In Defense of the Nanny State

Americans live sicker and die younger than they should. You know what would solve that? Good old-fashioned Big Government.

You know what would be awesome? If the United States had a real nanny state.

Yes, there are conservatives who would argue that we do have a nanny state—an insult they invented to convey their contempt for the mix of social welfare programs and regulations liberals typically favor—but the truth is that the United States is pretty laid back as far as developed countries go, more in favor of rugged individualism than a safety net, which is why even Democrats like Barack Obama sometimes try to make deals to do things like, say, weaken Social Security.

What is that rugged individualism getting us? We’re living sicker and dying younger than we should.

America leads the developed world in deaths of people before age 50, according to a new report from the Institute of Medicine, and it’s largely because, well, we don’t have that much of a nanny state.

The result? Let the New York Times explain:

Panelists were surprised at just how consistently Americans ended up at the bottom of the rankings. The United States had the second-highest death rate from the most common form of heart disease, the kind that causes heart attacks, and the second-highest death rate from lung disease, a legacy of high smoking rates in past decades. American adults also have the highest diabetes rates.

Youths fared no better. The United States has the highest infant mortality rate among these countries, and its young people have the highest rates of sexually transmitted diseases, teen pregnancy and deaths from car crashes. Americans lose more years of life before age 50 to alcohol and drug abuse than people in any of the other countries.

And let’s not even get started on the gun issue and its effects on public health.

What’s happened, though, is that America is at the bottom of 17 rich nations in terms of male life expectancy. And second-to-last for female life expectancy. (Check out the list of countries that do better than us: Most of them are, relatively speaking, socialist hellholes.) Oh, and we spend more per person on health care than any other nation in the world. Something’s wrong, and one thing is clear: We Americans are hardly the pinnacle of civilization we celebrate ourselves as being.

Why is all of this happening? The report’s authors have a hard time putting a finger on it, but you can get the general flavor from the mix of possibilities: “More likely, the U.S. health disadvantage has multiple causes and involves some combination of inadequate health care, unhealthy behaviors, adverse economic and social conditions, and environmental factors, as well as public policies and social values that shape those conditions.”

Get that? We’re providing lousy care. We’re leaving our poor behind. We’re so enamored of our liberty that a proposal to limit people to cups that hold only 16 ounces of soda produces a round of chest-beating and screaming about a “war on freedom.” As though the Founders would’ve let you take their Big Gulps only if you’d pried them from their cold, dead hands.

Why I’m a liberal? I believe you can have freedom and care about reducing income inequality. I believe you can have liberty and smaller soda sizes. I believe you can be throw off tyranny and still have a smarter health care system that delivers care to more people. I’m a liberal because even though conservatives and libertarians can sometimes come up with good ideas to address these problems, mostly you sense they’d rather not be bothered. Which leaves good old-fashioned Big Government as the most likely option to actually fix stuff.

Nannies don’t imprison you, after all, and they never did. Their job is to help you stand on your own.

  • Carolyne Mas

    It has to do with what we put into our bodies, and the malnutrition resulting from a diet of largely processed foods. We have no immune systems left from the overuse of vaccines and prescription drugs. Look at how suicide has replaced car crashes as the #1 cause of injury-related deaths…because 20% of Americans are on some kind of psychotropic drug…and it is these drugs that cause both suicidal and murderous behavior, especially in our youth. I am in my 50′s, and I have lost many friends already to diseases that used to be rare. We are so ignorant about how other people live in other parts of the world, that we fail to see how we are actually being slowly poisoned.

  • Bob Roberts

    The problem with people like Joel is they are full of great ideas that they want to impose on the rest of us against our will. Carolyne Mas asserts that 20% of Americans are on some kind of psychotropic drug. I presume she’s talking about PRESCRIPTION drugs, though she did not mention this or her source. Is she aware that a relatively recent study indicated those who self-identify as liberals tend to self-identify as being significantly more likely to be on psychotropic drugs? @ncjrs it is asserted that “more than a third of all Americans twelve and older have tried an illicit drug.” One wonders if that third of the population is more likely composed of liberals or conservatives. Americans were once subjected to prohibition – it can easily be argued we would be much better off without alcohol and drunk driving – so as part of this plan to accept that the “nanny state” is much better for us, should we reinstate prohibition due to the “10,839 fatalities in crashes involving a driver with a BAC of .08 or higher – 32 percent of total traffic fatalities for the year 2009?” (source – alcoholalert). While I personally prefer chicken or fish over pork and beef, I don’t think the government or anyone else has the right to make our food choices for us, or to expect us to pay for the excesses of others through nationalized health care. Say what you want, an objective analysis proves socialized medicine makes things worse, not better, for populations that have to deal with it.

  • Bob Roberts

    “we spend more per person on health care than any other nation in the world.” And why is that? And how does adding an inefficient, fraud-ridden, wasteful layer of government into the mix reduce costs again? We were promised obamacare would resolve spiraling health care and health insurance costs but the evidence suggests the opposite is true as health insurance costs are rocketing up already and obamacare is just now really getting going. Joel mentioned infant mortality but he failed to go into WHICH infants are dying and WHY. There are cultural and other considerations which play significant roles. Rates are not the same for different ethnic groups, which will lead some to prematurely cry “RACISM/BIGOTRY” but that’s not the problem – the fact I note there is a racial/ethnic difference in rates doesn’t have anything to do with me – I’m just the messenger. Those determined not to face the problem may call me a cultural imperialist, perhaps, for mentioning that culture plays a role, but the data doesn’t lie. So do we start imposing rules on some racial/ethnic groups that go against their cultural practices to fix this? What happens when they complain and charge us with discrimination and get the ACLU involved when we do this?

  • Bob Roberts

    The best way to reduce income inequality is to motivate people to get off government assistance, which is a chief driver of income inequality, yet “liberals” seem determined to shore up their voter base by ever-expanding public assistance programs and thus cement income inequality into the cultural fabric.

  • Elron Aven

    If nanny state is so great and desirable, why do Scandinavians have such high suicide rates? They should be happy, right?