Who Owns You?

Thanks to libertarian scholar and fellow former Kentucky boy David Boaz, I have newfound appreciation for the depths to which some people will plumb for a way to control others. Let’s start with sugar.

Daniel Lieberman, a evolutionary scholar at Harvard, proposes that we need to be coerced to be healthy.

We humans did not evolve to eat healthily and go to the gym; until recently, we didn’t have to make such choices. But we did evolve to cooperate to help one another survive and thrive. Circumstances have changed, but we still need one another’s help as much as we ever did. For this reason, we need government on our side, not on the side of those who wish to make money by stoking our cravings and profiting from them. We have evolved to need coercion.

Really. Really? In Lieberman’s view, unhealthiness is at its heart a biological problem. From this obvious and trivial premise he moves with ne’er a pause to the conclusion that it is therefore right and good for the government to force children and “coerce” adults through regulation.

The final option is to collectively restore our diets to a more natural state through regulations. Until recently, all humans had no choice but to eat a healthy diet with modest portions of food that were low in sugar, saturated fat and salt, but high in fiber. They also had no choice but to walk and sometimes run an average of 5 to 10 miles a day. Mr. Bloomberg’s paternalistic plan is not an aberrant form of coercion but a very small step toward restoring a natural part of our environment.

Let’s take a closer look at the argument presented here. We used to be coerced by nature to eat well (a debatable premise, but one we’ll accept for now). We are now living in the midst of abundant food choices. Some people choose a lot of sugar. Too much sugar is unhealthy. Conclusion: Government must coerce us not to eat so much sugar.

Is anyone else impressed by the heroic and pretentious leap of illogic required to get to the conclusion? Elsewhere in the article, Lieberman throws a bone to libertarians who think they ought to be free to choose what they eat and then proceeds to ignore that dimension of the argument entirely. Even after granting the obvious–that bad food choices lead to poor health–I cannot for the life of me wring out the conclusion that forcing “good” choices on others through government is either desirable or consistent with any sane notion of individual freedom.

What provokes such idiocy among apologists for the parent state? We need look no further than our Chief Executive to learn the answer. Barack Obama, a man whose collectivist soul harbors scarcely a small corner for individual initiative, made the answer abundantly clear this week with the Elizabeth Warren-esque statement.

If you’ve got a business — you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen.

Let’s be fair, though. This quote is near one allowing that individuals exist–in theory.

Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet. The point is, is that when we succeed, we succeed because of our individual initiative, but also because we do things together.

Like Lieberman, Obama is disposed to assume that governmental coercion is part and parcel of any noteworthy advance on the part of humanity. Individuals are along for the ride, mostly thanks to government. Once again, the argument leaks like a sieve. Premise: Good things happen when human beings cooperate. Conclusion: They should be forced by government to cooperate in certain ways.

The Internet was partially funded by the Defense Department in its early days. That is not to say that it would not have been invented privately or that anyone then had any idea of its true commercial potential. Further, its commercial benefits come largely from the fact that no one runs it. Individuals figure out ways to use it to their own benefit, in cooperation with others. It is no coincidence that it is not controlled (yet) by the government and that it is also one of the few large-scale enterprises that actually works.

No one, repeat no one argues that human cooperation is bad. Obama’s lie and Lieberman’s intellectual laziness are fueling an intellectual movement that threatens to destroy completely our rights as individuals to associate with and cooperate with those people whom we believe will enhance our well-being. Despite Warrenbama’s nanny-like scolding, some of us know perfectly well that the best in humanity comes from individuals taking risks and being persistent–in coordination and conjunction with others.

At one time, intrusions like Bloomberg’s and arguments like Obama’s would have been considered not only idiotic but clearly outside the bounds of government’s rightful role in our lives. Now they are not only enacted, but are increasingly welcomed by the intellectual left as an appropriate and desirable form of coercion. Government knows best and those who object are clearly misanthropes.

There will come a time, perhaps soon, when we misanthropes will have to answer the question, “Who owns me?” Is it the collective, “represented” by a benevolent government? I think not. I own me. You own you. No one may rightfully lay claim to each of us as individuals. When we are finally forced to assert that right vigorously, the collectivists will shake in their loafers. Then we’ll see who does what.

About Terry Noel

I am an Associate Professor of Management and Quantitative Methods at Illinois State University. My specialty is entrepreneurship.
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2 Responses to Who Owns You?

  1. David Marx says:

    As we move blindly forward into socialized medicine in the US (which I hoped can still be stopped), we’ll see greater control over our choices. People will be taxed for being over a certain BMI. Food choices at supermarkets and restaurants will be reduced. We see the beginnings of this in the crazy laws being enacted in New York City (no salt in restaurants, drink size limits, oil on popcorn, etc.).

    The paternalistic statists on the Left view citizens as drones working in a collective that is centrally managed by people like themselves (the masterminds) and funded by the “lucky ones” that won life’s lottery and built their fortunes on the backs of the drones. In the end, everyone will be equal…equally miserable.


  2. David Marx and Terry Noel, no person has the right to claim ownership over the choices of another person.


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