OK

One hears some people objecting to the amount of government involvement in our lives and the amount of laws.  Some say they accept laws that protect them from others, but don't think there should be laws intended to "protect us from ourselves". There are laws that are commonly presented as "protecting us from ourselves", but very few (if any) of them only serve that function. These laws tend to protect people from others as well.

Take as an example laws requiring people to wear seat belts. This particular law probably comes closer to only "protecting us from ourselves" than most such laws. However, there are ways in which it aids others beside the individual deciding whether or not to use a seat belt. For example:

(1) Adults who die or are injured as a result of not wearing seat belts are unable to care for their dependents, the care for those dependents then rests on others (government, charities, other relatives, etc.)

(2) Deaths and injuries that result from not wearing seat belts lead to insurance companies paying on claims that would not otherwise have been made. The fact the insurance companies pay out more money means in anticipation of that fact they will collect more money in higher insurance premiums from all their customers. So, those who wear seat belts would pay more to insurance to pay for those who do not.

(3) A driver whose car hits something on the side may become too injured to get his car back under control if he's not wearing a seat belt. A driver wearing a seat belt may be less hurt and able to control his car to avoid hitting other cars, people, property, etc.

(4) Accidents where seat belts were not worn can mean more serious injury or loss of life. As a result, they can use more time and manpower from police, ambulances and hospital staff. While those who chose not to wear seat belts are occupying police, ambulance and hospital resources, those services are not as readily available to others.

Similarly, laws such as speed limits don't just protect the driver who would otherwise drive faster, it protects others driving on the roads, it protects property owners along the road, it protects people from higher insurance rates, protecting others from having police, ambulances and doctors unavailable, etc.

A Different Kind Of Example

Consider laws requiring food container labels or restaurant menus to include nutritional information. First, these laws don't "protect us from ourselves" in the sense that they don't forbid us from buying or eating certain items. It doesn't even require us to read the nutritional information. It only requires that the information be available so we have the option of making informed choices.

Foods with health consequences lead to medical resources being used for diseases that could have been prevented – causing society as a whole to spend more money on medical care. This also means medical personnel might be less readily available for others when they need it. It presumably means everyone's insurance rates are higher. If these food-related diseases increase the demand for medical care more than the supply of medical resources increases, the price of medical care will increase for all. The same kinds of people who choose to impair their health by their food choices may also be inclined to make choices that impair their financial health. If so, when they need medical care, they may be unable to pay their bills in a timely manner, which will lead to higher medical prices for the rest of us. When there are more people who are obese or have other medical conditions resulting from food choices, more doctors and medical businesspeople will specialize in serving those kinds of medical issues. More doctors will specialize in gastric bypass surgery, and fewer will work in areas serving the rest of the population. Those people who have not impaired their health by food choices will have fewer medical professionals to help them.

If you don't want nutritional information required on food, but support laws requiring insurance companies not to pass along their costs to those who make "good" food choices and laws that maintain medical service levels so those who make "good" food choices aren't impacted by people who make "poor" choices, perhaps that's a valid way to protect us from others but not "protect us from ourselves". But if you oppose any regulations from any approach to handle these issues, then I say you're not fully protecting us from others.

Perhaps, what people who object to such things are trying to say is they advocate laws that protect them from others who are intentionally trying to harm us, but they oppose laws to protect us from people who are causing us harm unintentionally. The question of intent is significant – for instance the distinction between premeditated murder, unpremeditated murder (no planning but a decision to kill) and manslaughter (causing death without a decision to do so). Nevertheless, I don't believe a lack of intent to harm means the government should not take action. A drunk driver does not intend to harm others, but that does not mean the government should stand aside. I would think there are certain kinds of activities where unintended harm can be caused to others, but it is not of a nature that calls for government involvement. It is a judgment call where the boundary line is between those appropriate for government and those that aren't. The essential point is there are situations that do need the government – there is no principle that excludes government from all cases.

I don't claim to always make ideal choices. My intention is not to be holier than thou. I do believe that a degree of responsibility goes with choices. I believe there is a limit to which I should have to accept the consequences of other peoples' choices – and there is a limit to the consequences they need to accept from my choices. In a better world, each person would protect others from his choices. There are too many people who do not live that way today for society to take a hands-off approach to such behavior. Therefore, society must act through its government.

EMAIL TO A FRIEND X
Your Email has been sent.