A Question of Ownership

Although our attention is focused on other things these days, I continue to oppose the Obama administration’s efforts to manipulate the health-care system, and a column by A. Barton Hinkle at Reason gets to the heart of much of my concern. The occasion for Hinkle’s article is a recent NYT opinion piece that calls for government “nudging” (in the form of what are essentially “sin taxes”) regarding food choices, in order to lead people to do what the Elect have decided is good for them. As Hinkle states:

This is a subject of great concern to progressives today. Many of them are deeply distressed that—despite incessant lecturing on the subject—too many of their fellow citizens continue to eat what they like, rather than what progressives think they should eat.

Now the only sensible response to this sort of thing is to tell the scolds in question to mind their own damned business, and this has served society pretty well for quite a long time. However, when the government starts claiming responsibility for paying our health-care bills — or more to the point, when we start abdicating that responsibility to the government — we find ourselves on the receiving end of arguments like this, as Hinkle reports:

Some might “argue that their right to eat whatever they wanted was being breached,” [the NYT writer] concedes, “but public health is the role of the government, and our diet is right up there with any other public responsibility you can name, from water treatment to mass transit.” Besides, “health-related obesity costs are projected to reach $344 billion by 2018—with roughly 60 percent of that cost borne by the federal government.” In short, the government should dictate what you eat for the sake of the collective good.

In short, when we assign the responsibility for our bodies to the State, how can we consistently maintain our ownership of those bodies? Of course, for some, that’s the point; after all, we’re told, “the personal is political.” And what that means, as Hinkle observes, is that:

The progressive campaign against obesity relies on the assumption that the individual no longer owns his or her body—rather, society as a whole does. This has some profound implications for, say, abortion. And Bittman’s contribution to that campaign should serve as a warning: Anyone who thinks it would be “fun” [a term the NYT writer uses] to use government power to dictate everyone else’s choices—from sex partner to dinner menu—should not be allowed anywhere near it.

But more directly, there are terms for a situation in which some people (either individually or collectively) own the bodies of others. They range from imprisonment to slavery, and none of them strike me as desirable conditions. Best to avoid giving our would be jailers and owners any grounds for self-justification — they’ll think up enough on their own.

About profmondo

Dad, husband, mostly free individual, medievalist, writer, and drummer. "Gladly wolde he lerne and gladly teche."
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2 Responses to A Question of Ownership

  1. The Ancient says:

    Hinkle writes: “For the price of a single fast-food combo meal you can buy a week’s worth of fruits and vegetables.”

    I wonder where he shops. (Now, in season, local peaches are $2.99 a pound. The contents of a green salad are almost always several dollars. Green vegetables — asparagus, peas, broccoli, brussels sprouts, etc. — are expensive year-round. A single ear of corn at the height of summer costs 50 cents. Meanwhile, a double quarter-pounder meal is — what? — almost eight dollars with tax.)

  2. dave schutz says:

    I want to muddy the waters here: my kid has had a friend who was adopted from Russia. And I know folks who have adopted from Russia. Fetal alcoholism syndrome – it’s grim. So, I’m willing to be pretty coercive of pregnant women to stay off the sauce (cocaine and methamphetamine, too) no matter how much I like the general idea that we own ourselves.

    Bittman (the NYT writer) – I’m fond of the guy. We have two of his cookbooks, and they are among the best I’ve ever cooked from. He thinks about what is necessary in the recipe, talks about why, I have a lot of success with them. How to Cook Everything – next time you are cruising your fave used book store, look for it.

    I do think these guys ought to get a little bit humble as the salt-is-the-devil orthodoxy crumbles around them.

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