In the entire history of economic thought, nobody has ever been able to demonstrate that there is an objectively “right” price for anything separate and apart from the subjective valuation that happens in the marketplace. Progressives like speeches about diversity, but they loathe the actual diversity of views and desires, especially the idea that prices should be sorted out according to the billions of subjective valuations in the marketplace through a process that nobody is in charge of. (In Dante’s Hell, the engraving reads: “Abandon Hope All Ye Who Enter Here.” In Ezra Klein’s Hell, the engraving reads: “Nobody In Charge.”) Implicit in this belief is that most people — consumers and workers alike — are too stupid or too weak for us to allow them to act on their own subjective valuations, that we are compelled by … justice, efficiency, expert opinion, whatever … to substitute our own judgment for theirs. And then all you need is two government studies and a rent-a-philosopher writing in the New York Times to proclaim that there is some real-world basis for your own preferences as compared to those of the rabble on whose behalf you have just deputized yourself to organize the world. The language of “social justice” is largely a sort of moral minstrel show designed to distract from the real argument, which is: “You’re too stupid to be entrusted with your own life.” Something close to the entirety of the progressive agenda (apart from sexual license), from wage rules to health care to “investments” in modish fantasy projects to industrial policy, assumes that that metaphysically correct price is out there, simply waiting for the right people with the right ideas in service of the right policy to discover them, or at least to approximate them.
Kevin D. Williamson, “The Profit Police”, National Review, 2014-06-30.
April 24, 2015
April 10, 2015
Brendan O’Neill on the odd disconnect between American views of Scotland (roughly summed up by kilts, whisky, and Braveheart) and the reality:
… far from being a land of freedom-yearning Bravehearts, Scotland in the 21st century is a hotbed of the new authoritarianism. It’s the most nannying of Europe’s nanny states. It’s a country that imprisons people for singing songs, instructs people to stop smoking in their own homes, and which dreams of making salad-eating compulsory. Seriously. Scotland the Brave has become Scotland the Brave New World.
If you had to guess which country in the world recently sent a young man to jail for the crime of singing an offensive song, I’m guessing most of you would plumb for Putin’s Russia or maybe Saudi Arabia. Nope, it’s Scotland.
Last month, a 24-year-old fan of Rangers, the largely Protestant soccer team, was banged up for four months for singing “The Billy Boys,” an old anti-Catholic ditty that Rangers fans have been singing for years, mainly to annoy fans of Celtic, the largely Catholic soccer team. He was belting it out as he walked along a street to a game. He was arrested, found guilty of songcrimes—something even Orwell failed to foresee—and sent down.
It’s all thanks to the Offensive Behaviour at Football Act, which, yes, is as scary as it sounds. Introduced in 2012 by the Scottish National Party, the largest party in Scotland the Brave New World and author of most of its new nanny-state laws, the Act sums up everything that is rotten in the head of this sceptred isle. Taking a wild, wide-ranging scattergun approach, it outlaws at soccer matches “behaviour of any kind,” including, “in particular, things said or otherwise communicated,” that is “motivated (wholly or partly) by hatred” or which is “threatening” or which a “reasonable person would be likely to consider offensive.”
Got that? At soccer games in Scotland it is now illegal to do or say anything — and “in particular” to say it — that is hateful or threatening or just offensive. Now, I don’t know how many readers have been to a soccer game in Britain, but offensiveness, riling the opposing side, is the gushing lifeblood of the game. Especially in Scotland. Banning at soccer matches hateful or offensive comments, chants, songs, banners, or badges — all are covered by the Offensive Behaviour Act — is like banning cheerleaders from American football. Sure, our cheerleaders are gruffer, drunker, fatter, and more foul-mouthed than yours, but they play a similarly key role in getting the crowds going.
The Offensive Behaviour Act has led to Celtic fans being arrested in dawn raids for the crime of singing pro-I.R.A. songs — which they do to irritate Rangers fans — and Rangers fans being hauled to court for chanting less-than-pleasant things about Catholics.
