Commentary

A Nanny-State Government is Not the Solution

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In the aftermath of a tragedy, there is often an outcry for government to take swift action to prevent similar tragedies from happening in the future.

Lawmakers most often embrace these calls, and use the tragedy as a sympathetic excuse to increase the size, cost, and intrusiveness of government.

Such has been the case following the fateful events on Independence Day in Calais, where a young man suffered fatal injuries as a result of an unfortunate fireworks accident.

Despite reports that the accident was caused entirely by the young man misusing the fireworks, and launching them from the top of his head, several people have demanded that government step in and stop accidents like this from happening in the future.

The victim’s mother has suggested that individuals should be required to take a “safety training course” before being allowed to use fireworks. Representative Michael Lajoie (D-Lewiston) has gone even further, and has admitted that he’s considering pushing for a ban on fireworks in Maine in the next legislative session.

Unfortunately, this chain of events and reliance on “nanny-state” government is all too common in Maine.

For example, when a few anecdotes emerged about customers of the popular ride sharing company Uber experiencing less than satisfactory service, lawmakers and do-gooders in Maine immediately called for increased safety regulations and rules on Uber.

After safety advocates heard similar stories of hardship regarding the room-sharing website Airbnb, many demanded increased government oversight and control over the company.

And four years ago, when a few kayakers died in boating accidents in Maine, there was a significant push in the state to mandate that anyone who goes out on the water wear a life jacket.

Now it is certainly understandable when the family and friends of a victim want to take action and ensure that others do not have to share in their pain and heart-ache.

But it is counter-productive and harmful for lawmakers and others to suggest that more laws and regulations could prevent all future tragedies.

If an individual is inebriated (as has been suggested with the tragedy in Calais) and believes it is a smart idea to launch fireworks off of his head, no amount of safety training, laws, or regulations could convince that individual to act differently.

And sure, a ban on fireworks might have prevented that individual from acquiring fireworks for their Independence Day celebrations. But just as likely, that individual could have gone across the border to New Hampshire or Canada to purchase fireworks. Even Rep. Lajoie admitted to the Associated Press that a ban might not prevent any future injuries or fatalities.

The problem with relying on government to solve our problems is simple – government is not our savior, and nanny-state laws are rarely effective or productive. Individuals are motivated by a desire to survive and to avoid injury – not by a desire to obey rules and laws.

Consider this: in Maine, where automotive drivers and passengers are required to wear seat belts, there were approximately 1.02 fatalities per million miles driven in the state in 2012.

In New Hampshire, where there is no seat belt law for those over 18 years old, there were roughly 1.04 fatalities per million miles driven, meaning there was virtually no difference between Maine and New Hampshire.

Clearly, people are wearing seat belts and surviving crashes in both states. But it’s not because government is making them do so. It’s because people recognize that seat belts are a common-sense safety measure.

But perhaps the worst part of these types of nanny-state laws is the fact they bring us down the slippery slope of infringing upon the freedoms and liberties of responsible individuals. They set the dangerous precedence that is acceptable, or even necessary to limit freedoms for the masses because a select-few individuals cannot be trusted to act in a responsible or rational manner.

America was founded on principles of liberty and freedom – not a desire to use government as a tool to control the behavior of individuals.

This is all not to say that all public safety laws should be struck down and eliminated.

But when we are depending solely on government and legislation to prevent horrible tragedies, and save us from our own mistakes, we are neglecting the important conversation on how to really prevent tragic accidents.

We are ignoring the fact that terrible mishaps are often caused by a lack of concern for ourselves and others, an over-consumption of alcohol, an absence of situational awareness, and a lack of personal responsibility.

We are fooling ourselves into thinking that bureaucrats and lawmakers in Augusta will act as a safety net, and will do the work that we as a society or an individual cannot do.

Government cannot save us from ourselves, and it often cannot prevent tragedies that are caused by simple human error or negligence.

About Patrick Marvin

Patrick Marvin is a former Policy Analyst for The Maine Heritage Policy Center. He holds a Masters Degree from the University of New Hampshire, and has an extensive background in analysis and research.

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