Mother May I?

Nanny state politicians and bureaucrats getting in the way of liberty, happiness

You've seen the helicopter parent. It's the father who hovers at the playground, poised to intercept his falling child. It's the mother who slathers anti-bacterial gel on every object her baby touches. The parents who slavishly cater to a child's whims and self-esteem.

Look closely and you'll see the same traits in government.

Politicians and bureaucrats have embraced the "duty" to prevent every possible harm that you might inflict on yourself. Whether attempting to relieve the discomfort of poor choices, prohibiting behavior that would otherwise be acceptable, or mandating elitist-approved conduct, the State has taken on a parental role.

And what a bad parent it is.

Nanny-in-chief Mayor Michael Bloomberg wants to snatch large sodas out of the hands of New Yorkers (never mind that New Yorkers will still buy two smaller ones at four in the morning). City leaders across America are banning plastic shopping bags. If a person in Michigan wants to make a living cutting hair, painting houses or installing security alarms, he or she needs the state's permission through occupational licensing. Transfats, incandescent light bulbs, Styrofoam and candy cigarettes all are targets for the statists. As Mayor Bloomberg told The Atlantic, "People aren't good at describing what is in their own interest."

You heard that right: You don't know what's good for you. Except he's not saying this to his own teenagers before a dance — he's saying this to grown men and women across the country.

This haughty presumption that the government knows what's best is what many of us object to in Obamacare's individual mandate. What's worse, a system of individual mandates will deteriorate any reason for people to eat broccoli, join a gym or give up that glass of red wine. There's no incentive to live well when the system subsidizes only symptomatic treatments or unhealthy living, and removes personal actions from financial responsibility. We'll be a nation of financial teenagers, living off parent-government. 

There's a better way.

Frédéric Bastiat profoundly said that the purpose of the law is not to make good things happen. Rather, the purpose of the law is to prevent injustice from reigning. You and I have the right to pursue happiness. The State cannot create happiness for us.

Further, these lawmakers suffer from a dearth of self-limitation. As T.S. Eliot once wrote, "Most of the evil in this world is done by people with good intentions." The trouble is, they think they can never go far enough in their meddling.

People who accuse limited government advocates of being anti-government fail to appreciate the true objection. Government has a proper — even noble — role in society. But even the most attached parent must eventually let their child go free.

This is the task the Mackinac Center has embraced — to influence this generation's fundamental view of what role the State should play in our lives.

The good news is that the desire for liberty is embedded in the human spirit. We envision a free society, where individuals are unencumbered to enjoy liberty and pursue opportunity — no nanny required.

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.