David Leyonhjelm guest post. The sinister side of the nanny state.

Not many of us like being told how to live our lives, especially by those we don’t know and trust. It gets up our nose. Yet there is an endless number of people who want to do just that. When they enlist the support of the government, we end up with the nanny state.

This became very apparent during the Senate nanny state inquiry that I chaired four years ago. In addition to almost 500 submissions, hundreds of people communicated their frustrations in less formal ways.

Some mentioned the same issues that the inquiry examined – compulsory bicycle helmets (almost unique to Australia), our tobacco taxes (the highest in the world), alcohol taxes (close to the highest), regulation of alcohol consumption (including Sydney’s lockout laws), and recreational cannabis (still totally prohibited).

But there were plenty of others. Many complained about unreasonable speed limits and their enforcement. Smokers complained that restrictions were no longer linked to risks of secondary smoke. Motorcyclists pointed out how the road safety industry assumes riders are all reckless fools. Sporting shooters noted the mass of petty regulations having nothing to do with safety. Plus much more.

I was often asked if I could explain Australia’s proliferation of laws and regulations designed to save us from our own poor choices. After hearing from those who defended particular nanny state measures, I concluded that the nanny state is an outcome of the Dunning-Kruger syndrome. This is the psychological term for people who fail to adequately assess their level of competence — or specifically, their incompetence — and thus view themselves as much more competent than everyone else.

This is shown by surveys in which, when asked if they are above or below average intelligence, about three in four people say they are above average. Many are obviously kidding themselves, but it promotes the illusion that they are qualified to guide those less fortunate.

Among the worst offenders are doctors, some of whom see little difference between advising individual patients against risky behaviour and enlisting the law to prevent us all from doing it. This year’s Australian of the Year (a doctor) is using his win to promote a sugar tax. But they are not alone; all sorts of people, including Nobel Prize laureates, insist they know what’s best for us in ways well outside their area of expertise.

Nanny state thinking is obviously patronising and authoritarian, but when it extends to controlling how we think and what we say, it becomes quite sinister. This is increasingly seen with people purporting to know what’s best for, and to speak on behalf of, minority groups, policing what others say about them and taking offence on their behalf. Contravene their rules and you are immediately branded a racist, homophobe or misogynist, subject to outrage, ostracism and cancel culture. They define it as hate speech and are well on the way to making it a crime.

And woe betide anyone from a minority group with differing views. A black or brown person who fails to go along with the racist oppression narrative, who is gay but doesn’t find homophobia around every corner, a woman who doesn’t subscribe to the male patriarchy concept, or a transsexual who expresses doubts about adolescent sex change, soon finds there is no wrath like that of a woke nanny stater whose sense of superiority is challenged.

It can reach peak absurdity when a homeless, destitute person is still considered unworthy because of white privilege, male privilege, heterosexuality or any of the other imagined sources of advantage, by those who are themselves wealthy and privileged. It takes a certain kind of superior intelligence to come to that conclusion.

The nanny state is insidious, preventing us from making our own choices. Irrespective of whether they are wise, provided we do not harm anyone else, this should not occur.  Moreover, we should be free to think and say whatever we like subject to nothing more than counter argument by those who have a contrary view.

But that is not the way it is. Despite many of us objecting to particular nanny state laws, there are just too many who think it is OK for others based on their sense of superiority. And that leaves us with an awkward question: if there are so many people incapable of making the right choices, requiring smart people to guide them, how can they possibly be expected to elect a government? Won’t they get that wrong too?

David Leyonhjelm is a former senator.

 

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38 Responses to David Leyonhjelm guest post. The sinister side of the nanny state.

  1. John A

    In general, I concur with your sentiments, David.

    However, I demur at the title of your piece which assumes that it is possible to find a non-malevolent aspect to the Nanny State.

  2. Tom

    Here’s a handy shortcut: ALL those loudmouth and knowalls who infest our bureaucracy, judiciary, media and academia and who claim superior knowledge and morality in matters of public policy:
    a) hate freedom; b) would never live by the rules they prescribe; c) are driven solely by the desire to exert personal power over others.

    In other words, they’re fascists effectively re-enacting the Third Reich of the 1930s, where roaming gangs of hoodlums (Brown Shirts) beat up anyone who did not bow down to the fascist national socialist government.

    They’re never elected and will never stop their lust for power. Democracy is the only thing that stands between us and the violent hellhole the fascist left wants to create.

