Mr. Nanny State strikes again

When I heard a recent news report of a NY legislative bill to require skiers to wear safety helmets, I could instantly guess the sponsor: Brooklyn Assemblyman Felix Ortiz.

Just for fun, I googled “Felix Ortiz nanny state,” and got quite a lot of hits. This Mr. Nanny State also attracted much publicity recently (maybe that’s his real point?) with his bill to prohibit restaurants from using any salt. I’m not making that up.

Previously, he sponsored legislation to ban “trans-fats” in restaurants. And requiring all restaurants to post calorie counts. And requiring every “cabaret” to install security cameras at every entrance and exit. And requiring sports arenas to provide “protective netting” for spectators. And prohibiting the state from doing business with any company involved with “provocative children and youth clothing.” (Would we need a “State Provocative Clothing Division” staffed with bureaucrats tasked with issuing formal determinations as to whether a miniskirt is too short?)

Click HERE for a lengthy list of Ortiz’s legislative initiatives – proudly displayed at his website.

Most of them seem, well, well-intentioned. In a perfect world, maybe most of these things would be done. In a perfect world, we’d live forever too. But no matter what we do, the human mortality rate is still going to be 100%. Given that reality, trying to protect people from every possible danger is chimerical.

But, more broadly, what’s missing from this Ortiz legislative farrago is simple common sense. Common sense would consider whether a program’s benefits are really worth the costs. Cost never seems to enter the heads of nanny staters like Ortiz – not only costs to individuals and taxpayers, but costs to businesses in complying with all this labyrinthine legislation. If every Ortiz bill were passed, every business in New York would have to hire a brace of employees just to keep track of all the requirements. Of course, higher costs to businesses ultimately mean higher costs for consumers – and maybe fewer businesses – and fewer jobs – and, in the end, lower living standards. Who will protect us from that?

Just as one example, we’ve actually heard a lot about making restaurants post calorie counts; it almost seems noncontroversial. But suppose you run a little luncheonette. How are you supposed to determine the calorie count in the tuna sandwich on your menu? Huh? Compliance with such requirements is bound to be an expensive nightmare for small businesses; maybe even making their businesses impossible.

What we really need is protection from the likes of Felix Ortiz.

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4 Responses to “Mr. Nanny State strikes again”

  1. Lee Says:

    Thanks for a thought provoking post (yet again!). Here’s what it got me thinking about.

    Life’s a lot more complicated then it was 200 years ago. Back then if you lived in a farming community then maybe the most significant dangers you needed to know about were those associated with livestock and machinery. If you learned from your parents how to be careful in these domains you knew pretty much everything you needed to know in terms of dangers around you.

    Today is different. On Friday I will be a passenger on a flight from the United States to Beijing, China. I don’t have the time or the skills to do a full inspection of the airplane, of the pilots and their records, of the on board food, etc. I have to trust someone to do those things for me. And that’s just what I need for Friday. The day before I’ll be using my car, which unlike the technology of yesteryear, would require a tremendous effort on my part to fully understand the workings of. Given the universality of these needs and their life-and-death implications, I think it is reasonable for the government to play a role. The fact is, I very much want full time help with issues just like these; I very much want a nanny.

    So, labeling a legislator or his legislation as “nanny” is not a slur in my book. Nor is it an automatic positive either — I have to look at the further details. I am not a skier, so I don’t know what the cost of having to wear a helmet is. Is it a nuisance beyond a short adaptation period and a minimal cost? Are there a lot of head injuries in skiing? Perhaps it is my ignorance, but this proposed legislation sounds much like seat belt laws, and helmet laws for motorcycles — and the cost (not so much) to benefit (saves many lives) ratios of these latter seem reasonable to me.

    Banning salt at restaurants? For that one, the cost (many excellent dishes lose their appeal) significantly outweighs the benefits (excess salt can be bad, but actually it’s an essential nutrient, you know).

    Sure, if I had the time and the skills, I could inspect the cars, determine the combined safety of ski equipment I plan to use, etc., but it is quite helpful to have a nanny to help me with these things, at least in those circumstances where any downsides of having the nanny are fairly insignificant.

    A luncheonette owner could do the calorie count for a tuna sandwich, yes? Just read the numbers off the can of tuna, loaf of bread, mayonnaise jar; prorate each according to portion; and add. Am I missing something? Although perhaps not yet at the mom&pop luncheonettes, unfortunately food creation is now a highly engineered science where producers do all sorts of things to foods that our “common sense” can’t necessarily figure out after the fact; can’t figure out without the aid of our nanny, that is.

    FSR RESPONSE: Thanks for your comment. A reasonable level of safety doesn’t necessarily mean it has to be achieved by government nannying. Human beings are, generally, pretty intelligent, and our society is organized to be remarkably supportive of human needs. Your mention of air safety brings to mind my previous post on this subject (click here). Likewise with cars. In general, it’s reasonable to trust that the car manufacturer will strive to make reasonably safe cars. Toyota, you say? Yeah — look at the horrid publicity, enough to scare the —- out of any carmaker to be doubly sure its cars don’t have such problems. I am much more willing to trust the market’s judgment on this sort of thing than to trust legislators like Felix Ortiz.

  2. Lee Says:

    Good points. I happen to drive Toyotas, and there is a decent chance I will buy another when the time comes. So, yes I do trust the manufacturers. But I couldn’t help noticing that Toyota was a little slow in releasing the information for this recent scare, and I think it was the governmental intervention (or the looming possibility of it) that helped get that information out.

    And, unfortunately there are Enrons and AIGs where the incentives seem to be upside down, and the damage is not detectable until it is too late. Even the nanny has trouble detecting things in these cases.

    To nanny or not too nanny, perhaps that is not the question. Perhaps it is nobler in the mind to consider the particulars of each individual idea.

  3. Brad Says:

    We have the unique ability to think and reason for ourselves, and that ability knows no bounds (we don’t know what we don’t know?). It’s arguably the biggest thing we waste as well.

    In my opinion it’s because it’s easier to do nothing than it is to do something,and that includes using thought and applying logic. Some are more predisposed to this condition than others.The very lack of using one’s head in the first place is the reason for a lot of ideas like Mr. Ortiz to come forth.

  4. Gregory Kipp Says:

    I may lean towards the liberal side of things, but banning salt in restaurants is going too far!! Transparancy and good information is as much of a “nanny” as I need. I don’t like it when food companies don’t tell me they put unhealthy transfats in their products. But I don’t want the government telling me I can’t eat it if I want to. In such a case, the governement needs to set content labeling requirements and provide nutritional information … and that’s enough.

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