Even blessing yourself at a soccer game in Scotland could lead to arrest. Catholic fans have been warned that if they “bless themselves aggressively” at games, it could be “construed as something that is offensive,” presumably to non-Catholic fans, and the police might pick them up. You don’t have to look to some Middle Eastern tinpot tyranny if you want to see the state punishing public expressions of Christian faith — it’s happening in Scotland.
March 11, 2015
March 9, 2015
Matt Walsh has a message for all those net neutrality warriors doing their fist-bumps of triumph:
Dear Net Neutrality Proponents,
You dear, sweet buffoons.
I know you’re quite impressed that the Federal Communications Commission just passed a sweeping set of regulations granting themselves control over the Internet. President Barack Obama considers this a glorious victory. Liberals and Democrats across the land are delighted. Even some corners of cyber space — the ones populated by masochists and nincompoops — are cheering loudly, excited to finally be under the jurisdiction of an enormous federal bureaucracy. Hallelujah!
Now, Gullible Americans, I realize that you think you’ve just been once again liberated from the shackles of the free market and whisked away to a fanciful land where Father Government makes sure everything is nice and fair and everyone is sharing their toys like good boys and girls. I know you are under this impression. I mean, I can’t blame you. It’s right there in the title. They call it “Net Neutrality,” for goodness sake! It’s neutral! Neutral means fair! Fair Internet! Who can quibble with a fair Internet! Only big bad corporations and their right wing minions, you think. Fox News and the Koch Brothers and Lex Luthor and other scary names.
The FCC tells us that Net Neutrality will give us a free and open Internet by granting them the power to regulate it under laws that were written 60 years before the Internet existed as a common household service. Consumers need to be protected from the possibility that Internet providers will block traffic to certain sites, or set up paid prioritization systems for consumers or web services who pay more. That’s what this is all about, you think. The FCC is looking out for the little guy again.
Good old FCC, always fighting for truth, justice, and bureaucratic control.
But, see, this is where I need you to stop and think, Gullible Americans. It’s too late now, but I need you to finally try to learn something here. The government is not the knight in shining armor you think it is — even when it’s run by Democrats.
March 5, 2015
Published on 4 Mar 2015
They’re busting backyard archery in Minnesota, and massage shops in California, but you’ll find the Nanny of the Month in the Big Sky state where one lawmaker got his undies in a bunch over the Bare as You Dare bike ride and decided to crack down on indecent exposure, including yoga pants! (Especially the extra-naughty beige colored ones.)
But wait, is the whole ban one big joke or is the state representative who proposed it backpedaling in the face of ridicule?
March 4, 2015
At Taxicab Depressions, Taxi Hack offers a few thoughts on current events:
If you have read my post The Pig Trap, you know of my absolute bewilderment at the current state of our country. Our government is utterly lawless, just making shit up as they go along, creating regulations and executive edicts to bypass the Congress and the Constitution, committing crimes in the furtherance of those goals, and nobody ever gets in trouble, unless he screwing someone he shouldn’t be, and nobody ever loses their job or goes before a judge, and most importantly, nobody seems to give a fuck. Everything is just fucking dandy, as long as we can binge-watch Girls and Entourage on HBO GO and Katy Perry’s next single doesn’t suck and that hot chick from Club Plush texts me next week…
I wake up every day around two or three in the afternoon, make a cup of coffee and turn on the news, just waiting for the day when it finally happens, the day that something finally snaps, and I am listening to Sheppard Smith breathlessly trying to describe shaky video of a mob of 500,000 or 800,000 pissed off taxpayers that has invaded Washington and are lining every street in D.C., armed to the teeth, and erecting scaffolding on the National Mall.
Actually, that’s not how I think it is going to go, but I promise you… what can not go on, will NOT go on.
A couple days ago, a five member panel of unelected bureaucrats called the FCC voted 3 to 2 to seize control of the internet for the Federal government, without so much as a “by your leave” to the Congress. It’s not like your Congressman or Senator did this, these were three UNELECTED political appointees, all DEMOCRATS, which I think is worthy of mention, and they just decided that they have the power to regulate what you say and what you view on the internet, without asking you what YOU think about that. They came up with a big fat Rule Book For The Internet that they would not show to the public before the vote, and now that they have deemed they have the authority to do this and voted to institute their new Rule Book For The Internet, they STILL won’t show the public their new Rule Book For The Internet.
