How irresponsible are we as a nation? Here’s one indicator: There is now a bipartisan consensus in favor of a level of government paternalism that goes too far for George McGovern. Here’s the former senator and 1972 Democratic nominee for the presidency, writing in the Wall Street Journal:
Under the guise of protecting us from ourselves, the right and the left are becoming ever more aggressive in regulating behavior. Much paternalist scrutiny has recently centered on personal economics, including calls to regulate subprime mortgages.
Senator McGovern then discusses the subprime lending fiasco, various state health insurance mandates and prohibitions, and some policymakers’ desire to regulate the fees charged by “payday lenders.” His conclusion?
Why do we think we are helping adult consumers by taking away their options? We don’t take away cars because we don’t like some people speeding. We allow state lotteries despite knowing some people are betting their grocery money. Everyone is exposed to economic risks of some kind. But we don’t operate mindlessly in trying to smooth out every theoretical wrinkle in life.
The nature of freedom of choice is that some people will misuse their responsibility and hurt themselves in the process. We should do our best to educate them, but without diminishing choice for everyone else.
These arguments are not novel; in fact, they are so obvious that they would never make it into the Wall Street Journal if they came from, say, a high school economics teacher in rural Ohio. But from George McGovern, they’re news, precisely because they shine a light on just how little our reigning, bipartisan political consensus respects personal freedom and personal responsibility.
Even so, I probably wouldn’t pick this story up (particularly for my third post this week) if it weren’t for this paragraph in McGovern’s piece:
Since leaving office I’ve written about public policy from a new perspective: outside looking in. I’ve come to realize that protecting freedom of choice in our everyday lives is essential to maintaining a healthy civil society.
Now that seems important! George McGovern, singled out by his party in 1972 as the very best the Democrats had to offer, now believes he was not, in fact, in his prime then. On the contrary, he has now achieved superior mastery of public policy issues by spending time on the “outside looking in.” He now believes that his participation in the private sector gives him a better idea of what is “essential to maintaining a healthy civil society” than he had when he was in Congress.
He’s right, of course. I don’t know if term limits are on the ballot anywhere this year, but if they are, I hope McGovern’s piece gets picked up and used as Exhibit A.