Tag: The Nanny State

Progressing Toward the Victorian Era

If you ever thought that the Nanny Staters were going to stop with cigarettes and alcohol, Baylen Linnekin is here to remind you that the progressive Nanny State knows no bounds:

Earlier this year I warned in a column that food freedom – the right to grow, raise, produce, buy, sell, share, cook, eat and drink the foods you want – would be “under attack” in 2014. But even I couldn’t have predicted the crushing regulatory assault that’s hit American consumers and food producers in just the first quarter of this year.

In fact, 2014 may go down as the worst year for food freedom since the New Deal era, when Congress, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the Supreme Court conspired to strip Americans of many basic food rights. Just how ludicrous was that period? In 1942, the Supreme Court actually upheld a New Deal law that prohibited farmers from using wheat they grew on their own farms to bake bread to feed their own families.

While we haven’t matched that historic low yet, there are still nine months left in the year. Here are just nine examples:

I’ll leave you to click through for the examples, which includes everything from the FDA trying to ban trans fats to a government advisory committee thinking the government should text “encouraging messages” to fat people. That’s all we need: more texting spam.

Something about this story has been bothering me though and it took me a while to figure out what it was. It finally came together when I remembered that the vast majority of the Nannies are self-styled “progressives” (including Uber-Nanny Michael Bloomberg, who has now moved on to flogging gun control with truly repulsive anti-gun ads). This theme came up a couple of weeks ago in a great article by Matt Welch:

When I first started hearing people on the political left describe themselves with some frequency as progressive back in the 1990s, the term did not seem tethered to the epoch-defining, early-20th-century spasm of moral crusading and government centralization that helped give us everything from trust busting to Prohibition to the Federal Reserve. As articulated by champions like Ralph Nader and Molly Ivins, the progressive label was both a way to get out from under the generation-old baggage of liberal-a term Ronald Reagan and others had turned into an epithet-and to differentiate lefties from seemingly apologetic triangulators like Bill Clinton and that now-vanished tribe known as the New Democrats.

If you could put a date on when modern-day progressives fully re-inhabited the moral rigidity of their Progressive Era forebears, it might be September 24, 2012. That’s when Village Voice Media, the country’s biggest chain of alternative newsweeklies, split off its online classifieds site Backpage.com after a years-long, progressive-led campaign to shutter the site over claims that it facilitates “sex trafficking.”

In addition to their campaign against all sex work — not just trafficking — the progressives are campaigning against e-cigarettes. Their “fact-based” campaign includes bogus stories that e-cigs are just as dangerous as cigarettes (they aren’t). Campaigns against alcohol sales, free markets, free trade, fatty foods, regular cigarettes, sugar, guns and a host of other “evils” are proceeding apace.

It’s not just the Nanny State; puritanical attitudes infect almost all “progressive” policy. Tax policy is oriented toward attacking conspicuous consumption and “greed”. Global warming policy is oriented less around scientific approaches to the problem than around ending Western consumption. Healthcare policy is devoted to the notion that we are using too much healthcare and that has to stop. Almost every economic policy from the -so-called progressives hinges on the notion that some people simply have more wealth than is good for them.

(Needless to say, it’s always the plebs that need to sacrifice for the greater good. The elites will always still enjoy their good doctors, their private jets and their mountains of income.)

The funny thing is that puritanical attitudes are something we are always told are right wing. It is always those troglodyte conservatives who are seething with rage over the immorality of society. Surely the left wing, with their enthusiasm for abortion and gay rights, could not be described in those terms?

But it can be and it should be. Because, as I have often said, politics isn’t a spectrum, it’s a circle. If you move far enough to the left, you’ll find yourself in bed with those who are too far to the right. You might claim different motives; but in the end, you will embrace the same policies.

Think about how puritanical the progressive movement is getting. You could easily squeeze the entire progressive agenda into a campaign against five of the seven deadly sins:

  • Gluttony: Progressives support a slew of laws designed to force Americans to eat less, including mandatory calorie labeling, restrictions on sugar, making sugar a controlled substance and taxing high-calorie foods.
  • Greed: Progressives support high income tax rates, luxury taxes on expensive items and have lately been talking about how the real problem in America is wealth inequality. This is an addition to their distaste for the “greed” of free markets and their support of controlled markets.
  • Sloth: Many progressives favor mandatory “volunteerism” (as do many neo-conservatives; the Right Wing equivalent of progressives).
  • Lust: Most progressive want to keep prostitution illegal. Many would like to outlaw porn. This is a a view they share with much of the Religious Right.
  • Wrath: Our courts can give out mandatory anger management classes. And opposition to the progressive agenda is frequently written off as the rage of “angry white males”.
  • Pride and Envy don’t fit well into that but that’s probably because these are the principle sins of progressivism itself, which is consumed with envy for anyone who has “too much” and take great pride in being so enlightened compared to the antediluvian masses.

