The Jury Talks Back

2/20/2009

Edward Feser and Tradition

Filed under: Uncategorized — Fritz @ 3:16 pm

Feser writes,

What is true is that conservatives tend to hold that the fact that a practice or belief is traditional should lead us to regard it as innocent until proven guilty, and to put the burden of proof on the innovator rather than on the upholder of tradition. To be sure, in some cases that burden can be easily met, and the guilt established quickly. Still, the fact that a practice or belief has survived for some time at least says something for it, and should make us at least cautious of discarding it glibly. This is not dogmatism but simply common sense

In the body of the post he investigates how an evalution of a traditional set of beliefs might be approached.

America’s Private Behavior Paradox

Filed under: Uncategorized — Fritz @ 2:37 pm

I don’t know if this will come as a surprise to you or not, but smoking is not good for your health. Many years of scientific investigation have added the corollary that your smoking around other people isn’t good for them either. I think that any sensible civil libertarian would agree that part of the mandate of government is to reduce, eliminate, or punish harm done by one person to another. Thus, public smoking bans. Fair enough.

There still remains the point that people, in so far as they are not harming others, still retain the liberty to puff away to their heart’s content.

Also remember that it’s a generally accepted principle that if government pays for something, they get to make the rules. Does the state of Louisiana want federal funds to repair its highway system? They better make sure that their drinking age is 21 then.

If the federal government starts paying for health care you should see a lot more of this. Since health care is about our bodies and the way we live, expect deeper encroachments into individual behavior.

Madison, writing as Publius inThe Federalist Papers #10, points out that there are two ways of dealing with problems that naturally arise from liberty: we can control the causes or we can control the effects.

Ronald Brownstein, in a recent editorial in the National Journal, clearly wants to control the causes. He writes, rightly assuming that eventually we’re going to have a national health care system whether we like it or not, that

Any universal coverage plan will grow unsustainably expensive unless healthcare inflation slows. Preventing, rather than treating, disease is one key to controlling healthcare costs. And few diseases present a more obvious target for prevention than the heart and lung ailments and cancers linked to smoking.

It’s worth noting that Browstein notices to following interesting relationship between political ideology and government regulation of private behavior:

The high-prevalence [of smoking] states may fail to act for fear of antagonizing their many smokers, or they may have so many smokers because they have failed to act. It also matters that the heaviest-smoking states are nearly all Republican-leaning red states generally dubious of regulation. Almost all of the lowest-smoking states are Democratic-leaning and more open to regulation.

That’s why the federal government needs to get involved. The states can’t be trusted, especially if they refuse to regulate out of some misplaced deference to their voters. From a progressive point of view this is the failure of liberal democracy.

How about that.

By controlling the causes, Madison meant the tendency towards extinguishing liberty. Madison points out that, “It could never be more truly said than of the first remedy, that it was worse than the disease.” If we have to dance to the tune of the one who pays, what is the limiting factor when it comes to controlling behavior? Don’t get me wrong, smoking is surely the worst. It’s harms are the most likely (you can get cancer for a lot of stuff but nothing does the job like smoking) and the most expensive to treat. Brownstein, in laying out his plan of action, assures the reader, rather sadly one might suspect, that the FDA cannot ban smoking “but it could require further health-risk disclosure, reduce nicotine levels, and more tightly regulate marketing, especially to minors.”

Brownstein also recommends a national war on tobacco, including “mandating that states and private insurers fund cessation programs to exploring, either through legislation or occupational-safety regulations, a national ban on smoking in public places and workplaces.” Brownstein calls the cost of continuing to allow private citizens to use tobacco products “intolerable”.

I wouldn’t shed a single tear in my whiskey and soda or on my double cheeseburger if smoking vanished off the face of the earth tomorrow. But I’ve got to ask, when the principle is the cost to the federal government, where does the limit to federal power lie?

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