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Reason Foundation

Reason Alert: Nanny State, Jerry Falwell

May 18, 2007

Nanny State Produces an Epidemic of Meddling
In Reason magazine's May cover story, now online, Jacob Sullum writes on the "totalitarian implications" of the government's public health crusade. Sullum finds the "new enemies of public health come from within; the aim is to protect people from themselves—from their own carelessness, shortsightedness, weak will, or bad values—rather than from each other." Sullum adds, "What do these four 'public health' problems—smoking, playing violent video games, overeating, and gambling—have in common? They’re all things that some people enjoy and other people condemn, attributing to them various bad effects. Sometimes these effects are medical, but they may also be psychological, behavioral, social, or financial. Calling the habits that supposedly lead to these consequences 'public health' problems, 'epidemics' that need to be controlled, equates choices with diseases, disguises moralizing as science, and casts meddling as medicine. It elevates a collectivist calculus of social welfare above the interests of individuals, who become subject to increasingly intrusive interventions aimed at making them as healthy as they can be, without regard to their own preferences. This tendency to call every perceived problem affecting more than two people an 'epidemic' obscures a crucial distinction. The classic targets of public health were risks imposed on people against their will, communicable diseases being the paradigmatic example. The more recent targets are risks that people voluntarily assume, such as those associated with smoking, drinking, eating junk food, exercising too little, watching TV too much, playing poker, owning a gun, driving a car without wearing a seat belt, or riding a bicycle without wearing a helmet."

Jerry Falwell: The Accidental Modernist
At Reason.com, Jesse Walker writes, "[Jerry] Falwell fulminated til the end against homosexuality, feminism, and the other alleged evils of modernity. But it's hard to escape the impression that his cohort not only lost the culture war, but perhaps did more than anyone else to usher Hollywood's America into Christian homes. In the early days, Pat Robertson's Christian Broadcasting Network refused to air reruns of Bewitched on the grounds that it promoted witchcraft. Today the outlet is owned by ABC, which calls it the ABC Family Channel and happily broadcasts not just The 700 Club but Sabrina, the Teenage Witch, not to mention the frequently ribald humor of Whose Line Is It Anyway? As intensely intolerant as Falwell could be, it's harder than ever to imagine America reembracing his views about gender relations or the sinfulness of homosexuality. The one cultural war he may have won, perhaps without even meaning to wage it, was the battle against Protestant hatred of the Roman Catholic Church. Despite his illiberal platform and rhetoric, Falwell's long-term legacy might be one of tolerance. That could depend, of course, on whether the centralized, politicized fundamentalist community he helped create survives the next media revolution. Television tends to smooth over our differences; the Internet allows diversity to bloom. The next Jerry Falwell might be sitting in a church basement right now, pointing a camcorder at himself and preparing to upload his homilies to YouTube. He might even call his little films The Old Time Gospel Minute. Don't let the title fool you."

Obama Pretends to Get Tough on the Big Three
"Last week, Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) said something that sounded dangerously like blaming the victim, at least to the soi-disant victims in Motor City: 'Here in Detroit, three giants of American industry are hemorrhaging jobs and profits as foreign competitors answer the rising global demand for fuel-efficient cars.' Everyone at the Detroit Economic Club speech was probably already grumpy, what with the recent news of Toyota surpassing GM as the world's biggest seller of cars, and gas (maybe) creeping up toward $4 a gallon. Obama's implication that their current distress was their own fault was met with 'stunned silence.' In this depressing 18-months-‘til-election-day, interest-group-courting phase of the campaign, this kind of sass from a candidate is always welcome. And what sounded like a smidge of pro-market sass from a Democrat? Even better. But what at first seemed to be a sharp thwack from a stick turned out to be mostly prelude for carrots. To soften the blow of stricter requirements fuel efficiency, Obama promised that the federal government would take on some of the 'legacy' health care costs weighting down the Big Three. He offered to cover up to $7 billion in costs through 2017 if auto makers invest half of the windfall on new technology to improve fuel efficiency in the cars they manufacture. What started out sounding like an interesting, tough economic outlook from a Midwestern Democrat turned out to be a bailout for a wheezing industry, paired with an expansion of a set out burdensome regulations." - Reason's Katherine Mangu-Ward examines how Obama and other presidential candidates will bailout automakers and address calls to raise fuel economy standards.

Smarter Charter Schools
In an LA Times debate over education reform in Los Angeles, Reason's Lisa Snell writes, "The bottom line in Los Angeles is that the standards for charter schools and their performance is continuing to improve while district-run schools are stagnant or declining. Competition among charter schools will result in higher-performing school models vying to attract students who have been ill-served by their current school. This competition has already accelerated the pace of school reform in Los Angeles and increased both the interest and investment in education reform. While charter schools may not directly serve every student in our beleaguered district, they are a true change agent that should bring positive reforms to all schools in the district."

Texas' Transportation Solutions
As the Texas legislature works to hammer out a compromise on toll roads that Gov. Rick Perry won't veto, Reason's Robert Poole writes, "Gas taxes aren't providing enough to maintain existing roads, let alone build new ones. So what's the state legislature's plan? The House just passed a bill that would completely eliminate the gas tax for the summer, pilfering $700 million from the state's transportation coffers. That should help build more roads! And then there's the legislature's 'do as I say, not as I do' approach to toll roads. The House recently approved a 30-month moratorium on privately built toll roads. The vote was an astounding 139 to 1. A vote margin like that sends a clear signal: Texas doesn't need the private sector's money to build our roads because we have other solutions ready to go. So what is the legislature's solution: toll roads. Yes, the same toll roads they just banned. Politicians in Dallas-Ft. Worth wanted to make sure the toll roads the private sector is planning to build for them can move ahead, so they sliced out a special exemption in the moratorium allowing new toll roads. San Antonio did the same. So did El Paso. All the exemptions leave the moratorium looking more like a piece of Swiss cheese than a piece of well thought out policy."

Nick Gillespie on PBS, Fox News Channel
If you missed Reason magazine Editor-in-Chief Nick Gillespie discussing the religious right, abortion, the war in Iraq and 2008 presidential election on PBS' Bill Moyers Journal last week, you can watch the segment here. Gillespie is also scheduled to appear on Fox News Channel's Red Eye on Monday, May 14, at 11 p.m. Pacific / 2 a.m. Eastern.

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