The Conservative Nanny State

Radley Balko has a good article over at FoxNews.com about the Conservative Nanny state.

It’s largely the Republicans have vamped up the Drug War, and who have regretfully expanded it even into doctor’s offices, where drug warriors now decide what courses of treatment are and aren’t acceptable. Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez recently stated that under his watch, eradicating pornography will be a priority on par with fighting terrorism. And several members of Congress are now pushing to expand FCC regulation to include cable TV, satellite radio, and perhaps even the Internet, all in an effort to protect Americans from bad words and dirty pictures.

Nanny Statism is commonly thought to be the province of the left. And with good reason. The public health movement that has taken on obesity and alcohol and given us seat belt laws and smoking bans has always carried with it whiffs of socialism. But the right is no better. If leftists don’t trust Americans to make our own decisions about what we eat, what we drink, or whether or not to smoke tobacco, conservatives don’t trust us to make up our own minds about what transpires in our bedrooms, what music we listen to, what television we watch, what we consume from the Internet, and whether or not we should smoke marijuana.

[…]But what about those Nanny Statists on the right? Is the “coarsening” of American culture really having all of the ill social effects conservatives say it is? The data overwhelmingly suggests not. Nearly every social indicator is trending in a direction we ought to find comforting.

For example: Teen pregnancy is down. According to the Department of Justice, juvenile crime, crimes against children, the incidence of rape, as well as overall crime, is down.

Divorce is down. Teens are waiting longer to have sex. High school dropout rates are down. Unemployment remains low. Over the past decade, the roverall rate of abortion has largely declined.

If Janet Jackson’s “wardrobe malfunction,” Internet porn, and violent video games are indeed inducing a nationwide slouch toward Gomorra, it’s difficult to discern from those statistics.

[…]

Interestingly enough, the one statistic that bucks the trends outlined above is drug use. Drug use among adults is up fairly dramatically over the last twenty years. But drug use is one area of personal liberty the government has gotten more aggressive about policing. Which to me suggests that government efforts to control our decisions not only stifle individual freedom, they aren’t very effective.

The entire article is pretty good and I urge people to read it. I have two beefs with the current crop of Republicans:

  • Economic policy
  • Social Policy

The Republicans, in my view, have shown themselves to be incompetent on both fronts. Granted, the economy is growing at a decent pace and inflation is pretty low. However, the labor market is at best adequate, and the budget outlook is very, very bleak. Add on top of this that a large part of the credit for the state of the economy goes to the Federal Reserve and it strikes me as far from clear that the Republicans know their butts from a hole in the ground when it comes to economic policy. We have the following list of horrible pieces of crap legislation:

  1. Elderly Medicare Prescription Drug Plan,
  2. No Child Left Behind,
  3. Energy Bill,
  4. The Highway Bill,
  5. The massive spending on Katrina,

All of these things have added trillions to future budget shortfalls (with the Prescription Drug Plan being the largets contributor). It is even possible that the Prescription Drug Plan will lead to some sort of price controls on prescription drugs. That program is projected to add trillions to the already massivly underfunded Medicare program. One sure fire way to control that spiralling costs is to control the price. Given that politicians in general don’t like the way markets work, there will be building pressure to control those spiralling costs. There is some evidence that the No Child Left Behind policy is actually not helping children learn. A policy that mandates 100% success, but lets each state pick the test means that the test will be pitched at the lowest common denomminator (i.e., the least capable student). The bottom line is that we are currently spending billions, committed to spending trillions and at the same time cutting spending nowhere else, and wanting taxes to be kept lower or even lower. This just doesn’t add up.

As for the social policy, my basic view is that what other people do with their lives is none of my business so long as,

  1. Nobody is being coerced or injured,
  2. I’m not being coerced or injured.

This means if you want to have an orgy every night at your house, so long as your orgy attendees aren’t parking in my driveway or acting in a rude or obnoxious manner I don’t care. You’re gay and want to marry your same-sex partner? Good luck with that, but basically I don’t care, I’ve got my own problems to deal with. Bascially, you leave me alone and I’ll leave you alone, unless we think that by interacting we can both be made better off.

