Saturday, September 22, 2007

Freedom isn't free...

Occasionally, I'll read something, and it will sit and gnaw at me for a couple of weeks or months until I can formulate some kind of response or somehow make sense of it.

Thus it was when an individual I respect as both a writer and an individual knocked out a piece attempting to carve out an exception to MYOB for seatbelts and motorcycle helmets. I could easily, softy that I am, see the humanitarian and fiscal sides of state intervention in requiring vehicle operators to ensure that they and all passengers wear seatbelts while an enclosed vehicle is in operation, and helmets when a motorcycle-style rig is in action.

The fiscal and humanitarian arguments spoke to me, orating on the horrific human and financial costs of brain-injured survivors and the needlessly deceased - formerly contributing members of society struck down in their prime, immediately reduced from functioning parent/child/caregiver/citizen/etc to dead or dependent for a lifetime of intense care.

Yet something troubled me about the regulatory approach, and initially I thought it might simply be that I get twitchy around the word "regulatory". Most regulation, after all, emerges from an honest (if misguided) belief by the originator(s) that a given problem can be resolved or prevented through careful regulatory application of the dead hand of the state - regardless of the said regulations real world effects after the law of unintended consequences kicks in.

For the classic horrible example with which most are familiar, Carrie Nation and her Temperance league were not setting about prohibiting alcohol as a means of promoting criminality and organized crime.

Though many laugh at them today, they saw before them the very real problem of addiction (to alcohol, in this instance) and its' effects on the alcoholic, the alcoholics family, and those in the vicinity of the out of control alcoholic - and made the logical leap that if they could remove the implement of addiction (alcohol) that all would be well with the world, as the addict would be deprived of the EEEEEVIIIIIIILLLL substance that turned them into a beast.

Didn't quite work out that way. Left, I think, a lot of us rather twitchy about the whole concept of regulation and unintended consequences. Supply, meet Demand, and his cousin, Greed.

More recently, the "War on Drugs" and the latest of the genre (the incipient "War on Tobacco") are in the process of working out about as well. There are many producers and suppliers of illicit recreational substances that, should they contemplate such things, are immensely grateful for the unintentional price supports for their products provided by the laws within the United States, and our fine nations tireless efforts to export those laws abroad.

All of which brings me back to my contemplation of honestly well-intended laws requiring seat belts and helmets. I suppose my take is that, hard-hearted as it may seem, the spectre of state intervention has sufficient historic downsides that I can get really supportive of educational efforts, but oppose governmental punitive measures with equal alacracity because of their tendency to backfire and splatter unintended consequences all over the landscape.


steph said...

As much as I hate to see people get hurt, my reaction to such regulatory efforts has always been more Darwinian; if you're dumb enough to forego a seatbelt then maybe you shouldn't be in the gene pool anyway.

I realize this is harsh view, but to me it seemed preferable to the yammerings of a nanny state.

GeorgeH said...

Most of the cost of taking care of the fools who crash sans helmet or seatbelt are due to other government mandates requiring emergency rooms to treat those without insurance or common sense.
If you crash unprotected and uninsured, and being unprotected could void your insurance if properly written and allowed, they should just wheel you out by the dumpsters in back and leave you.

Government mandates required to hold down the cost of other government mandates.