At Cafe Hayek, Russ Roberts has a superb post up responding to criticism from friends and neighbors that he wastes his time protesting minor infringements of liberty such as Montgomery County’s ban on trans-fats. Read the whole thing, but here’s an excerpt:
I don’t want to live in a world where a bunch of strangers sitting on the Montgomery County Council act in my name to constrain us. Those strangers don’t love me. They don’t care about me (though they protest that yes, they do.) They are responsive to all kinds of forces besides my well-being. So I don’t want to expand their authority to make decisions for me. I want to reduce it.
So when your friend laughs at you for caring about something as trivial as trans fats, tell your friend you don’t care about trans fat. You care about the principle that’s at stake. The principle is that when your health is a justification for restricting liberty, then the power of politics climbs in your car, in your kitchen and in your bedroom. Today it’s trans fats. Tomorrow it’s meat or single-malt scotch, or skiing or sex. It’s not about whether some cost-benefit analysis proves that on this particular case or that one, the ban is worthwhile. It’s about whether you’re free to be an adult and pursue what you enjoy, knowing that nothing is entirely safe. I choose adulthood for adults.
I often get similar feedback about this blog’s obsession with smoking bans, a growth of the nanny state I find particularly loathsome for the way it seduces normally tolerant individuals to violate the autonomy of smokers and business owners in their communities.