    If democracy does not serve the will of the people, only civil war remains.

  3. TBH

    Her hear David. The smug and patrionising attitude of our supposed moral betters really gets up my nose. We can’t insulate people completely from bad decisions and frankly nor should we.

  4. duncanm

    The real question is why is Oz like this?

    Are we just too lazy to get up and protest in the streets? The French, for example, don’t have much going for them, but they do know how to throw a good protest and thumb their nose at illegitimate laws.

  5. I_am_not_a_robot

    And that leaves us with an awkward question: if there are so many people incapable of making the right choices, requiring smart people to guide them, how can they possibly be expected to elect a government? Won’t they get that wrong too?

    For pity’s sake David don’t give them ideas.

  6. Neil

    Even the health care packages that are in the news? Shouldn’t children be looking after their parents rather than the govt?

  7. Tony Tea

    Dunning Kruger: people saying dumb things because they’re too dumb don’t know how dumb they are.

  8. stevem

    if there are so many people incapable of making the right choices, requiring smart people to guide them, how can they possibly be expected to elect a government? Won’t they get that wrong too?

    “They” do. Just look at the backlash against Brexit and Trump. In each case the self appointed intelligentsia have proclaimed the masses to be idiots with their decisions needing to be reversed. On both sides of the Atlantic years have been spent trying to fix the decisions of the voters.

  9. min

    50% are average or below average I Q , average IQ theses days has fallen below 100 . unfortunately we are not getting bright people into parliament , bureaucracy etc. Medicos maybe bright but a narrow in their field of thinking like many other fields. There are a lot of stupid people around who cause dramas for others

  10. Too many Aussies love authority despite our supposed national trait of anti-authoritarianism.
    There…I said it!

  11. nb

    ‘how can they possibly be expected to elect a government? Won’t they get that wrong too?’

    Apposite:
    https://www.americanthinker.com/articles/2020/02/angela_merkel_and_the_destruction_of_german_democracy.html

    the Thuringia parliamentary election was “unforgiveable” (“unverzeihlich”) and that it “must be reversed” (muss ruckgängich gemacht werden).
    And so, by the diktat of a chancellor ludicrously claiming to protect democracy, a democratic election was declared unacceptable. Reversed. Canceled. And very fast.
    Thomas Kemmerich, not made of Trump’s stuff, resigned his office 25 hours after being elected, making him the shortest serving Ministerpresident in the history of the Bundesrepublik.
    The situation in Thuringia is now confused, but it’s likely that the chancellor’s diktat will lead to the re-emergence of a state government of the Left.

  12. liliana

    Too many Aussies love authority despite our supposed national trait of anti-authoritarianism.
    There…I said it!

    … and too many Aussies are apathetic and don’t challenge the former. That’s one problem with our dumbed down but still wealthy society – everyone is too complacent to realise that our freedoms being eroded.

  13. Shy Ted

    I don’t agree with David. There are 2 causes, first is left wing pollies and that’s just what they do, pass laws as part of their re-election sales pitch. But the second, the bureaucracies, need work to continue existing so they take single complaints and run with them as though it’s a representative view. Think AHRC or local council meetings where 1 person might make a complaint. Bureaucracies are like ocean liners, quite unable to alter course in any quick order and believe that if they ceased to exist everyone would drown. I don’t think we voted for these things, it’s just lefties doing what they do. And it’s easier to pass a law than repeal one.

  14. Louis

    Not quite David. It’s politicians thinking there is a vote in it for them. When politicians don’t think there is a vote in it for them, they don’t care. It’s the same with proliferation of public spending.

    So you form some group which claims it ‘represents’ a certain block of the voting public or is able to spend money to persuade a block of the voting public and then push your cause. As long as the politicians think your group can help them get the votes, they’ll adopt your cause.

    The proliferation of laws goes hand in hand with the proliferation of lobby groups. Many government agencies are also effectively lobby groups these days.

    BTW you have confused the halo effect with the Dunning-Kruger effect. You explained DK correctly but what you described as the cause is the halo effect not DK . e.g. experts speaking beyond their area of expertise.

