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Posts Tagged ‘Mandates’

I was recently finishing up a book called The Top Ten Myths of American Health Care by Sally C. Pipes, and was struck by two examples that were brought up in regards to mandates ordered for the good of public health and what the perceived results were.

One, was the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act of 1994 that mandated nutritional and caloric info be printed on all food products.  The argument was, if people knew what they were eating, they would eat healthier.  As the book points out, from 1995 to 2007 “the percent of obese Americans increased by two-thirds.”

Second, was the example of the educational efforts at informing Americans of the hazards of smoking.  Pipes includes this quote from Dr. Daniel Horn who said, “You could stand on the rooftop and shout ‘smoking is dangerous’ at the top of your lungs and you would not be telling anyone anything they did not already know.”  In fact Pipes references a study that show smokers overestimate the potential health risk, with the average smoker reckoning their risk of developing lung cancer at 43 percent, when it is actually between 5-10 percent.  So even when people are theoretically “over-informed” on a hazard, they may still well participate in it.

These are clearly not proven causal reactions, but are certainly indicative of the fact that government intervention is not a panacea for poor public choices.  These two examples (along with our cigar smoking post) caused me to try and think of other areas where mandates for the public good go unheeded.  A few quick ones off the top of my head are:

  • Auto Insurance – Around 14% of drivers are uninsured despite the law requiring it
  • School truancy – By law children of a certain age are required to be in school.  However a quick search of truancy rates in public education will show that behavior does not follow the law
  • The Tax Gap – Close to $300 billion a year is estimated to be owed, yet unpaid, to the government.  There is good proof that as taxes increase people’s tendency to evade or avoid paying taxes increases
  • California cellphone law – Anecdotally, from what I see on the freeway and roads, I can attest to a severe refusal to obey this law
  • Long Beach water prohibitions – Again, anecdotally, I can tell you that people do not follow the rules laid out by the Board of the Long Beach Water Commission, such as times to water lawn, use of hoses for car washing, etc… despite our extreme water situation

I certainly don’t mean to imply that we should rid ourselves of all laws because they aren’t all followed 100% of the time.  I mean this just to show the gut reaction to regulate something does not necessarily produce the desired results.

That said, I would love for us to start to peel back some of the laws that affect personal liberty (ie. helmet laws) and exist solely to “protect” the very individuals that they regulate.  Would love to see more thought/examples in the comments.

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