Walter E. Williams

Then there's the infamous McDonald's case, where Stella Liebeck purchased hot coffee, placed it between her legs, spilling it and scalding herself, and was awarded $2.9 million for her troubles. Clearly, she was at fault, but George Mason University Law Professor Richard Bernstein points out that a proximate cause for her injury was the fact she was wearing a cotton sweat suit that absorbed the coffee and held it close to her body. However, if she were wearing a Gore-Tex suit, or some other liquid resistant material, she would have suffered no injuries. Bernstein asks what's the tort principle that holds McDonald's responsible but not the sweat suit manufacturer?

None of these cases, and many others, differs in principle from the Merv Grazinski urban legend. What's common to all of them is the absolution or the attempt at absolution from personal responsibility. Are people to be held responsible for their actions? In the case of tobacco use, it's not the smoker who's responsible for his illness, it's tobacco companies. In the case of obesity, it's not the individual, but fast food companies and food manufacturers who are responsible. It's the same with criminal violence -- the gun manufacturer is partly to blame.

What does all this say for the future of our nation?


Walter E. Williams

Dr. Williams serves on the faculty of George Mason University as John M. Olin Distinguished Professor of Economics and is the author of 'Race and Economics: How Much Can Be Blamed on Discrimination?' and 'Up from the Projects: An Autobiography.'
 
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