  15. max

    Can not say if this apply for Australia as well but I would not be surprised:

    Conservatives should not fail to recognize that war is the most prominent cause of the massive welfare state that has been erected in the United States. Both taxes and spending as we know them today—Leviathan’s head and tail—spring from the warfare state. Traditional conservatives recognized that war is the primary cause of overweening government in human history; thus, they promoted peace. Since the rise of the neoconservatives, however, the right has forgotten this important lesson, which has to be relearned.

    https://www.theamericanconservative.com/articles/from-war-to-welfare-595/

  16. Bruce

    There is no worse tyranny than to force a man to pay for what he does not want merely because you think it would be good for him. – Robert Heinlein

    None are more hopelessly enslaved than those who falsely believe they are free. – Goethe

    Timid men prefer the calm of despotism to the tempestuous sea of Liberty. – Thomas Jefferson

    The urge to save humanity is almost always a false front for the urge to rule. – H. L. Mencken

    Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good, will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience. – C. S. Lewis

    “If you will not fight for right when you can easily win without bloodshed; if you will not fight when your victory is sure and not too costly; you may come to the moment when you will have to fight with all the odds against you and only a precarious chance of survival. There may even be a worse case. You may have to fight when there is no hope of victory.” – Winston Churchill

    Civilizations die from suicide, not murder. – Arnold Toynbee

  17. Iampeter

    This is pretty disingenous coming from someone who failed to take the right side on the Folau issue.
    If you don’t think someone can be fired for any reason whatsoever, you’re hardly an opponent of the nanny state.

    Despite many of us objecting to particular nanny state laws, there are just too many who think it is OK for others based on their sense of superiority.

    Maybe that’s because all you’re doing is merely “objecting.” Sounds super decisive and assertive! I can’t imagine why your opponents might sense they are superior. What a mystery…

    What’s actually needed are ideas that are an alternative to the nanny state. You know, advocating for something like a rights-protecting government maybe? That would require knowing what rights are.
    It would also require an actual theory of government, which in turn would be based on understanding of actual political philosophy, which in turn would be based on the more fundamental philosophical questions without which you can’t really even start political discussions.
    There’s a lot of fundamentals that need to be figured out so you can do more than merely disagree then act all puzzled about why nothing seems to be working as a result of your milquetoast approach.
    That’s when you’re not obliviously advocating for the very kinds of laws you’re claiming to oppose without even realizing it. As we saw with Folau.

    The Dunning-Kruger effect is definitely at play here, just not the way intended by this post.

  18. Matt

    The irony of a politician arguing that others suffer from Dunning-Kruger. Politicians shower us with their expertise in all matters from health to education and inbetween with absolutely no qualification or competence to do so other than a need to get re-elected.

  19. Mother Lode

    A lot of these laws are cunningly couched in terms of ‘safety’ and any attempt to wind these laws back will be taken as equivalent to wishing people dead.

    Speed limits are the best example of this, with each incremental reduction being measured in terms of lives that will be saved.

    I would be very surprised if any of this has been properly evaluated or checked. And they don’t need to be because even questioning it is tantamount to killing the notional women, children and minorities yourself.

    Right now.

    And enjoying it.

    The idea that a proper functioning world has risks is heretical. The calculus monstrous. To get bread delivered involves risk. We could reduce risk by lowering speed limits to 10 km/h and by surrounding the truck with layers of rubber foam. A workout contains risk. A game of football with your friends contains risk. Going outside involves risk – perhaps people should avoid going outside.

    The world we would want to live in has risk in it, we weigh risk up naturally.

    We could lower speeds to 50 km/h but that would make travelling anywhere outside the metropolis take twice as long. No one really wants this, even knowing that there will be car accidents.

    The person possessed by the conviction that no life can ever be endangered, and that everything is subordinate to that belief is a miserable, stunted, myopic, strait jacketed one.

    We need permission to say ‘Tying everything up with all these rules and it simply is not worth it.’

  20. JC

    That’s when you’re not obliviously advocating for the very kinds of laws you’re claiming to oppose without even realizing it.

    Don’t be a coward and explain yourself. What laws have “we” advocated? What laws have I advocated, you disingenuous rat.

  21. Tel

    And that leaves us with an awkward question: if there are so many people incapable of making the right choices, requiring smart people to guide them, how can they possibly be expected to elect a government? Won’t they get that wrong too?

    Leaving us with the dreadful conclusion … perhaps they already did get it wrong, and this might not even be the first time.

  22. Gavin R Putland

    And that leaves us with an awkward question: if there are so many people incapable of making the right choices, requiring smart people to guide them, how can they possibly be expected to elect a government? Won’t they get that wrong too?

