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.