The Spectacle Blog

Liberty Strikes Out

By on 4.25.07 | 4:22PM

Over at Tapped, Ben Adler criticizes Spectator contributor Paul Beston for his piece in the City Journal, in which Beston takes New York City to task for a nanny-state law banning the use of metal baseball bats in high school games.  

Adler writes:

This clearly expresses a fundamental tenet of conservative/libertarian thinking: that engaging in risky behavior with serious social costs is an entitlement. People who are injured by metal bats, or fall ill from smoking or fatty food, cost the rest of us money. We pay their emergency room bill, their Medicare bills or their Social Security disablity insurance. Only someone willing to forgo those benefits should have the right to also opt out of public health laws like those passed by the New York City Council, or pre-existing ones requiring that motorcyclists wear helmets and drivers wear seat belts. But Beston, like all conservatives, makes no serious suggestion about offering such an option in our society (much less explaining how it would be practically possible.) Instead he merely sneers at the New York City government's efforts to lower the costs that he, like all other taxpayers, will ultimately bear (and that, should rising health costs force the government to raise taxes, Beston and City Journal would surely bray against as well).

Here is a prime example of how creating a system of government entitlements adds a social dimension to individual choices and therefore provides a pretext for the state to interfere with every aspect of people's lives. Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security are intended to provide healthcare and financial support to poor, elderly, and disabled Americans who would otherwise have a difficult time fending for themselves. But liberals have increasingly been able to use the fact that taxpayers subsidize other people's healthcare as a justification for expanding the paternalistic nature of the state. We saw that with lawsuits against tobacco companies in the 1990s, and we're seeing it with smoking bans, the war on obesity, and now even regulating the types of baseball bats teenagers can use. There is no end in sight. Once the precedent is set that government can restrict or prohibit any behavior an individual engages in that is potentially detrimental to his or her own health, there's no limit to the infringements on liberty that are possible. And this cuts both ways. If liberals say that government can regulate "risky behavior" that imposes medical costs on taxpayers, using the same logic, proponents of sodomy laws could argue in favor of banning homosexual sex because it puts sexual partners at increased risk for getting AIDS. To be clear, I am adamantly opposed to sodomy laws, but my opposition is rooted in the same principle that prompts me to oppose banning smoking, trans-fats, and metal baseball bats. That principle is: liberty.  

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