The only redeeming quality of the nanny state is that it purports itself to care for the poor. But what if it did not have that mind? What if, in some hellish utilitarian scheme, it required the poor to suffer for the greater good?
To New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, such a scheme seems to be the solution. In an effort to limit prescription drug addiction, Mayor Bloomberg has limited the number of painkillers that local hospitals can prescribe. Under the new law, patients can only obtain three days worth of painkillers, and some of the more powerful painkillers will be banned altogether.
Several doctors have already criticized the law and claim it prevents them from using their judgment for specific situations. Indeed, the law is a horrid example of top-down central planning. An anarchist teaching a course on the evils of government and organization in general could hardly make up a better example.
Critics have gone on to further argue that the law will affect the poor the most. The people of the city who do not have personal physicians, and who use emergency rooms as their primary care providers, will be hit hardest by the measure.
Responding to such criticism, Bloomberg said, “So you didn’t get enough painkillers and you [The Poor] did have to suffer a little bit. The other side of the coin is people are dying and there’s nothing perfect.
And thus the heartlessness of the nanny state is revealed.
Of course, the poor should thank the benevolence of Mayor Bloomberg. Thanks to his ban on large sodas, they no longer have to worry about their weight. And now, thanks to his painkiller measure, they no longer have to worry about addiction. Of course, a few of them, the poor, may suffer on occasion, but they can take great comfort in the fact that they are suffering for the greater good. For the health of the city. For the state…
The problem with the utilitarian approaches to government, aside from the obvious fact that they necessarily devolve into materialism, is that they strip any notion of personal right. There can be no personal or individual right when the individual is a number subject to the greater good.
When people are reduced from a moral equality, to a numerical equality, then it shouldn’t be surprising when our leaders solve problems by saying, “A few poor people will suffer. So what?”
However, if people have a moral equality, then central planning becomes a lot more difficult. If people have a moral equality, then it no longer possible to pass sweeping reforms that will apply to all regardless of personal situation. The moral equality requires you to recognize that men are different. Yes, this equality will recognize difference. Because it is only through such differences that you can make moral decisions based on a personal level, and not at a national numerical level.
There is no difference in numerical equality, and therefore no reason why some should arbitrarily be chosen to suffer instead of others. It is a bastardization of the ideal of civil society and the common good to suggest that a class of people should suffer because it is the most efficient solution.
There is of course, another layer to all this that makes it even more repulsive. Mayor Bloomberg is the perfect example of detached leadership. He cannot relate to the poor in the emergency room for the same reason he wonders why the poor and working-class could be so simple minded and poison themselves with large sodas. He can’t fathom why such things as large sodas were invented in the first place. But the poor and working-class know. Anyone who has spent a summer day walking New York’s scorching streets without the comfort of a limousine and chauffeur knows. Anyone who has worked with their hands and accumulated a thirst that simply can’t be quenched with the volume held in a champagne goblet knows.
They know because they have learned through personal experiences; experiences that the good Mayor knows nothing about.
Instead of saying “In the name of the state, go and suffer more,” it should be the ideal of civil society to reward those of the working class, and to help those who have to suffer. If Mayor Bloomberg wanted to do so, he would have started by talking to personal doctors about the needs of their individual patients.
Brian Miller | George Mason University College of Law | @BrianKenMiller