How is that not a Joe Biden-sized Big Fucking Deal for you? THREE PEOPLE you never heard of and certainly never voted for just took over control of the internet for the government, and they are not showing the public what the new rules will be. Does that mean websites will have to get a government “license”, like radio stations? And will they have a list of bad things they can’t say, or they will be fined and maybe even LOSE their license? Nobody knows, because they will not show the public the rules they are creating.
February 24, 2015
Three years ago, The Los Angeles Times published a feel-good story on the Little Free Library movement. The idea is simple: A book lover puts a box or shelf or crate of books in their front yard. Neighbors browse, take one, and return later with a replacement. A 76-year-old in Sherman Oaks, California, felt that his little library, roughly the size of a dollhouse, “turned strangers into friends and a sometimes-impersonal neighborhood into a community,” the reporter observed. The man knew he was onto something “when a 9-year-old boy knocked on his door one morning to say how much he liked the little library.” He went on to explain, “I met more neighbors in the first three weeks than in the previous 30 years.”
Since 2009, when a Wisconsin man built a little, free library to honor his late mother, who loved books, copycats inspired by his example have put thousands of Little Free Libraries all over the U.S. and beyond. Many are displayed on this online map. In Venice, where I live, I know of at least three Little Free Libraries, and have witnessed chance encounters where folks in the neighborhood chat about a book.
I wish that I was writing merely to extol this trend. Alas, a subset of Americans are determined to regulate every last aspect of community life. Due to selection bias, they are overrepresented among local politicians and bureaucrats. And so they have power, despite their small-mindedness, inflexibility, and lack of common sense so extreme that they’ve taken to cracking down on Little Free Libraries, of all things.
Last summer in Kansas, a 9-year-old was loving his Little Free Library until at least two residents proved that some people will complain about anything no matter how harmless and city officials pushed the boundaries of literal-mindedness:
The Leawood City Council said it had received a couple of complaints about Spencer Collins’ Little Free Library. They dubbed it an “illegal detached structure” and told the Collins’ they would face a fine if they did not remove the Little Free Library from their yard by June 19.
Scattered stories like these have appeared in various local news outlets. The L.A. Times followed up last week with a trend story that got things just about right. “Crime, homelessness and crumbling infrastructure are still a problem in almost every part of America, but two cities have recently cracked down on one of the country’s biggest problems: small-community libraries where residents can share books,” Michael Schaub wrote. “Officials in Los Angeles and Shreveport, Louisiana, have told the owners of homemade lending libraries that they’re in violation of city codes, and asked them to remove or relocate their small book collections.”
February 20, 2015
Sarah Hoyt recently bought a new washer, and realized something while being lectured about her choice by the salesperson:
Which is when I realized I was in the presence of a true believer whose mind would not be dented by facts. I let Dan lead her to the computer and make up the order, and older son has nicknamed me “She who makes washer saleswomen cry.”
So, what is the point of this? If it were just a funny story about buying a washer, I might still tell it, but it’s not.
Look, the problem is that we are being ruled (and yep, ruled, not governed) by a group of people who, like the saleswoman, think the intention is the thing.
We’ll leave aside for a moment the need or wisdom for water/electricity/etc. saving. First, in Colorado water is expensive so saving it is always a good idea. Second, that is not what their measures are achieving.
Take our first exposure to water saving toilets, twenty some years ago. We built a new bathroom and needed a toilet and the only ones for sale were “water saving.” What this meant in practical fact was that I acquired a new hobby: flushing the toilet.
The toilet worked (supposedly) with half the water, but it took four flushes to get anything, even a little bit of toilet paper, down. Do the math. I was expending twice as much water, and a lot of time and frustration. (We quickly switched to air assist. After the experience.)
In the same way, our current dishwasher complies with water and electricity saving measures. This means to achieve the same temperature, it has a thick coat of insulation ALL around. Which means it takes half the dishes at a time. Again, do the math. I have to run it for twice as long, which means no savings.
