The “Nanny State” Ctd.

Further to my earlier post about new arguments in favor of paternalistic legislation, Prof. Sarah Conly has an op-ed in today’s NY Times concerning the subject matter of her new book,  Against Autonomy: Justifying Coercive Paternalism.  For folks interested in the arguments for and against NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s efforts to limit the size of sodas that can be sold in New York, and similar “liberty limiting” legislation, the op-ed is a great read.  Money quote:

Of course, what people fear is that this is just the beginning: today it’s soda, tomorrow it’s the guy standing behind you making you eat your broccoli, floss your teeth, and watch “PBS NewsHour” every day. What this ignores is that successful paternalistic laws are done on the basis of a cost-benefit analysis: if it’s too painful, it’s not a good law.  Making these analyses is something the government has the resources to do, just as now it sets automobile construction standards while considering both the need for affordability and the desire for safety.

Update: April 9, 2013:  

Well, it seems the pro-paternalism movement is gathering momentum.  Cass Sunstein has a new book out–Simpler: The Future of Government–in which he also defends certain forms of paternalism.  Sunstein writes:

No one should deny that freedom of choice is a central part of a good life. Paternalism can be a serious mistake, especially if it eliminates that form of freedom and overrides people’s judgments about their own ends. Education, warnings, and other nudges usually have big advantages over mandates and bans, precisely because they allow people to go their own way. But legitimate concerns about illegitimate paternalism should not be allowed to prevent officials from seeking to identify the best ways to improve people’s lives, even if they end up influencing people’s choices.

He offers an example of justifiable paternalism:

Here’s a simple but striking example of the possibility that paternalism can actually increase people’s welfare. We would ordinarily expect people to be worse off if government makes it more expensive for them to purchase goods that they want. If government tells you that you have to spend more to buy a computer, a lamp, or a pair of shoes, your life will hardly be better. But empirical work suggests that there are exceptions. More specifically, cigarettes taxes appear to make smokers happier. To the extent that this is so, it is because smokers tend to be less happy because they smoke. When they are taxed, they smoke less and might even quit, and they are better off as a result.



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