Last Friday I went to Reason Magazine to hear David Harsanyi
Friday evening September 28, Reason Magazine hosted a reception for David Harsanyi, author of Nanny State: How Food Fascists, Teetotaling Do-Gooders, Priggish Moralists, and other Boneheaded Bureaucrats are Turning America into a Nation of Children.
Harsanyi briefly described the theme of his book and answered questions from the audience.
In honor of the occasion beer, wine, cheese and twinkies loaded with trans fats were served.
Harsanyi spoke about how risk aversion, plus PC equals nannyism; the conviction that the state can take the risk out of life and smooth out its rough spots, making us all healthy and well-adjusted. And an assumption “that you’re an idiot” he said.
A recent local example of nannyism was the zero-tolerance alcohol policy that police in Georgetown used recently to arrest a woman who had had one glass of wine before driving home.
In one chapter of his book Harsanyi writes about “playground fascists” who have succeeded in some school districts in outlawing tag, dodge ball and keeping score in ball games (lest children’s self-esteem suffer when they lose).
“That’s where it starts,” he said, “a crybaby lobby for the children.”
Nannyism grows by mission creep, “where they chip away at the margins and work their way to the middle” Harsanyi explained. “It started with seat belt laws” – who could argue with that? “But I don’t buckle my children in because it’s the law, I buckle them in because I’m a good parent.”
Later came laws to prevent exposure to secondhand smoke, which extended to outlawing smoking in buildings, then threatening parents who smoke in homes with children. “Now in California there is a proposal to outlaw smoking in your car when you are riding with your pet” Harsanyi claimed.
From preventing one admitted health risk, the nanny mission grew. Harsanyi reminded the audience, “The Center for Disease Control used to be concerned with preventing infectious disease – now it’s trying to prevent obesity.”
For further examples Harsanyi mentioned that New York is trying to outlaw trans fats, and that Barbara Boxer favors this in California. Candy Lightner, founder of MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) has complained that the organization has become a prohibitionist group, which she never intended.
But these are admittedly health risks, where do we draw the line?
“When government goes from convincing to coercing.” Harsanyi said our basic value should be “to always fall on the side of more freedom. Life’s a little dangerous. But it’s like these people never want to die.”
And how does this happen in the Land of the Free?
“No politician is going to defend smokers, drinkers etc. They’re too lazy to make the argument from freedom. Politicians are typically cowards, or they become cowards” Harsanyi said.
Asked about his politics, Harsanyi said, “I’ve been called a conservative. I suppose I could be a small “l” libertarian because I agree with most of their positions, except foreign policy. I supported the invasion of Iraq.”
Harsanyi explained that his values came from his family background. “My parents were from communist Hungary and basically defected. My father was a chemist, but when he immigrated to America he couldn’t be one because here he didn’t speak English. So like all good Jews he became a jeweler. It’s because of this that I really believe in the America where you can work hard, take chances and make something of yourself in life.”
What a story – and what a man to tell it! I left the reception inspired.
Next morning I went out for a coffee and saw the day’s New York Times.
EXPERTS SEEK BAN ON COLD MEDICINE FOR VERY YOUNG
FDA WEIGHS PROPOSAL
RISK TO CHILDREN UNDER 6 CITED IN DRUGS SOLD UNDER THE COUNTER