Each morning as I have coffee with my morning paper, I realize just how lucky I am to have grown up in the era before my government assumed the role of supreme nanny. Remember when we were able to decide what was good for us as well as that which was not so good, and were expected to take responsibility for the consequences of our actions?
Sadly, egged on by numerous special interest groups, the government has gradually assumed the condescending role of an entity that knows best and has collectively set out to save us from ourselves. Certainly, some congressionally mandated programs in areas concerning health and safety are justified, but the practice of unnecessary legislation that does little but raise the cost of living is regressive.
Two such examples should be familiar to all: Congress has imposed its infinite wisdom upon the amount of water required to flush one’s toilet and, purportedly to cut down on greenhouse gases, is phasing out incandescent lighting in favor of halogen bulbs. Whoever thought 1.8 gallons of water would flush as efficiently as the old 3.5 gallon tank must have been dropped on his or her head as a child — it is a rarity when one flush is sufficient.
Granted, the halogen bulbs might be more efficient than the incandescents, but they cost six times as much and present a disposal problem due to the toxic presence of mercury in each unit. Moreover, the compact florescent and Halogen-IR bulbs have been available for some time but as of January 2008, commanded only 5 percent of the market. It should be apparent that the only gain is to the bulb manufacturer; the people are not buying voluntarily.
We are also experiencing behavior modification by taxation of products the government has decided we are better served without. This year’s nearly tripling of the tax on cigarettes, ostensibly to discourage smoking while funding child health care, has so emboldened Congress that it is seriously considering additional taxes on beer, wine and sugary soft drinks. Taxing of “sin” is easy to justify in raising revenue.
Accordingly, don’t be surprised to find fatty, high-calorie fast foods as the next targets. Nothing would please the food police, nutritionist and public health activists more than the levy of high taxes on the ubiquitous double or monster cheeseburger and accompanying fries. After all, the only losers are consumer freedom and the poor, who will become that much poorer from the added costs. But it is for our own good, is it not?
Our fair city is not blameless in the field of government meddling as we saw in the blanket prohibition of smoking in private places of business. Nevermind that there were many nonsmoking restaurants in Columbia, thus enabling smoke-free choices for patrons and employees alike. “Big Brother,” however, overrode individual freedom under the illusion "nanny knows best."
The most dangerous and costly area of undue government interference, however, is seen in the green-power grab of the auto industry in the imposition of new national fuel-efficiency standards for cars and trucks to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. By pretending that the BigThree automakers (Ford, General Motors and Chrysler) have failed the American people by not building the small, fuel-efficient cars they desire and that the new fuel standards will result in cleaner air and markedly reduce our consumption of carbon fuels, the administration is perpetuating a fantasy.
In the first place, the Big Three members do produce the small, fuel-efficient cars — autos that sell in Europe but sit idle in U.S. car dealer’s inventories for the reason that unless gasoline is $4 per gallon, no one wants them. Secondly, increasing the miles-per-gallon standards for cars and trucks is hardly rocket science. By making them smaller and of lighter-weight materials, one gets a fuel-efficient but unsafe and uncomfortable vehicle that will increase the average new car price by $1,300, according to Forbes.
Although this might impress the climate change crowd or limousine liberals, it won’t play in Peoria. People with small children should not be forced to put family at risk in light weight, cramped and hazardous vehicles. Likewise, those who are required by employment to spend long hours in their cars, along with older Americans are not satisfied with an automobile they must put on rather than get in — comfort and safety are prerequisites. It was Ralph Nader who, in killing the Corvair, coined the phrase “unsafe at any speed” in his book by the same name — where is he now that we need him?
The American consumer has never appreciated being told what to buy, when to buy and how much to buy; that is governed by the marketplace.
J. Karl Miller retired as a colonel in the Marine Corps. He is a Columbia resident and can be reached via e-mail at JKarlUSMC@aol.com.