It has an additional unamusing quirk. Every time you wash, you have to select hot wash and sanitizing. Otherwise it just sloshes some water at the dishes and calls it done. We didn’t figure this out for five years which means for five years we conducted a study in epidemiology. I mean, guys, even in the village, when we were poor as Job, grandma boiled water for the final dish rinse to be as hot as possible. Otherwise you not only get not really clean dishes, you get to share the germs of everyone whose dishes go in the same water.
Then there’s the washer. The first we bought was the Neptune, years and years ago, which was so water saving it developed mold and mildew.
The current one recycles the water, so it washes better, but the rinses must happen, and the rinses, again, make it use the same water as anything else. All the low-water washers need a lot of rinses.
“But Sarah, you have a condition that makes you sensitive to detergent. Other people don’t.”
Granted. Which is why there hasn’t been an uprising with pitchforks, or at least washing mangles, yet. Because for the last five years I’ve been a slave to that washer and I’ve always been behind in the wash to the point that we ended up buying four times the clothes we needed, because the wash was bound to be backed up. When each load takes a minimum of two hours (the boys also react to detergent) and you have 14 or so loads a week (not counting cats peeing on Robert’s bed – yes, always his bed. Don’t know why) things slow to a crawl.
And the answer “Oh, you need to use less detergent.” BUT the cleaning went down in proportion to the detergent going down.
I’m not going to talk to other “eco friendly” measures or not extensively. I don’t have the personal experience to.
I do, however, know that the curly lightbulbs were a fiasco. I know that attempts to wish into existence energy by means other than fossil fuels are either failures or scams (Solyndra) and I know that the “enhanced” with “fillers” gas destroys cars, so that they have to be replaced sooner. Now, I’m not an expert, but I’d guess the manufacturing process causes more pollution than just burning regular gas.
So why do they keep passing ever more and more restrictive laws, demanding the thing we use for everyday living meet THEIR standards which as far as I can tell they pull from air?
I think it’s the arrogant certainty that if they keep whipping the dead horse it will get up and pull the load. Or in other words, they’re sure that the only reason they’re not getting what they want is that some mean person is holding it back from them, and if they demand it loud enough and now with more laws, it will eventually be given.
Think of them as the kid throwing himself to the floor in the candy isle and screaming for candy, refusing to hear his mother’s answer that she has no money. That’s about what they are: tyrannical, demanding, infantile and blind to reality.
And of course, when reality fails to comply with their dreams, they just scream louder. Or in this case, they pass laws which distort the simplest facts of daily living for the rest of us.
How long are we going to be hostage to brats who are unable to realize laws don’t cause reality to happen and words have no force to change facts of life?
How long till we get tired of being forced to do household chores inefficiently and paying for it in both time and money, without any appreciable benefit to anyone.
Eric Scheie over at Classical values, when I blogged there, had a post about there being a war on things that work.
He was right, though the intent is “creating a world where things work the way bureaucrats want them to” – which mostly means in defiance of scientific fact.
It is time to take back science, and common sense too.
And in the meantime, we can make washer saleswomen cry!
February 10, 2015
The strength of the populists consists in a certain naïveté. They actually believe in “democracy.” And they are all mystical “nationalists” within their respective statist domains. They think that the nature of the modern State can be changed; that it would be possible, for instance, to downsize it, to reduce taxes, to maybe pay down some debt, to make the agencies of the State responsive to their individual customers, more reflective of human decency, &c. In power, they confront the reality, of machinery vastly large and complex, regulations fantastically detailed and comprehensive, all backed by the power of written law, to be enforced when necessary by violence. And being crass, the best they can do is empty their chamberpots into the machine, here and there. They prove rank amateurs, and upon their removal from office, the “natural party of government” returns, to make some minor sloppy repairs, then resume the mission of Nanny Statecraft — with ambitious new programmes and departments to reward dependency, and crush the spirit of liberty and enterprise; focusing their efforts to make sure that trouble does not arise from the same quarter again.
The citizen of every modern Nation State is fully integrated with that machinery: strapped into place and identifiable by serial number. There is nothing voluntary in his participation: the definition of an “outlaw” has been amended over time, to mean specifically failure to cooperate with any government agent, or to surrender immediately to his demands. (I laugh, bitterly, when a media smartie proposes e.g. mandatory voting, as if adding more idiots to the electorate will improve anything. And yet I welcome it as a frank admission that democracy is a totalitarian creed.)
