 at 3:27 pm #

    Clumpy,
    I never know what to make of ‘natural law’ arguements, as there is(are) political movement(s) that uses the term in ways that don’t sound like ‘natural law’. If one is talking about biology, psychology, chemistry, physics etc…

    In natural resources theory, there is the ‘tragedy of the commons’ which is justification for alloting ownership of particular resources for more efficient useage. Especially when there is a large number of people competing for resources.

  12. jimz
    June 11, 2012 at 3:44 pm #

    AV,
    The marketers of the ‘five wives vodka’ did something really clever. They never said that the five wives were married to the same man, its you that assumed that 2-5 are married to the same man. The other thing is how is a faithful mormon ever going to see this product? How are they going to be offended, even if it was referencing polygamy? Maybe its offensive, maybe not. In theory, one can only be offended if one allows it to happen.

    Well, you don’t have to buy the product. And if there is enough bad press the product will come off the shelf, or maybe it will succeed more than ever due to the exposure.

    I don’t know how natural law would apply to alcohol. If god didn’t want alcohol, maybe yeast shouldn’t produce it. Animals will eat fermented fruit in nature and actually get drunk. I don’t think that LDS doctrine attributes free will to animals, so for animals at least alcohol is not a moral issue, as they can’t sin. I could be completely wrong in that statement, please correct me if thats wrong.

    Animals sometimes choose lifetime partners, other species freely procreate. Sometimes even in mass. But keen observers have noticed that even animals with life partners sometimes will mate with another that is not their primary partner. My understanding for that is that is a way to increase genetic diversity. I am not sure if fidelity to a mating partner can be considered natural law.

  13. AV
    June 11, 2012 at 7:55 pm #

    The laws between animals & humans are quite different I believe. We are expected of much more.

  14. Clumpy
    June 12, 2012 at 1:10 pm #

    @ jimz

    I didn’t mean to perpetuate a natural law discussion, mainly because (and I hope this was clear) I feel it’s all fairly arbitrary and rarely examined or questioned by those who subscribe to it. It’s essentially a mechanism created by those who feel their particular set of opinions to be right and good, and all others to be deluded or unnatural in some way. In practice it often leads to the acceptance of certain state constructs (like property and its defense) and the rejection of others as contrived and coercive.

  15. jimz
    June 12, 2012 at 1:44 pm #

    Clumpy,
    Thank you for the clarification. Sounds like an accurate description.

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