    That is indeed an appalling thought. And yet there are contributors to these threads who want to keep certain decisions out of the hands of voters, because the voters will get them wrong. E.g., whether a nurse in a public hospital, or a teacher in a public school, is a fit and proper person to stand for Parliament.

  23. 1735099

    Not many of us like to be told how to live our lives.

    Says Davey on 17.02.20.

    Stop shagging men.

    Says Davey on 28.06.18.

  24. Chris M

    The sinister side of the nanny state.

    Yes, the pinnacle of which is murdering babies. Don’t think that bothers you so much though David…

  25. max

    Rights do not come to us from nature, which knows no rights except cunning and strength.

    So what then do we base our rights upon?

    Modern science and evolutionary theory would tell us that all men are not created equal. Men are born with a variety of traits, some are strengths and some are weaknesses.

    So if science does not present evidence of “rights” and we do not believe that “rights” come from God or some Supreme Being, where do they come from?

    Philosophically, we are left with some notion that rights come from ourselves – either we as individuals demand and fight for them or the government grants them to us.

    But are those actually rights in the traditional sense or simply benefits of where we live and which way the political winds are blowing?

    No God no rights, except state given

    Man has given, and the Man has taken away!

  26. max

    WHAT IS A RIGHT?

    “I have my rights!” This announcement is a statement of principle. But what does it mean?
    A right is a claim of judicial immunity. A person is granted—by someone—immunity from prosecution by the civil government whenever he commits certain specified acts. These acts are conventionally termed rights, but in fact it is the grant of immunity from prosecution which constitutes the right. Such a grant of immunity is a grant of privilege.
    If this grant of privilege originates with civil government, then civil government may subsequently decide to revoke it. This threat was what motivated Thomas Jefferson to write his immortal words in the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
    God, as the Creator, was identified the source of these rights, which the typesetter printed as “unalienable.” Jefferson’s original manuscript said “inalienable.” Either way, the meaning is clear: no one may lawfully surrender these rights. This is what “inalienable” means: not subject to transfer.

  27. max

    God, as the Creator, was identified the source of these rights,

  28. max

    The concept of right, from the point of view of the United States Constitution in 1788, meant one thing, and one thing only: immunity from the federal government.

    The concept of right in the 20th century shifted. It was no longer merely a right to immunity from the state. It was a right to financial support by the state.
    We see this confusion in the famous four freedoms of Franklin Roosevelt.

    Why did original concept change?
    Because american religion changed

  29. Iampeter

    @max – saying rights come from god is the same thing as saying rights come from the state.

  30. John of Mel

    @max – saying rights come from god is the same thing as saying rights come from the state.

    Not at all. State didn’t create me. God did.
    You need to stop with this hatred of your Creator, Peter. Talk to Him. He loves you. He will listen.

  31. max

    Iampeter
    #3327002, posted on February 18, 2020 at 6:42 am
    @max – saying rights come from god is the same thing as saying rights come from the state.

    If you read history of England from 1066 till 1688 you will find that in struggle for freedom English use God as a witness to peoples rights and freedom.

    And they were in top 5 free people in the world until WW1.

  32. Iampeter

    Not at all. State didn’t create me. God did.

    So?

    If you read history of England from 1066 till 1688 you will find that in struggle for freedom English use God as a witness to peoples rights and freedom.

    So?

    Let’s just start at the beginning: what do you even think “rights” means?

  33. max

    Nazism and communism should stand as warnings to those who think you can build a rational society devoid of religious beliefs. Millions of people were murdered under those systems, and why was that? Because without religion, one can make a perfectly logical and reasoned argument for murder. Why should society spend the money to maintain the lives of the hopelessly insane or retarded? Why shouldn’t the government round up and execute people it considers a threat? Does not the greater good trump the fate of individuals?

    If indeed there is no God, then human life is just an accidental phenomenon and no more valuable than that of a mosquito. As we saw in Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, societies without God create rivers of blood. In a crazy way, humans will always be under a god — if not the God of the universe, then the state will become God. Personally, I prefer the one in the sky to the one in the uniform.

