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California: Nanny State Trendsetter?

Adam Summers
June 12, 2007, 4:38pm

Christian Probasco has written an article called "California Looms" for New West about California nanny statism and other legislative tomfoolery. Probasco fears that the legislative excesses of California may work their way to other states in the western region (and elsewhere). As he notes in his column,
California is a trendsetter state. Much like the weather, every Californian fad eventually makes its way over the Sierras and diffuses into the intermountain West. That's wonderful, and it's frightening, because there are some pretty disturbing things going on in the Golden State right now.
It is, I fear, a legitimate concern. As my colleague Skaidra Smith-Heisters is quoted as saying the article, "What is perhaps different about California is that politicians and voters are not shy about approving radical laws. They enjoy the sense that California is the first state to try new things." Among some of the nanny bills being considered in California:
  • AB 722–Would "phase out" the sale of incandescent light bulbs in favor of more energy-efficient fluorescent bulbs (despite the fact that harmful levels of mercury from fluorescent bulbs can add up in landfills, contaminating the soil and making their way into the food supply). This bill has been amended so that now, instead of banning bulbs outright, it would have the State Energy Resources Conservation and Development Commission set a minimum energy efficiency for bulbs. A nice P.R. move (banning things seems so harsh, but who can be against energy efficiency?) that would, in practice, still essentially ban incandescent bulbs.
  • SB 7–Would ban smoking in a vehicle–moving or stationary–in which there is a minor.
  • AB 86/AB 90/AB 97/SB 490–Would restrict the use of trans fats in restaurants and school cafeterias.
  • SB 120/SB 180–Would require caloric, trans fat, saturated fat, and sodium content information to be printed on restaurant menus.
  • AB 1634–Would require dog and cat owners to spay or neuter their animals by four months of age.
On their own, such nanny measures may seem innocuous, but small erosions of liberties can lead to large losses of freedom in the long run. As I said to Mr. Probasco in the article:
"In the grand scheme of things, it might seem like a minor inconvenience to buy a different kind of light bulb (and to have to start recycling instead of throwing them away) or to stop smoking in your own car if kids are present or include certain nutritional information on restaurant menus, but such minor violations of liberty add up over time. Before long, you look back and realize that you have given up a lot of your freedoms merely by acquiescing to others' beliefs on how you should live your life."
Philosopher and economist David Hume said, "It is seldom that liberty of any kind is lost all at once." If we want to continue to enjoy the blessings of a free society, it would be wise for us–in California or anywhere else–to heed his warning.

Adam Summers is Senior Policy Analyst


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