I think many people feel this way and hopefully in the next election or so they’ll give enough Republicans the boot from office. Hopefully, this will lead to the Republicans realizing their mistake and correcting it, but I’m not holding my breath.

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Steve Verdon
About Steve Verdon
Steve has a B.A. in Economics from the University of California, Los Angeles and attended graduate school at The George Washington University, leaving school shortly before staring work on his dissertation when his first child was born. He works in the energy industry and prior to that worked at the Bureau of Labor Statistics in the Division of Price Index and Number Research. He joined the staff at OTB in November 2004.

Comments

  1. Nothing to say here except that this is a great post!

  2. Anderson says:

    I have two beefs with the current crop of Republicans:

    Economic policy
    Social Policy

    Okay, but you’re giving them a pass on foreign policy? Or was that an accidental omission?

  3. Steve Verdon says:

    Well…it isn’t an area I feel comfortable going on at length about. I’m pretty hawkish, but it sure seems they have mucked up things in Iraq. I hope I’m wrong and it turns out all right tho’. So an intentional omission.

  4. Roger says:

    Leaving aside the noted foreign policy issue’s effect on economic matters as you point out the omission was intentional, you overlooked the stupidity of massive tax cuts focused on wealthy recipients, Steve. Surely you don’t buy into the argument that giving more riches to the already incredibly wealthy has resulted in any current economic benefits (unless we are to consider the deferred pain of a huge deficit somehow a benefit)? Thank goodness our kids will suffer so we can have another yacht?

  5. Steven Plunk says:

    Republicans certainly lack backbone but they are not leading the push for these sorts of programs. Between the demands of constituents, the press, and their across the aisle brethren the pressure to do anything, even if it’s wrong, is immense. I’m not excusing this sort of behavior but looking to the other party to do better is misguided.

    How often have we heard the cries that prescription drugs were to costly, how can seniors afford them, what will our government do about it? We simply got what we asked for, a new entitlement that will drive us toward bankruptcy, after most of us are dead.

    You can’t tell me the government can get out of the drug war when nanny moms coast to coast have made cigarettes a new drug scourge and want to make hamburgers and cokes controlled substances. Every newspaper in Oregon runs specials about the meth epidemic and wants more government action to lock ’em up.

    And since when has war become manageable? War is chaos and most military people know it going in. Our expectations were too high after Desert Storm. Occupying a country while rebuilding it is simply a messy business. Reasonable people understand it even if Rep. Murtha and the press doesn’t.

    The question here is more of how can we support conservatives in order for them to grow that damn backbone and do what they know is right. It’s hard to have courage in Washington when the people who elected you won’t back you up. For gosh sakes it’s like supporting a friend who’s down, you have to be kind and supportive while being firm about how to get it together and get going.

    Sure the Republicans are bad right now but the alternative is worse. Think of a few names, Kennedy, Byrd, Biden, Clinton, Boxer, Leahy, Cantwell, Schumer. That’s just the senate side of things. Think speaker Pelosi before you talk of throwing out the Republicans.

  6. Regis says:

    Balko is off in left field with this one:

    Nanny Statism is commonly thought to be the province of the left. And with good reason. The public health movement that has taken on obesity and alcohol and given us seat belt laws and smoking bans has always carried with it whiffs of socialism. But the right is no better. If leftists don�t trust Americans to make our own decisions about what we eat, what we drink, or whether or not to smoke tobacco,

    The difference between the regulations advocated by the public health movement and the right is that the latter all deal with issues of public safety and reducing social costs whereas the right wants to legislate private morality for no apparent reason other than they can’t handle diversity.

    When Nader was advocating for safety belts back in the 60s it was because private corporations were knowingly producing a product that was killing people needlessly. Current trends to regulate second-hand smoke in public areas are done to protect public health and to reduce costs to an already over-burdened health care system.