    Liberals hate it when I say this, but the Third Reich was secular liberalism carried to its logical conclusion. That’s plain enough if you study the Third Reich and compare it with the positions advocated by today’s secular liberals. It is always a fatal error to put one’s trust in man instead of in God.

    https://www.lewrockwell.com/2004/11/charley-reese/you-have-a-choice/

  34. max

    Whether founded on “reason” or no, they are clearly not founded on Pareto’s logico-experimental methodology. What, then, is the methodology Rand uses to defend her principles? Pareto suggests that there are two main non-logico-experimental methods that individuals resort to: the theological and the metaphysical. Since Rand had no use for God or theology, she opted for the metaphysical method. Santayana once described metaphysics as “an attempt to determine matters of fact by means of logical or moral or rhetorical constructions.” That it is a fairly apt description of Rand’s customary mode of procedure (though Rand tends to be far more moral and rhetorical than logical). Pareto further notes that metaphysical “arguments” rely “on the lack of exactness in everyday language to mask their defects in logic and carry conviction.” Also a very apt description of the typical Objectivist “argument”! Consider what Rand has to say about “man’s rights” and note the “lack of exactness” and the verbal character of the “reasoning”:

    The source of man’s rights is not divine law or congressional law, but the law of identity. A is A—and Man is Man. [That’s all very wonderful, but what is it supposed to mean! What particularly facts or set of facts is it supposed to accord with?] Rights are conditions of existence required by man’s nature for his proper survival. [What on earth is this “proper” survival, and how are we supposed to distinguish it from non-proper forms of survival?] If man is to live on earth, it is right for him to use his mind, it is right to act on his own free judgment, it is right to work for his values and to keep the product of his work. [But men have been living on earth for centuries without these rights, so why does he need them now?] If life on earth is his purpose, he has a right to live as a rational being: nature forbids him the irrational. [If Nature forbids man to be irrational, why does man need a “right to live as a rational being”? If Nature forbids the irrational, why not simply let Nature take its course and be done with all this ineffectual patter about rights?]

    This “argument,” if it can even be called such, makes no appeal to logic or fact but merely to various sentiments, which it both swathes and tickles. To the extent that any specific meaning can be teased out of it at all, it is full of absurdities. If, for example, Rand’s contention about rights having their “source” in the law of identity means that such rights can be deduced or inferred from said law, then it is easily refutable: to go from A is A to a theory of man’s rights is to commit a palpable non sequitur. Rand’s inclusion of her favorite tautology is merely a device to suggest an aura of logic without actually providing any real logic (such as a train of valid reasoning). And when later she declares that “Nature forbids the irrational,” she unwittingly undercuts the very raison d’être of her theory rights. Rights are formulated by men precisely because there are no other non-human forces (such as Rand’s “nature”) to regulate social interaction. If there were such forces, rights would be superfluous.

    The purpose of criticizing Rand’s verbiage on rights is not to refute her theory, but merely to show the weakness of the reasons she presents in its behalf. How could someone as intelligent as Rand present such fatuous reasons for defending a theory she obviously regarded as vitally important? And why can’t her followers, who are taught to regard “rationality” as the highest virtue, perceive the logical and empirical vacuity of Rand’s various “arguments” for rights? In order to answer these questions, we must make use of Pareto’s theory of residues and derivations, which will be the focus of the next “Objectivism and Politics” post.

    https://aynrandcontrahumannature.blogspot.com/2009/05/objectivism-politics-part-8.html

  35. Iampeter

    Exactly. You need to learn what rights are.

    Nazism and communism should stand as warnings to those who think you can build a rational society devoid of religious beliefs.

    Yea. Nazis and communists are just too rational. If only they were irrational lunatics we wouldn’t have had any problems.

    This is on the level of you previously claiming the problem with atheism is it’s a religion.
    You need to learn to think straight so you can stop putting forward self contradictions.

  36. max

    This is on the level of you previously claiming the problem with atheism is it’s a religion.

    Who do you give oath or affirmation of allegiance to?

    that is your God man.

    Atheist give oath to the state — well state is god and religion.
    Yes back to the Caesar times.

  37. Iampeter

    Who do you give oath or affirmation of allegiance to?
    that is your God man.

    That’s what I’m saying. So whether you give allegiance to man or god you’re doing the same thing.
    This is why religion is leftism.

    Those of us who have a rational world view and are consistently individualistic, don’t give allegiances to anybody. It’s a whole different world view to religious and secular collectivists.
    It’s the world view that says each life is an end in itself, not the means to the ends of others, whether they be be men or gods or whatever.

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