Liberty vs. socialism
March 8, 2008
By Walter E. Williams
The Washington Times
- A fortnight ago, I wrote about Mississippi Legislature House Bill 282 that would have imposed fines or revoked licenses of food establishments that served obese people. Fortunately, the measure died in committee.
State Rep. Ted Mayhall, one of the bill's sponsors, said he wanted to bring attention to the fact that "Obesity makes people more susceptible to diabetes, which puts a further strain on the state's financially-challenged Medicaid program." His sentiments were expressed by quite a few readers who didn't necessarily support such a bill but opined that if a particular behavior or lifestyle imposes costs on others through tax-supported health care, government had a right to intercede.
Similar justification was used for laws requiring helmets for motorcyclists and bicyclists. After all, if one exercises his liberty to ride without a helmet and has an accident and becomes a vegetable, society must bear the expense of taking care of him. The fact that an obese person becomes ill, or a cyclist has an accident, and becomes a burden on taxpayers who must bear the expense of taking care of him, is not a problem of liberty. It's a problem of socialism where one person is forced to take care of another. There is no moral argument that justifies using the coercive powers of government to force one person to bear the expense of taking care of another. If that person is too resolute in his refusal to do so, what is the case for imposing fines, imprisonment or death?
You say, "Death. Aren't you exaggerating, Williams?" Say he tells the agents of Congress he will pay his share of constitutionally mandated government functions but refuses to pay the health costs of a sick obese person or a cyclist who becomes a vegetable, what do you think the likely course will be? First, he would be threatened with fines, imprisonment or property confiscation. Refusal to give in to these sanctions would ultimately lead to his being shot by agents of Congress.
Forcing one person to bear the burden of health care costs for another is not only a moral question but a major threat to personal liberty. Think about all the behaviors and lifestyles that can lead to illness and increase the burden on taxpayers. A daily salt intake exceeding 6 grams can lead to hypertension. A high-fat diet and high alcohol intake can also lead to diabetes. A sedentary lifestyle can lead to several costly diseases such as hypertension, diabetes and heart failure.
There are many other behaviors that lead to a greater health care burden, but my question is how much control over your life you are willing to give government in the name of reducing these costs? Would you want government to regulate how much salt you use? What about government deciding how much fat and alcohol you consume? There are immense beneficial health effects of a daily 30-minute aerobic exercise.
Would you support government-mandated exercise? You might argue that it's none of government's business how much fat, salt or alcohol a person consumes, even if it has adverse health care cost implications. I would ask: Wouldn't the same reasoning apply to helmet laws and proposed obesity laws? Last year, The Child Nutrition Promotion and School Lunch Protection Act was introduced in Congress. It's a measure to prevent schools from serving "junk foods" such as pizza, burgers and French fries. If the government protects children from "unhealthy" meals at school, would you want government to also protect them from unhealthy meals at home?
[SEE: Brown's 'Get Fit' Towns: Kim Jong-il Would Be Proud - http://itssdeconomicfreedom.blogspot.com/2008/01/browns-get-fit-towns-kim-jong-il-would.html By James Woudhuysen, Professor of forecasting and innovation, De Montfort UniversitySpiked OnlineMonday 5 November 2007 -- Gordon Brown’s UK government will now try to design urban areas that force us to exercise more – and that’s official. To tackle obesity with what he called a ‘large-scale’ approach ‘across the whole community’, Brown’s health secretary Alan Johnson has said that he wants to ‘make physical activity a normal part of everyday life’. (1) So before you go to work, school or your leisure destination, remember that your personal trainer, Alan, has instructed you to walk, run or pedal there.]
[SEE ALSO, In Looney Britain, Citizens Don't Even Have 'Property Rights' in Themselves!! , http://itssdeconomicfreedom.blogspot.com/2008/01/in-looney-britain-citizens-dont-even.html . British PM Urges No-consent Organ HarvestingBy Patrick HennessyArticle published Jan 14, 2008 January 14, 2008 \LONDON SUNDAY TELEGRAPH LONDON —Prime Minister Gordon Brown yesterday threw his weight behind a move to allow hospitals to remove organs from dead patients without explicit consent.Writing in the Sunday Telegraph, Mr. Brown said such a move would save thousands of lives and that he hopes such a system can start this year. The proposals would mean consent for organ donation after death would be automatically presumed, unless individuals had opted out of a national register or family members objected. But patients' groups said they are "totally opposed" to Mr. Brown's plan, arguing it would take away patients' rights over their own bodies.]
When I was 14 or 15 years old, smelling myself, I thought I could take over the house. My mother told me that as long as she paid the bills, I would do what she said. That's great for a parent-child relationship, but do we want the same relationship between government and its citizens?
Walter E. Williams is a nationally syndicated columnist and a professor of economics at George Mason University.
[PROFESSOR WILLIAM'S ARTICLE WAS PROMPTED BY THE NEWS REPORTS THAT FOLLOW]:
Bill Bans Obese Patrons From Mississippi Restaurants
Jackson, Miss. - The lawmakers who sponsored Bill No. 282 say they're not trying to discriminate against the overweight in Mississippi, they're trying to start a dialogue about how to fight the problem of obesity in the Magnolia State.
The proposed law would make it illegal for state-licensed restaurants to serve food to the obese.
Critics say government shouldn't try to be the food police and they say this latest attempt at public health legislation leaves a bad taste in the mouth.
"What kind of crap is that?" asks James Kelley of Clarksdale, Mississippi. "What do I think about it? Leave people alone. Let them eat what they want. Let them be."