I do not see how this machinery could ever be peacefully dismantled, given not only its scale, but its claim to the universal authority once accorded only to God. Now that it has had five centuries to grow (counting from the real Reformation, when such as Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries, and appropriated Church property and titles to the State, subjecting divine to profane authority throughout his realm) I do not anticipate a quick turnaround. I do, however, see that when it collapses, the machinery will come down directly on top of all of us.
David Warren, “Hapless Voters”, Essays in Idleness, 2014-05-26.
December 29, 2014
Published on 29 Dec 2014
Our nation’s control freaks got even freakier in 2014 – from jetpacks to parking apps, eco-ATMs and powdered alcohol, they were determined to kill anything cutting edge.
They targeted everything from dogs in parks to births at home, and they’ll sic cops on you for hoarding or smelling bad. You might even get busted for doing things that are legal–like vaping while driving, warning motorists about speed traps, or putting up Christmas lights.
And whether it’s yanking chocolate milk, boogie boards, homemade libraries or sunscreen(?!), the control freaks are (all together now!): Doing it for the children.
It’s fitting, then, that 2014’s Nanny of the Year recipients justified their power grab on the same grounds (although the real reason may have more to do with protecting city officials from future caught-on-tape embarrassments).
Check out how one cop’s rant (“Obama has decimated the friggin’ Constitution”) embarrassed a city council into taking home this year’s top dishonors!
November 20, 2014
In The Federalist, Rachel Lu says that Neanderthals were better at parenting than modern humans:
Is it just me, or has the world gone completely crazy when it comes to childrearing?
You know what I’m talking about. Once upon a time, people expected to get married in early adulthood and have kids at reasonable intervals. Parents stayed married and paid the bills, while kids played in front yards and freely opened sidewalk lemonade stands. Children fit naturally into the rhythm of American life.
Nowadays, we treat children like a deathly plague, unless of course you’ve decided you want one. Then they become a luxury good worth tens or even hundreds of thousands. Once acquired, they must be treated like prize poodles, feted and protected at every turn.
The traditional family model has largely been put through the shredder, much to the detriment of children. We try to make up for this by hovering over our kids every second, and sending the police after parents who still think it’s fine to take their grandparents’ more laid-back, “let the kids play” approach.
In other words, our ideas about family are a huge, hairy mess. It’s strange we would have so much trouble figuring out a thing that’s been done since Neanderthal times. Then again, maybe that’s the real problem. Unlike Neanderthals, we’re obsessed with figuring out how to do this. We’ve fought tooth and nail to free ourselves from the natural implications of our biology and, as a reward, we now have to plan every detail of family formation. There’s no taking comfort in “the done thing” anymore. Parenthood today is all about doing it right.
November 12, 2014
In The Federalist, Daniel Payne explains what the food nannies really mean by the term “national food policy”:
In the past I have used the term “food system” as shorthand for the industrial paradigm of food production, but for Bittman et al. to talk about the “food system” in such a way exposes it for the ridiculous concept it really is. There is no “food system,” not in the sense of a truly unified body of fully interdependent constituent parts: the “food system” is actually composed of millions of individuals acting privately and voluntarily, in different cities, counties, and states, as part of different companies and corporations and individual businesses, in elective concert with each other and with the rest of the world. To speak if it as a single “system” is deeply misguided, at least insofar as it is not a single entity but an endlessly complex patchwork of fully autonomous beings.
Thus when the authors write about “align[ing] agricultural policies,” they are not speaking in some ill-defined abstract about government policy; they are talking about forcing actual farmers to grow and do things the authors want. When they write of the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Agriculture monitoring “food production,” they are actually advocating that these federal agencies go after and punish people who are not farming in the way the authors want them to farm — and all this without Congress having passed a single law.
The authors are advocating, in other words, for a kind of executive dictatorship over the nation’s farmers, farms, and food supply. While it is unsurprising that they would use this dictatorship to attack the people who grow the food, it is also undeniable that this “national food policy” would target consumers as well. Such a “food system” cannot exist, after all, without people who are willing to purchase and consume its products.
