New York is in a nanny state of mind – By George J. Marlin

 The following appears in the July 29-Aug. 4, 2011 issue of the Long Island Business News:

In the early 20th century, British journalist G.K. Chesterton warned that elites, in the name of progress, would attempt to deliver the common man from perceived miseries by imposing on him faddist social engineering. These modern emancipators, he predicted, would initiate “a new persecution of the common man.”

David Harsanyi, in his fine book, “Nanny State,” argues that Chesterton’s fears were justified. According to Harsanyi, “a band of do-gooders are subtly and steadily stripping us of our liberties, robbing us of the inalienable right to make our own decisions and turning America into a nation of children.”

New York’s City Council is awash with pols committed to advancing the Nanny State. Instead of devoting their energies to fixing the city’s collapsing infrastructure and failing education system, they prefer promoting legislation designed to protect people from themselves. Harsanyi listed these bans that have been sought by city council members in recent years: “trans fats, aluminum baseball bats, tobacco purchases by adults between the ages of 18 and 20, foie gras, pedicabs in parks, new fast food restaurants in poor neighborhoods, cellphones in upscale restaurants, mail order pharmaceutical plans, candy-favored cigarettes, gas station operators adjusting prices more than once daily. …”

Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who acts as though the power to mandate proper behavior was his by birth, is another major advocate of laws to force New Yorkers to live by his standards. In his campaign to ban salt, Bloomberg compared it to asbestos in schools. “Salt and asbestos, clearly both are bad for you,” he declared. The mayor has also requested the U.S. Department of Agriculture to forbid food stamp recipients from purchasing sugared soft drinks.

Nannyism has spread to Albany. There are legislators dedicated to denying people’s rights to be unhealthy and politically incorrect. Here’s a sampling of the legislation they have tried to inflict on New Yorkers:

  • A law that would require every car sold to be equipped with an ignition alcohol breath test device that motorists blow into before the car starts
  • A law to prohibit use of any kind of cellphone in an automobile
  • A law that requires credit card users to produce two types of identification
  • A law that would require nutritional labels on restaurant menus
  • A law that orders schools to measure the fat of public school students
  • A law that imposes a “fat tax” on junk food.

Brooklyn Sen. Carl Kruger called for a ban on the use of cell phones, MP3 players and BlackBerrys while crossing New York City streets. The senator complained users of these devices were “tuning out the world around them.” Kruger has since been indicted for taking bribes.

In May, do-gooders in the New York State Department of Health declared war on playgrounds. It issued a list of children’s field games that posed “a significant risk of injury.” Freeze tag, dodgeball, kickball, red rover, capture the flag and Wiffle ball were placed in the dangerous category. Playground overseers that permitted these games were ordered to acquire state permits and provide on-site medical supervision. Thanks to massive protests, the governor ordered his health department to chuck the new regs.

Nanny State ideologues are reminiscent of the ancient Gnostics who believed they possessed exclusive knowledge about reaching perfection in the temporal world and could establish with scientific precision an environment that would produce perfect harmony among men.

Like the Gnostics, Nanny State elites claim to love “mankind” but have contempt for ordinary persons and their lifestyle decisions. Hence, they want to impose laws and regulations that will force the masses to adhere to their vision of a healthy, safe and wholesome society. Historian Richard Hofstadter best described such enthusiasts as “totalitarian liberals” employing illiberal means to achieve so-called liberal reforms. Better social engineering utopians than New York pols have failed in their quest for earthly perfection. It’s time for them to stop.

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