Neo-conservatives, at least in their early incarnation in the late '60s and '70s, tended to stress that the unintended consequences of government efforts to do good were often more important (and usually more harmful) than the intended consequences.
Writing in City Journal, Steven Malanga reminds us of another reason to resist government-sponsored attempts to improve us: Government frequently gets it wrong. They don't intend to do harm, but through a combination of zeal and haste, they often do.
American life is characterized by pervasive, low-level anxiety about health risks in our air, water, cell phones, power lines, chemicals, prescription drugs and, most of all, food -- punctuated by periodic panics about this or that (avian flu, "flesh-eating" bacteria, H1N1, SARS, and on and on). We are healthier than human beings have ever been in the history of the world, but we are beset by an epidemic of worry.
The federal government both responds to and contributes to this fear. Picking up on the then-fashionable view that dietary cholesterol and saturated fat were responsible for heart disease and other ailments, the Senate Select Committee on Nutrition and Human Needs, chaired by George McGovern, issued food guidelines in 1977. All Americans were urged to reduce the proportion of fat in their diets from 40 percent to 30 percent, and to increase the percentage of carbohydrates to 60 percent of daily calories.
Though some members of the committee, notably Republican Charles Percy, demurred, noting that there was considerable debate within the scientific and medical worlds about the role of dietary fat in disease, the guidelines were embraced by busybodies and earnest improvers of their fellow men.