    Balko is also wrong to suggest that the left wants to regulate “what we drink.” The prohibition movement was entirely a product of the anti-immigrant right of a century ago. The current prohibitionist movement is still centralized in extremely conservative southern counties as well as in the Mormon church.

    Balko doesn’t understand socialism, either. Socialism has to deal with the redistribution of wealth. Regulating second hand smoke or consumer safety has absolutely nothing to do with the redistribution of wealth.

  7. The way the Republicans are headed, it would probably be more accurate to call it “The Conservative Police State.”

    D.C. Russell (who has never voted for a Democrat and feels betrayed by the current Republican majority).

  8. Alan says:

    Steve,

    I agree with all of the above, but I’m surprised you are not also upset with the current foreign policy. The administration has wasted billions of our dollars in Iraq.

  9. floyd says:

    regis;nonsense!

  10. Christopher says:

    LOL!

    You don’t give Bush credit for foreign policy even though there have been no more terrorists attacks on America, we kill then every day in Iraq and Afghanistan with a 100% volunteer army, and are building democracy all over the world (I could give crap what French and German socialists think of us either).

    You don’t give Bush credit for the economy when it is humming along like never before? It was Bush’s tax cuts and direction that made the good economy! OPEN YOUR EARS! OPEN YOUR EYES!

    You don’t think Bush should stop pornography? Its everywhere! Its all over the internet for anyone to see anytime for free, in magazines and all over the public airways. Take a look at network programming at 8 at night. Are we supposed to wait until 16 year old characters are actually fucking on national TV till we do something about it? OMG! On the Tom Leykis radio show at 5 in the afternoon he was discussing a young woman’s sex experiences with other young girls since the time she was 6 years old. OMG!

    Thank God we have republicans. They are absolutely the worst-except for everyone else.

  11. Regis says:

    regis;nonsense!

    Floyd, could you explain a bit more???

  12. Steve Verdon says:

    Leaving aside the noted foreign policy issueâ??s effect on economic matters as you point out the omission was intentional, you overlooked the stupidity of massive tax cuts focused on wealthy recipients, Steve.

    Taxes at all levels were cut. I had my taxes go down even though my income went up…and I’m not wealthy. The reason the so-called wealthy got the biggest share of the tax cuts is that because they pay the biggest share of taxes. Something like the top 50% of the income distribution pays 95%+ of the income tax revenues. So if you cut say, $500 billion in taxes $475 billion is going to go to the top 50% of the income distributin…more or less.

    Now, one can argue that such a cut was not the most efficacious manner to stimulate the economy. However, the alternative was to borrow and transfer the money to the lower income earners. So you’d still likely have the large deficits.

    Sure the Republicans are bad right now but the alternative is worse. Think of a few names, Kennedy, Byrd, Biden, Clinton, Boxer, Leahy, Cantwell, Schumer. Thatâ??s just the senate side of things. Think speaker Pelosi before you talk of throwing out the Republicans.

    I can’t help but think that the only President in the last 40 years who can lay claim to the term fiscal conservative was Bill Clinton…a Democrat.

    The difference between the regulations advocated by the public health movement and the right is that the latter all deal with issues of public safety and reducing social costs whereas the right wants to legislate private morality for no apparent reason other than they canâ??t handle diversity.

    Uhhhmmm no. The health care stuff is still a morality issue as well. It basically comes down to letting people decide for themselves what is right and wrong. Granted it has a “social cost” issue, but only because of the way our health care system is structured. In other words, the “social cost” aspect is due to the institutions we’ve set up. Change those, and you change the “social cost” issue.

    When Nader was advocating for safety belts back in the 60s it was because private corporations were knowingly producing a product that was killing people needlessly.

    And that isn’t a morality issue?

    I think you have a messed up definition of morality.

  13. floyd says:

    regis; unmitigated nonsense!