It turns out they often don’t. Because parents figure pill bottles with “child safety caps” are safer, they pay less attention to putting them high out of reach -- while older people with arthritis often leave the caps off, entirely. The result? The introduction of the “child safety cap” has led directly to an increase -- an increase -- in child poisonings, Mr. Stossel reports.
Was that law promptly repealed? Of course not. Such laws are all about allowing politicians to brag about their good intentions -- bad results are irrelevant.
Mandatory bicycle helmets? When bicycle riders put on helmets they tend to engage in riskier behaviors, as do the motorists zooming past them on our city streets, Mr. Stossel found. The risk level goes right back where it was. Economists even have a name for this -- the Peltzman effect.
But while these specific “unintended consequences” should be enough to send overzealous lawmakers to stand in the corner till they cool down, they don’t really touch on the biggest problem with such “message sending.”
A happy, productive society is one that’s full -- so far as possible -- of thoughtful adults who’ve learned to act responsibly. Since there can never be enough police to trail us around, “sending us a message” to change our underwear and brush our teeth and turn the pan handles to the back of the stove so the toddlers can’t pull them down, it’s best that our fellow citizens learn to do these things for themselves.
How does that come to pass? Parents grant children increasingly greater levels of freedom to make their own choices as they grow up. A free society allows us to profit when we calculate risks sensibly, but also allows us to suffer the negative consequences when we calculate risks badly. That’s how we learn to think ahead.
But the nanny-staters short-circuit that process. If a government agent is always there to cushion the fall -- or to bar us from skating without kneepads, in the first place -- how are we ever to learn that a skinned knee can hurt, that there can be painful consequences to quitting work or not wearing a seat belt or neglecting our health or getting into an accident without insurance?
Nevada has boomed for 75 years by allowing more personal freedom than the surrounding jurisdictions. Yet in Carson City today, a band of lawmakers who seem to believe they’re in Sacramento -- if not Moscow or Tehran -- are busy trying to mandate all-day tax-paid day care for 5-year-olds. (Parents can’t be held responsible for raising these kids just because they decided to have them -- the childless couple across town must pay!)
They want to busy our police officers writing tickets for kids who smoke. After swearing up and down that if we let them mandate seat-belt-wearing they’d leave it a “secondary offense,” they’re right back wanting to empower cops to pull us over and ticket us for no reason but not buckling up.
They want to allow municipalities to raise millions by shortening the yellow lights at intersections (studies show that’s just what they do, and that accident rates go up as a result), setting up robot cameras to write “automatic” tickets to red-light-runners -- and you’ll pay even if the culprit borrowed or stole your car.
They want to ban stores from raising prices on rare commodities during emergencies -- which means those with lesser needs will likely have grabbed all the batteries and bottled water by the time you get to the store. They want to make it illegal to exercise our rights to free speech within 100 yards of a funeral. They want to bar minors from using cell phones while driving.
They’re never done. Think they’ll stop with banning smoking in restaurants -- just as they once said they’d settle for “no-smoking sections”? They’ll soon be back, ordering police (it’s a good thing there are no REAL crimes to deal with) to cite you for “child abuse” if you smoke with your child in the car.
Before long, they’ll bar us from making a choice between “healthier” french fries and the better-tasting kind. (Just wait.)
And when, not long from now, someone says, “Holy cow, people won’t take responsibility for their own actions any more. We seem to have a town full of people who act like overgrown kids and expect a ‘do-over’ every time they mess up,” will these lawmakers say, “Uh-oh, I guess we did that”?
Of course not. They’ll just pass a law that bans “acting like a child.”
But don’t worry. It’ll start out as a “secondary offense.”