    This isn’t the first time I’ve noticed this. Back in the 90’s, the campus feminists wanted to ban porn. When I pointed out that this put them on the same page as religious zealots, they would reply that the Jerry Falwells were worried about smut; they were worried about exploitation. But I don’t see that motive matters in this scenario. Sure, you want to have a good through process when it comes to policy: a smart way of thinking about issues will lead you astray less often than a dumb one. But, practically, when your ultra-enlightened mega-sensitive thinking leads you to the same conclusions as the Playboy burners, what difference does it make? Why is banning porn because it makes Baby Jesus cry worse than banning it because it makes Gloria Steinem cringe?

    In the end, this boils to simple prudery in all its manifold manifestations. Progressive puritanism, like all puritanism, was best described Mencken as the the fear that someone somewhere may be happy. It is not new or original or enlightened or forward-thinking. You can trace it back not just to 19th century Victorian prudery but to 20th century communism, which saw all things as serving a function to the state, eschewed pleasure (for the masses anyway) and saw drab colorless lives as ideal for the plebs.

    This prudery is the result of any political philosophy that sees government as a force with which to change human nature. Whether you want government to make people less gay or make people less anti-gay, you are paying homage to the same demon idol of government power. That your pews are different colors make no practical difference to the heretics being thrown into the fire.

    I’ve had it with blue-noses of every political stripe. If they want to live like monks, more power to them. But I see no reason why we should allow them to enshrine their priggish mores into law. Whether they are grabbing our porn, our cigarettes, our booze, our hookers, our drugs, our food, our money, our sugar or our gay lovers, they are all the enemies of real freedom. And it’s time to stop pretending that one side is better because they call themselves “progressives” rather than “prudish ninnies”.

    The Soda Setback

    On Monday, a New York judge struck down Michael Bloomberg’s latest nanny bullshit:

    On Monday, Judge Tingling struck down the soda ban in a sweeping opinion that does everything but hand Mayor Poppins his umbrella and carpetbag. This wasn’t just a temporary restraining order putting the regulation on hold for a few weeks. The judge struck down the ban permanently both on the merits (“fraught with arbitrary and capricious consequences”) and as overstepping the rightful legal powers of the New York City Department of Health — meaning that the board cannot go back and reissue the regulations on its own authority even if it should develop a better factual basis for them.

    You should real Walter Olsen’s entire op-ed, which is both informative and as delicious as a super-size Mountain Dew flavored with the tears of Nanny Staters. This wasn’t just about big sodas and big waistlines. The Department of Public Health was asserting near-dictatorial power over the behavior of millions of New Yorkers, expanding powers that are intended for emergencies into every-day business (Hmm. That doesn’t sound familiar at all).

    Of course, like all movements, the Nanny State can thrive without God, but not without a devil. If you can’t get what you want, you must demonize someone — someone rich and corporate preferably. NPR kicked it off by saying the judge “sided with the beverage industry” even thought the judge actually sided with the law, not the industry. And today you have this amazingly wrong-headed article from Ben Smith which attempts to argue that the soda industry is like the cigarette industry with the evil subprime mortgage industry thrown in for good measure. Seriously. After noting that some of the opposition came from minority groups, he goes down this road:

    There are politicians, and causes, who have no trouble raising money. The politicos who represent Manhattan, mostly; causes, like rolling back the unionization of education, popular with people who work in finance. Politicians who represent poor neighborhoods in Brooklyn and the Bronx, however, struggle to fundraise; and organizations aiming to speak for poor communities are often struggling to keep the lights on. And so it was, for instance, that Brooklyn Rep. Ed Towns used to be known on Capitol Hill as the “Marlboro Man” — the industry’s staunchest ally in Congress.

    This is a dynamic that many industries who prey on the urban poor capitalize on. The subprime mortgage industry, in particular, generously funded local advocates, who made the case for them (remember this argument?) that to bar what critics called “predatory” interest rates was to discriminate against people with bad credit.

    Wow. That is one of the richest veins of bullshit I’ve ever seen. Never mind that cigarettes are fundamentally different from soda (no one ever died of second-hand Mr. Pibb or complained about the constant smell of Cherry Coke on their clothes). Never mind that whole fact-free diversion into the subprime market. Never mind that people in poverty often like the few vices they can afford. No, it’s Cigarettes! Subprime! Soda! 11!!!

    This isn’t an industry shill thing, no matter what anyone says. This was about Bloomberg trying to impose rules outside of the normal process. This was about New York becoming a national punchline for the Nanny State. And, yes, this was about that thick stripe of anarchism that runs down the back of every American and makes them, every now and then, turn to their government and say those most American of words: “Mind your own fucking business.”

    Nanny of the Month

    Reason’s Nanny of the Month focuses on our two Presidential candidates and allows you to vote for which you think is the worst Nanny:

    I voted for Obama as the worse Nanny. The reasons are several: he’s in power so he’s actually done stuff; his record of intervention is even worse than Reason lets on; his ramping up of the Drug War is a glaring hypocrisy.

    But it’s also because I don’t think Mitt would be as bad in the White House. Maybe I’m wrong, but he crosses me more as someone who sets an example of how to live your life rather than someone who hectors everyone else. And I think it’s very likely that the porn crackdown, for example, is simply campaign rhetoric (although it wasn’t with Bush or Obama).