Jane Haddam’s WordPress weblog

Vice Squad

with 10 comments

Well, what can I say?  It took only about a day for Charlou and Judy to show why libertarians reject social programs.  Although Charlou may have changed her mind.  I’m a little unsure about that.

But let’s go to Judy’s question–it’s fine for everybody to make their own choices if they have to pay out of pocket for the consequences, but why should she have to pay for the consequences of other people’s bad choices?

There are actually several good answers to that one, not all of which we’ll get to here.

But I do want to point out one thing:  the resistence to Obamacare, and earlier to Hillarycare, was on exactly this point–lots of people expected that a unversal health care system would automatically give people the idea that “since they were paying for it, they got to regulate it.”  Given the choice of fending on their own with the consequences, or not being left free to make the choice–they want to fend.

Most of the people who want to end laws against driving without a helmet on a motorcyle or restricting smoking in bars ALSO don’t want universal health care.  They do not, in fact, ask you to pay for the consequences of their decisions.

Which brings me to my first point.

1) These programs are instituted by a majority, but not by a universality.  It is not legitimate to use  the existence of such programs as an excuse to regulat private life, because people do not have a choice as to whether or not to participate in them.   The people who have been vigorously opposing the new health insurance reform bill will be required to follow it whether they wanted it or not, and will, in the resulting system, be required to “benefit” from it.

The “benefit” is in quotes because they don’t think they’ll be benefiting.  In the calculus of something gained and something lost, they think they will have majorly lost–giving up their autonomy is a much bigger harm than any good that can come from universal health care.

So pick:  either don’t regulate private life, or eliminate all the programs so that you don’t feel like  you’re paying for other people’s bad choices.

2) If the actual rationale for the regulation of private life is that some choices cost us money, then we ought to be consistant–we ought to regulate ALL the choices that cost us money, and not just the ones we personally don’t like.

And I would therefore call for the regulation of childbirth, specifically as it regards the birth of children with Down Syndrome and spina bifuda, and any other birth defects that cause long term consequences and that can be detected before birth by amniocentesis or genetic testing.

Like, for instance, children who will be born with the genes that will cause eventual Tay-Sachs, Huntingdon’s, or Cooley’s anemia.

Please note:  all of the above can be determined well before birth with widely available testing, and abortion is legal and available.  The choice to carry such a child to term is just that–a choice.  And such children are enormously expensive, far more expensive than seeing a 2 pack a day 30 year smoker through lung cancer. 

The most egregiously handicapped spina bifuda children can cost upwards of $400,000 a year to care for.  They will never lead “normal” lives or be self-supporting.  Day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year, they need expensive and round the clock care.  And their parents knew that when they decided to bring that child into the world.  Why should I have to pay for their choice?

We should be able to insist that all pregnant women receive the proper testing, and to refuse to care for any child that results if that testing is positive and the mother refuses to abort.

And, of course, on the other end of life–people with severe dementia or other forms of debilitating old age who could live for years but only if they’re given more of that expensive round the clock care–why should I have to pay for their choice?  If they want to pay for it out of their own pocket, fine, but we should stop taxing me to pay for it. 

Welcome, by the way, to “death panels.’  It wasn’t irrational hysteria.  It was fear of the reasoning above, which is not all that unusual even now.

The reason why people responded to Judy’s post by saying she wanted to “punish” certain behavior is that, in absence of a consistent, universal policy to regulate all behavior that might end up costing us money, what is going on IS punishment. It’s essentially moral legislation, and its purpose is to get government backing to encourage styles of life we approve (or tolerate) and those we have decided are indefensible.

3) And none of the above addresses the problems of either pseudoscience or the extension of putative damage from extreme behavior to more moderate forms.

Most of the mothers of my generation–the women who were our mothers–had a cocktail before dinner and wine with right through pregancy, and smoked, too, and yet didn’t produce children with birth defects or fetal alcohol syndrome.

In fact, the entire generation of the Founders was gestated in the wombs of women who drank almost nothing but beer and wine, all day, every day–the water supply was not considered safe in most places in the Colonial and newly national US. 

These days, though, even asking for a glass of wine in a restaurant while pregnant will get you a lecture by the bartender at the least, and if the nurses on the maternity floor know you did it–even just once–you’ll be immediately reported to CPS. 

The reason for all this is not that we have a new and better understanding of pregnancy, it’s that we have moved from a society where cigarette smoking and a few nips to relax at night were considered understandable and civilized, to one that excoriates both behavior as sin.  Except we don’t call it sin.  We call it “unhealthy.”

And to justify regulating the behavior, we point to unusual and extreme cases–women who drink a fifth of vodka a day, for instance–and imply that the consequences from a cocktail or a glass of wine will be just as bad at that. It’s all the same.  It’s all drinking while pregnant.

