John Stossel
A child leaving home alone for the first time takes a risk. So does the entrepreneur who opens a new business. I no more want government to prevent us from doing these things than I want it to keep us in padded cells.

Everyone has a different tolerance for risk. One person takes out a second mortgage to start a business. Another thinks that sounds nerve-racking, if not insane. Neither person is wrong. Government cannot know each person's preferences, or odds of success.

Even if it did, what right does it have to tell them what to do?

When government gets in the business of deciding which risks are acceptable and which aren't, nasty things happen.

This includes government's attempt to improve life by regulating gambling and the use of medicine, banning recreational drugs and mandating safety devices in cars.

In what sense are we free if we can't decide such things for ourselves?

Through the Food and Drug Administration, the government claims to protect us. But some people suffer because of that protection: Some die waiting for drugs to be approved.

Don't we own our own bodies? Why, in a supposedly free country, do Americans, even when dying, meekly stand aside and let the state limit our choices?

The Drug Enforcement Administration jails pain-management doctors who prescribe quantities of painkillers that the DEA considers "inappropriate." It's true that some people harm themselves with Vicodin and OxyContin, but it's hard for doctors to separate "recreational" users from people really in pain. Some cancer patients need large amounts of painkillers.

After the DEA jailed doctors, some pain specialists began to underprescribe. The website of the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons warns doctors: Don't go into pain management. "Drug agents now set medical standards. ... There could be years of harassment and legal fees." Today, even old people in nursing homes sometimes don't get pain relief they need.

Even the best safety regulations have unexpected costs. Seat belts save 15,000 lives a year, but it's possible that they kill more people than they save.

University of Chicago economist Sam Peltzman argues that increased safety features on cars have the ironic effect of encouraging people to drive more recklessly. It's called the Peltzman Effect -- a variation on what insurance experts call "moral hazard." Studies show that people drive faster when they are snugly enclosed in seat belts.

Also, while passengers were less likely to die, there were more accidents and more pedestrians were hit.

Perhaps the best safety device would be a spike mounted on the steering wheel -- pointed right at the driver's chest.


John Stossel

John Stossel is host of "Stossel" on the Fox Business Network. He's the author of "No They Can't: Why Government Fails, but Individuals Succeed." To find out more about John Stossel, visit his site at >johnstossel.com. To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com. ©Creators Syndicate