The authors are not merely fed up with their big agribusiness boogeymen; they are also fed up with you for buying agribusiness products, and they want to use the government to make you stop. That you have broken no laws now, and will have broken no laws even after this “policy” goes into effect, is immaterial. They wish for the government to boss you around simply because your shopping purchases displease them. That they are too cowardly to come right out and say so is very telling of who they are—as men, and as advocates of the “public health.” Shame on them for being too spineless to tell the truth of their motives.
November 10, 2014
Patrick Basham on the nanny staters’ need to nag us about our food choices, even though most of their efforts are counter-productive:
Calorie counts on menus and menu boards are the food police’s unsubtle attempt to educate us into making ‘better’ choices. Most of us neither need nor appreciate this bureaucratic nudge.
In America, such mandates are included in the Affordable Care Act (‘Obamacare’) that kicked in this year. So, national restaurant chains are now required to disclose calorie counts in their menus. And three years ago in the UK, then-health secretary Andrew Lansley asked restaurants to ‘voluntarily’ label food with calorie counts.
Proponents of this policy believe that consumers are generally uninformed about their restaurant meals, especially the calorie counts. Therefore, providing consumers with this information will make a substantial difference to both what, and how much, people eat and, consequently, enable them to lose weight.
These assumptions are wrong. The scientific evidence strongly suggests that calorie counts are ineffective and potentially counter-productive for certain consumers. In fact, the vast majority of this evidence was available long (and in some cases, decades) before these regulations were rolled out.
Calorie counts do not produce the behavioural changes that their proponents envision. For example, over a decade of nutritional labelling, including calorie content, of processed food has failed to have any significant impact on obesity levels. Furthermore, studies have found that providing nutritional labelling brings about no net nutritional gains because consumers have a defined ‘nutrient budget’. This means that consumers tend to reward themselves for calorie or fat deprivation, for example, by increasing their calorie or fat content with another dish at the same meal or at a latter meal.
[…] consumers see labelling, particularly about calories, as a form of government warning: ‘Don’t eat this food, it has too many calories!’ The research evidence demonstrating the failure of such warnings is legion. In fact, such warnings can be profoundly counter-productive, as they can lead not only to the information being ignored, but to behaviour directly at odds with the health-based message. Identifying menu items as low-calorie or healthy can antagonise customers who see this as attempting to interfere with their freedom of choice.
This calorie count policy is also deeply inappropriate. The evidence suggests that it is not regulation designed to provide information for ‘informed’ choices, but regulation designed to change supplier and consumer behaviour based on the assumption that the regulator knows best.
Calorie counts are nothing more than a form of soft stigmatisation in which the government attempts to use calories to declare otherwise legal foods as, in some way, illegitimate. In effect, calories are really shorthand for the fact that certain foods are deemed ‘bad’.
August 14, 2014
In sp!ked, Rossa Minogue agrees with the Campaign for Real Ale that the British pub as a fixture of daily life is in rapid decline, but warns that CAMRA’s proposed remedy will not turn things around:
Britain’s pubs are in peril. In 1982, there were almost 68,000 pubs in the UK; today there are fewer than 55,000. They continue to close at a rate of 31 a week.
Pubs in the suburbs are said to be worst affected, with three per cent of all suburban pubs having closed in the past six months alone. A report by the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) blames the closures on lax planning regulations that allow pubs to be bought and converted into other kinds of businesses without having to seek permission from the local council. CAMRA’s answer is to call for more planning regulations that would make it difficult to convert your favourite boozer into a Tesco Metro. Publicans have blamed cheap supermarket booze for eating into their revenues and have backed calls for minimum pricing to make drinking at home less attractive. There are no doubt many other factors at work. The ubiquity of mobile phones, for one, makes it easier to arrange a meeting with a friend at short notice, which means the idea of being the ‘regular’ who pops into a ‘local’ unannounced in the hope of bumping into someone one knows is becoming a thing of the past.