Dedra Holley from Robinsonville, agrees. "How can you be serious?" she says. "So if they discriminate against obese people who are they going to discriminate against after that? People with long hair? Short hair? White people? Black people? I mean, that's absurd."
You'd be hardpressed to find any Mississippian who supports the idea. Even the man who sponsored the bill, Representative Ted Mayhall, says it should never pass.
"I do not have any intention of this becoming law," says the Desoto County Republican. "I don't think it has a Chinaman's chance. I'm against intrusive government. I don't think that's what we're here for and what we should be doing."
So why draft such controversial legislation?
"The reason I put the bill in," says Mayhall, "was to call attention to the seriousness of the obesity epidemic in Mississippi."
Mayhall says 30-percent of adults in Mississippi are obese. The state ranks number one in the nation for obesity three years running.
And with Mississippi's Medicaid program $168 million dollars in the red this year, Rep. Mayhall says illnesses related to obesity, including diabetes, are draining the state's budget.
His efforts to raise awareness about the issue have the national media calling with questions and constituents calling him out. By noon Friday, his answering machine was flooded with some not-so-nice messages and his cell phone was ringing constantly.
One caller told him, "Why don't you move to China or Russia instead of the U.S. Last I heard, this was still a free country."
There are plenty of skeptics who say Mayhall's plan to spark a change in the eating habits of Mississippians won't work.
"I don't think it's going to put a dent in the whole problem," says Dedra Holley. "I just can't believe it will."
"You're not going to be able to force someone to do something they're not ready to do," says James Kelley of Southaven. "Is this a Communist state?"
Despite the verbal attacks and all the doubters, Mayhall, a 68 year-old former pharmaceutical rep, says he's determined to stir up the debate.
"I'm a big boy," he says. "I can take anything that comes. I don't care. If it'll save three or four lives, it's well worth it."
Before Mayhall and Representatives John Read and Bobby Shows introduced their legislation, they got the green light from Mississippi's Public Health chairman and from Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour.
No one expects the bill to pass. They do expect a lively discussion in subcommittee about ways the state can solve its' obesity problems.
Some say obese bill has fat chance
By Natalie Chandler
February 3, 2008
A bill that would force some Mississippians to back away from the buffet, or any restaurant, has begun its trip through the 2008 Legislature.
House Bill 282 would prohibit restaurants from serving food to anyone who is obese, based on criteria from the state Department of Health.
Restaurateurs and an advocacy group say the legislation is a waste of time, and even one of the lawmakers pushing it doesn't expect it to travel very far.
State Rep. Ted Mayhall, R-Southaven, said he's simply hoping to "call attention to the problem."
"No one's doing anything about it," Mayhall said, referring to obesity. "They just keep on going to the buffets and eating."
Obesity makes people more susceptible to diabetes, which puts a further strain on the state's financially-challenged Medicaid program, he said.
A 2007 report put that state's obesity rate at 30.6 percent - the worst in the nation.
Mayhall said the bill has been referred to a House subcommittee. If it advances, it would be discussed in the House Public Health and Human Services Committee.
Dr. Ed Thompson, state health officer, has previously said Mississippi's obesity rate cost Medicaid alone $221 million each year.
On Saturday, Thompson said the Department of Health is monitoring the bill as it does all proposed legislation that could affect public health policies. However, Thompson said the department has "no position on the bill."
"The bill was not discussed with us but we will work with the sponsors to see if we can answer any questions along the way," he said.
The legislation would require the Department of Health to "prepare written materials that describe and explain the criteria for determining whether a person is obese and to provide those materials to the food establishments."
The department would be responsible for making sure restaurants follow the law, which would go into effect July 1. Permits could be revoked for failing to comply.
"I've seen a lot of crazy laws, but this one takes the cake. Literally," said J. Justin Wilson, a senior research analyst for the Center for Consumer Freedom. "Whether it is menu labeling laws, taxes on fattening foods, or Mississippi's new "you're too fat to eat here" proposal, the food police have gone too far."
Mississippi also ranks "dead last" in the country for physical activity, Wilson said.
"Maybe the state's Legislature should do something to help people burn more calories instead of pretending that eating out is a cardinal sin," he said.
McDonald's restaurant owner Mike Rutzer of Greenville agreed.
"It just staggers the imagination to think what our government will come up with next," he said. "It's discriminatory. Now we're picking and choosing who to serve?"
Jackson restaurateur LeRoy Walker said lawmakers should focus on "health care, education, overall economic reform for our state. People on the Coast are still impacted from Hurricane Katrina."
"I think the individual who may have some challenges with their weight needs to govern themselves accordingly with the choices they put on their plates," he added.
DeShawn Walker, who was eating an early dinner with his mother Saturday evening at Big Mama's Country Cooking Buffet in south Jackson, said the bill equals discrimination.
"It's wrong," he said. "And I think it would make restaurants lose money, too."
Walker's mother, Patricia, shook her head at the bill's premise.
"You can't tell nobody how to eat. People have got to decide for themselves to lose weight," she said. "But, you know, some people are big and happy."
David Simmons of Ridgeland had similar feelings toward the proposed legislation.
"(Obesity) is a problem, I know. But it shouldn't be the government's role to dictate what people are eating, just like government shouldn't dictate smoking or drinking," he said.
Mayhall acknowledges the bill is "bad legislation" and that it "won't go anywhere."
But he said, "The intent was to get it in committee and call attention to the problem."