Our present understanding of “obesity” and the way it relates to health is virtually all pseudoscience.  Go take a look at the studies everybody touts, and what you’ll find, first, is that they’re all correlation results–that is, we know that X and Y are more likely to happen at the same time, but we don’t know why that is.  Maybe X causes Y.  Maybe Y causes X.  Or maybe there’s a third factor that causes both.  We have no idea. 

And, on top of that, we’ve changed the definition of “obesity” three or four times, so that now even people who in my own school days would have been called “chubby” are suddenly “obese.”

But, but, but!  you say.  Obesity is a risk factor for heart disease!

All “risk factor” means is that the two things correlate–what it does NOT mean is that “obesity” CAUSES heart disease. 

What’s more, virtually everything we’ve been told about “weight control” is wrong, and even the experts will say so–privately.  A few months ago, there was a push by some nutritionists to revise the food pyramid to reflect the latest research about what tends to put weight on people and what not.  The revision was rejected because, um, well, people aren’t listening to us now, what’s going to happen if they find out we’ve been giving that advice that actually makes they fatter?  They won’t listen to us at all any more!   They’ll go hog wild!

As for diet and exercise–exercise makes plenty of people gain weight, not lose it.  And the single most effective treatment for extreme UNDERweight is a calorie-controlled diet. 

That’s right.  If for some reason the doctors need to put weight on you, and fast, and keep it on–if you’ve lost a ton due to catastrophic illness or accident, say–what they’ll do to get you there is to put you on exactly the same kind of diet you’re now following from the pages of Cosmo. 

No matter what we tell ourselves, we don’t pass laws forbidding toys in happy meals, or requiring restaurants to put calorie counts on menus, in order to respond to “a crisis of obesity” or to make everybody healthier so they won’t cost the health care system so much money.

We do it because “letting yourself go” has become a hallmark of the people we call “trailer trash,” and we disapprove of them. 

If that was not the reason we were doing it, we would stop doing it when we realized it didn’t work, and we would try to implement policies that did work, even if those policies were not things we liked, or interfered with our private prejudices.

Children are definitely heavier than they used to be, but the problem is more likely to be lack of vigorous exercises than McD’s fries once or twice a week.   That’s not going to get us to change our concerns about children’s “safety” and put back dodge ball at recess, never mind shoving the kid out the door after school and telling him to play outside.  Kids might get hurt!

I pay for the consequences of your motorcycle accident because I expect you to pay for the consequences of my parent’s decision to have me even though I might get Cooley’s anemia. 

None of our choices are revenue neutral, and that fact is not an excuse for regulating them.

Written by janeh

August 8th, 2011 at 8:51 am

Posted in Uncategorized

10 Responses to 'Vice Squad'

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  1. Actually, I was raised as a Republican, became disillusioned with them, became a Democrat (for a brief period), and then moved on to being a Libertarian. Nothing the Republicans and Democrats have done in the last twenty odd years has given me any cause to change my politics yet again.

    Yes, I agree with you that the government should stop meddling in the lives of its citizens.

    For example, I believe that income tax was a good idea until Congress decided to use it as a means of enacting social change “for the good of its citizens.” Once they decided to start adding deductions and exclusions and exemptions and whatevers with the purpose of pushing the U.S. taxpayers into the kind of behavior they desired from us (owning our own homes, investing in the stock market, donating to charity, etc.) the income tax stopped being a way to raise money and became a way to implement social change. And I do NOT approve of or agree to our federal, state, or local governments’ attempts to enact social change. Yes, there are a lot of things about our society that definitely, absolutely need to be changed. Either we as individuals work together to change those things, or we get used to them as they are, but I do NOT want government to step in and force change on us.

    And no, Jane, you did NOT bring me to this point by your blog. I started reading and posting on your blog because I discovered you are in many ways (but not where Trollope is concerned) a kindred spirit. And there are so few of us in the world, it gets lonely sometimes. Or I should say many times. Okay, most of the time.

    Any of you who have not read CHAOS, by James Glieck should do so. It explains why weather forecasters can not and will never be able to predict the weather accurately more than a few days in advance. And it also explains why Congress will never be able to enact social-changing legislation that will not change society in ways that Congress had not anticipated — most of such un-looked-for results being in the nature of dire consequences.

    As for social responsibility, specifically the need to care for those who cannot care for themselves, yes, I am for helping the “deserving” poor. I know I should also be willing to help the “undeserving” poor, and I try. But I’m not really there yet, even though I do know how quickly any one of us, including me and mine, could lose our grip and slide down into that category.

    I have a lot more to say about other points Jane brought up today, but right now I have things I need to do that I’m never going to get done unless I tear myself away from my computer.