Further regulation, however, is not the answer. In fact, as demonstrated by their enthusiastic support for the smoking ban, CAMRA has failed to see that regulations are one of the main things that are killing pubs. Stricter planning laws would do little to address the underlying reasons why pubs are closing. After all, if pubs were drawing the crowds they needed to be viable, why would they be selling up in the first place? Rising rents have been cited as a cause, but the businesses lining up to take over pub premises don’t seem to have a problem paying them.
Pub culture is under threat, but not by greedy property developers desperate to turn every suburban highstreet into a row of Costa Coffees. Rather, the threat comes from the degradation of public life, a process nudged along by a state that disapproves of our habits.
July 21, 2014
In The Week, Michael Brendan Dougherty wonders why so many parents are being arrested these days for letting their children do things that used to be utterly normal:
Last month, when the first wave of these stories came out, I suggested it was a problem of helicopter parents enforcing their notions of parenthood on others. But the number and variety of such incidents suggest that something more is at work. The communities that are happy to watch the kids in the neighborhood, and help parents with an extra set of eyes and a few caramels, are just gone. We’re arresting parents because civil society is retreating from children altogether.
Timothy Carney, a columnist for The Washington Examiner and a father of five, attributes it to a decline of “neighborliness.” And that’s certainly true. People see a kid, imagine a bad thing could happen to them, and then think they should call the cops. Whereas “neighborly adults look after other adults’ kids when the parents are unavailable.”
Gracy Olmstead, in a very smart article for The American Conservative, says that all of this waning of society and waxing of the state was predicted by communitarian libertarian Robert Nisbet:
Nisbet predicted that, in a society without strong private associations, the State would take their place — assuming the role of the church, the schoolroom, and the family, asserting a “primacy of claim” upon our children. “It is hard to overlook the fact,” he wrote, “that the State and politics have become suffused by qualities formerly inherent only in the family or the church.” In this world, the term “nanny state” takes on a very literal meaning.
But today those communities seem rarer, and so, too, those shared premises about how kids should behave. More than that, there’s a fear of taking responsibility for kids in the neighborhood. Deliver a short report on a child’s behavior and his parents may snap back, “Don’t tell me how to parent my child.” A neighbor’s interest may seem invasive or even creepy. Lacking church or community, bystanders in a neighborhood refer their concern about a suboptimal parental situation (one they usually know little about because they are not very neighborly) to the only other institution empowered to look out for the welfare of children: the state.
Update: Scott Greenfield on the whole “see something, say something (to the authorities)” situation with parents and children.
[…] the most fundamental cause for some people to feel empowered to rat out a parent [is] because they just aren’t managing their children the way I think they should!!!
Everything that fails to comport with the way the most sensitive soul in the neighborhood feels it should must now be a crime. Do it for the children. Do it for the women. Do it for … just do it.
Parents always question other parents’ parenting skills and choices. We naturally believe with all our heart and soul that whatever choices we made were better than theirs, whoever they may be. This is human nature, given our own belief that we are right and anyone who disagrees with us is wrong. Conversely, everyone who agrees is brilliant, confirming that we, too, are both right and brilliant. These thoughts are nothing new.
But the problem in Douthat’s parade of bad parenting isn’t merely some prissy busybody’s decision that some parent has inadequately bubble-wrapped their kid. The problem is that they conflate their parenting choices with righteousness, such that anyone who doesn’t share their sensibilities has committed a crime. It’s a crime to neglect your child, with neglect defined as doing anything less than providing absolute safety and comfort to children as the most delicate flower perceives it.
Years ago, there was a saying in the parent’s handbook, “spare the rod and spoil the child.” Today, that’s Endangering the Welfare of a Child in the First Degree. This isn’t to suggest that beating kids is a great method of child rearing, but to remind all the self-righteous that their beloved nanny used to beat their mother to a pulp when she misbehaved. Are you ready to lock granny up? If not, what moral authority do you have to call the cops on someone else, whose crime is not meeting your expectations of safe enough?
The criminal law is not a child-rearing tool. If you spent a few seconds thinking beyond your overly passionate feelings, you might consider whether a child would do better to be reared by a loving parent who isn’t inclined to keep them locked in protective custody throughout the formative years, than as a ward of the state. How does turning a parent into a criminal, losing a job, perhaps even a home, make a child’s life better?