Self-responsibility, government intervention, and nanny states

I’ve long been an advocate of self-responsibility. Everyone should be held accountable and responsible for their actions and inactions. It is not up to some entity (church, government) to protect you from yourself. For example, I think non-driving adult vehicle passengers should not be required to wear their seatbelt. Drivers would still be required to wear their seatbelts to increase the odds that they are able to maintain control of the vehicle to protect passengers in other vehicles should an accident occur. Similarly I think motorcycle drivers should not be required to wear helmets. It is commonly known that both seatbelts and motorcycle helmets help prevent injury in the case of accidents. If you’re not smart enough to heed that advice, you’re better off being removed from the gene pool before you reproduce — ala the Darwin Awards.

But what happens if they’ve already reproduced and have young children? Or what happens if they are seriously injured but not killed? Then instead of removing themselves from the gene pool and saving humanity from their stupidity, we may end up providing for them or the rest of their family at the taxpayer’s expense. So instead lets say that only those people without dependents are able to go seatbeltless as non-drivers and helmetless as motorcycle drivers. That solves that problem at the expense of another: enforceability.

Laws need to be enforceable to aid both the police doing the enforcement and the judicial system. How are police suppose to know which helmetless motorcycle drivers have dependents in order to pull someone over and/or give them a ticket?

Thus despite my shoot-from-the-hip desire to give stupid people the liberty of killing themselves, I acknowledge that it is better for the government to require all drivers to wear a seatbelt and all motorcycle riders to wear a helmet with the intent of reducing the financial liability of me, a taxpayer.

Consider another nanny-state law being considered here in Colorado: Carbon monoxide detectors. The law would require carbon monoxide detectors to be installed in new, sold, or rented private residences. The impetus for the bill is, I assume, the rash of recent carbon monoxide deaths in the state. Unlike the seatbelt issue, in this case I fully support the nanny-state law. The reason is that I believe the bill will better protect renters of older homes and apartments. While even new furnaces and stoves can malfunction and emit lethal amounts of carbon monoxide, furnaces in older homes are much more likely to do so.

The next logical question is, why don’t I view this as a “survival of the smartest” issue like I did the seatbelts? Unlike seatbelts that are provided with every vehicle, carbon monoxide detectors don’t come bundled with your house — yet. Obtaining one requires 1) knowing that you need one and 2) the finances to obtain one. Ill-educated families may be ignorant of the need for these detectors as might the elderly who may be unaware due to failing mental facilities. Lower-income families and seniors who are renting and know they need one may be ill-prepared to pay for a detector, particularly in this economic environment. The law would require apartment complexes and landlords of other properties install CO detectors prior to renting the property to a new tenant. The cost of the detectors are minimal and because they need only be installed at the start of a new lease, the landlord could incorporate the cost of the detector in the lease if necessary. Heck, the expense might even be tax deductible!

Even getting off the high road of requiring that help be provided to those who can’t help themselves (or don’t know that they should be helping themselves), we have the issue that while CO exposure can be lethal, it can also be non-lethal but debilitating and the taxpayer may end up footing the medical bills.

All that said, I think this would be an excellent opportunity for churches to pitch in and ensure that their members have ready access to a CO detector and provide one either free or at a discount if they fall into the group most likely to be unable to help themselves (low-income families and the elderly). This holds true if CO House Bill 1091 ends up becoming law or not.

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I'm a gay geek living in Seattle, WA.

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