    8 Aug 11 at 1:47 pm

  2. There’s an “away” from the computer?

    Oh…you must be talking about the Big Blue Room. I hear rumors it’s still there. I’ll have to check that out, one of these days…


    8 Aug 11 at 2:36 pm

  3. Ours is a Big Grey Room, and its extremely soggy and cold. This has been a bizarre summer. Well, acutally last winter the weather was kind of bizarre, too, but it was unusually dry and mild, not unusually cold and wet!


    8 Aug 11 at 2:49 pm

  4. Are you talking about outside? Good grief, no! A thousand times no! I cannot think of a single thing I want to do outside, other than transporting myself inside my car from one inside to another inside.

    Yes, I find aspects of the out-of-doors beautiful, but more beautiful when it’s on the other side of glass than when I’m out in the middle of it.

    When I’m not at the computer, I (a) read books, (b) work on some books I’m writing (although some of that’s done on the computer and some with the sewing machine), (c) put away my clean laundry and do other simple household chores like that, (d) sort tubs of papers that I’ve spent 50+ years accumulating and that my daughter and sons have politely told me they do not want to have to deal with after I’m dead and gone, (e) go through several hundred old floppies to see what files didn’t make it off assorted old computers and try to copy those files (wait–that’s more computer stuff, but it shouldn’t count because when I do that I’m using an ancient laptop that has a floppy drive plus a UBS port and not a computer connected to the internet), and… oh, yes, (f) eat.

    Yesterday I was so engrossed in what I was doing on the computer that I forgot to eat breakfast and then forgot to eat lunch and finally ended up eating supper at about 19:00. And that’s after getting up at 05:30. Not an unusual day, unfortunately. Today I’m doing a bit better. I haven’t eaten yet, but I’ve only been up for about 4 hours.

    So why am I back on the computer instead of eating?
    Do you need to ask that question?


    8 Aug 11 at 4:30 pm

  5. All nonsense. No one would actually want to live in a condition of which the State disapproves. If they think they want to live in such a condition, that only proves they need help–which fortunately won’t be necessary, since we’re pulling the plug. And if YOU have a problem with that, citizen, it shows you have a anti-social attitude. Lucky for you that’s a mental health condition covered under your mandatory insurance.

    Please take these papers to Nurse Ratched…

    Trust the Computer. The Computer is your friend.


    8 Aug 11 at 7:21 pm

  6. Well, I just came back from the Big Blue Room, which in S. California today is cloudless, about 73F and low humidity, with a lovely breeze. Also I live 4 miles from the ocean, so the air is fresh and clear. Not a bad deal, considering the rest of the country and their recent sufferings.

    Away from the ‘puter, I do beading, reading, and eating. Nap a bit. Try to earn a living among all the above. In fact, try to earn enough to go to Mendocino, so I can watch the ocean and the big blue room from inside wonderful windows. ;)


    8 Aug 11 at 7:28 pm

  7. “Yes, I find aspects of the out-of-doors beautiful, but more beautiful when it’s on the other side of glass than when I’m out in the middle of it.”

    You’ve got more kindred spirits than you might have been aware of, Charlou. I find glass pretty much essential to view things through and the more darkly the better. I sometimes think that I would thrive best in the latitudes where the sun never gets above the horizen. It would make our marriage a bit difficult though, because ‘er Indoors is really ‘er Outdoors.

    I got a glorious dump of five – count ’em, five – books yesterday: Ruth Rendell’s “The Vault”, Steve Booth’s “Devil’s Edge”, Mo Hayder’s “Hanging Hill”, Mark Steyn’s “After America”, and Frank Furedi’s latest “On Tolerance”. With any luck I won’t be seeing much of the big blue room for a week or so, by which time, Madam Haddam’s latest will have arrived. Happy is!


    8 Aug 11 at 9:45 pm

  8. I went on line today to see when Ms. Haddam’s next book was due out and found out it came out six days ago–Gadzooks! Well, as they say, there’s always ten percent who don’t get the word.

    Fortunately, with a Kindle it only takes a minute (actually, I think it took two minutes today) to download, and I have been happily reading ever since.


    8 Aug 11 at 10:49 pm

  9. I love my Kindle, but I like to have my favourite authors’ books in hard cover. I’m going to have to change this attitude soon because my double-stacked bookcases are full to overflowing and I’ve been forbidden by the aforesaid spouse to buy any more, on pain of all sorts of terrible things that I dassnt risk.

    Oh well, I could have worse problems.


    8 Aug 11 at 11:58 pm

  10. I love my Kindle too, but you can’t lend or pass on a Kindle book, and Jane’s books are among those I share with a friend (sorry Jane, I suppose we should each buy a copy!)


    9 Aug 11 at 6:55 am

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