Monday, July 03, 2006

Recent commentary: should we be allowed to...?

Should people be allowed to choose whether or not to wear seat belts without penalty?

(not published in the Appleton Post-Crescent)

The larger question is: Should government be allowed to make legal activities illegal willy-nilly? Should government be allowed to pass laws "for our own good"?

We pamper drivers, you know; in Wisconsin what do we pay for a driver's license renewal? $35? Do you know how long that's good for? Eight years. Why do we do this to ourselves? If driving is, as so many claim, a privilege, then why do we almost give away that "privilege"? And auto registration is only $55 a year! It's hundreds of dollars a year in some other states.

How about that Islamic penalty for stealing: cutting off a hand? Ah! That's cruel and unusual! But people steal nonetheless. That should be proof enough that laws in and of themselves don't change behavior: they merely provide guidelines for cleaning up messes or for punishing perps.

What about a mandatory jail term for people caught driving without seat belts? That would remove the complaints of those who think the state shouldn't be collecting revenue from seat belt fines ... and wouldn't such a penalty increase seat belt usage?

Matter of fact, why not put real teeth into other behavioral-change laws? Mandatory jail terms for not having auto insurance, for smoking pot, for double-parking, etc., etc. After a while it wouldn't be considered "cruel" nor "unusual".

Horsewhipping for not paying child support?

I would say that the public health care cost argument is getting stretched thin. Does it not seem to you that this wonderful cause – the cost of public health – covers too much?

But the public-cost argument will spread, now that its proponents have seen how politically effective it is. Fatty foods, salty foods, seat belts, speeding...any behavior that could potentially hasten one's death or dismemberment, thereby placing a burden on public health services will be punished severely. I'm leery of the "slippery slope" argument, but it sure looks that way to me. Pretty soon if you so much as twitch the wrong way, you'll be hauled off to public re-education sessions at the mental health institute.

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