Personal Health and Safety: Whose Business Is It?

by | Oct 24, 2002

My health and other aspects of my well-being are the business of whom? You say, “What’s it now, Williams?” I’m simply asking whose business is it if I don’t adequately plan for retirement or save money for my child’s education? If I don’t wear a seatbelt while driving or a helmet while biking, whose business […]

My health and other aspects of my well-being are the business of whom?

You say, “What’s it now, Williams?”

I’m simply asking whose business is it if I don’t adequately plan for retirement or save money for my child’s education? If I don’t wear a seatbelt while driving or a helmet while biking, whose business is it? What if I don’t get enough sleep or don’t exercise enough for good health — should government force me to, under the pain of punishment? In other words, should Congress have the power to force people to do what’s in their own health, safety and welfare interests?

I’m afraid that most Americans believe that government should be able to force people to do what’s in their health, safety and welfare interests. Their reasoning might be that if I don’t wear a helmet while biking or a seatbelt while driving, I might have an accident, become a vegetable and become a burden on other Americans as taxpayers.

That reasoning fueled much of the anti-tobacco zealotry, confiscatory cigarette taxes, and federal, state and local government lawsuits against tobacco companies in the name of recouping tobacco-related healthcare costs. Emboldened by their dramatic success in their war against smokers, America’s neo-Nazis have now turned their attention to the food industry, with lawsuits against the McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s and KFC, alleging that they have created an addiction to fatty foods.

Fast-food chains are alleged to have contributed to obesity-related health problems and increased healthcare costs. Like the tobacco Nazis, the food Nazis are calling for government regulation and taxes on foods they deem non-nutritious. Already timid CEOs of fast-food chains, like their tobacco-industry counterparts, are beginning to cave to legal hustlers. Caving is easy for these cowardly executives because they simply raise prices and pass the costs on to their buying public.

Should the fact that if I become injured by not wearing a seatbelt or sick from eating and smoking too much, and become a burden on taxpayers, determine whether I’m free to not wear a seatbelt or puff cigarettes and gorge myself? Is there a problem with freedom? I say no, it’s a problem of socialism. There is absolutely no moral case for government’s taking another American’s earnings, through taxes, to care for me for any reason whatsoever. Doing so is simply a slightly less offensive form of slavery. Keep in mind that the essence of slavery is the forceful use of one person to serve the purposes or benefit of another.

Allowing government to be in the business of caring for people for any reason moves us farther down the road to serfdom. After all, if government is going to take care of us, it will assume it has a “right” to dictate how we live. Right now, the government has successfully attacked cigarette smokers. They are well on their way, with the help of crooked lawyers and judges, to doing the same thing to fast-food companies, soda manufacturers, candy-makers and other producers of foods deemed fattening or non-nutritious.

When these people finish with food producers, what might be next on their agenda? Numerous health studies have shown that sedentary lifestyles and lack of exercise also contribute to healthcare costs. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if America’s neo-Nazis call for government mandates requiring morning exercises, biking, jogging and fitness facility memberships.

You say, “Williams, that’s stretching it!” That’s exactly what an American who might have died in 1950 would have said about the attack on smokers and fast-food restaurants.

Walter Williams (March 31, 1936 – December 1, 2020) was an American economist, commentator, academic, and columnist at Capitalism Magazine. He was the John M. Olin Distinguished Professor of Economics at George Mason University, and a syndicated editorialist for Creator's Syndicate. He is author of Race and Economics: How Much Can Be Blamed on Discrimination?, and numerous other works.

The views expressed above represent those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the editors and publishers of Capitalism Magazine. Capitalism Magazine sometimes publishes articles we disagree with because we think the article provides information, or a contrasting point of view, that may be of value to our readers.

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