Walter E. Williams

A fortnight ago, I wrote about Mississippi Legislature House Bill 282 that would have imposed fines or revoked licenses of food establishments that served obese people. Fortunately, the measure died in committee. State Rep. Ted Mayhall, one of the bill's sponsors, justified it by saying that he wanted to bring attention to the fact that "Obesity makes people more susceptible to diabetes, which puts a further strain on the state's financially-challenged Medicaid program."

His sentiments were expressed by quite a few readers who didn't necessarily support such a measure but opined that if a particular behavior or lifestyle imposed costs on others through tax-supported health care, the government had a right to intercede.

Similar justification was used for laws requiring helmets for motorcyclists and bicyclists. After all, if one exercises his liberty to ride without a helmet, and has an accident and becomes a vegetable, society has to bear the expense of taking care of him. The fact that an obese person becomes ill, or a cyclist has an accident, and becomes a burden on taxpayers who must bear the expense of taking care of him, is not a problem of liberty. It's a problem of socialism where one person is forced to take care of another. There is no moral argument that justifies using the coercive powers of government to force one person to bear the expense of taking care of another. If that person is too resolute in his refusal to do so, what is the case for imposing fines, imprisonment or death?

You say, "Death! Aren't you exaggerating, Williams?" Say he tells the agents of Congress that he'll pay his share of the constitutionally mandated functions of government but refuse to pay the health costs of a sick obese person or a cyclist who becomes a vegetable, what do you think the likely course of events will be? First, he'd be threatened with fines, imprisonment or property confiscation. Refusal to give in to these government sanctions would ultimately lead to his being shot by the agents of Congress.

Forcing one person to bear the burden of health care costs for another is not only a moral question but a major threat to personal liberty. Think about all the behaviors and lifestyles that can lead to illness and increase the burden on taxpayers. A daily salt intake exceeding 6 grams can lead to hypertension. A high-fat diet and high alcohol intake can also lead to diabetes. A sedentary lifestyle can lead to several costly diseases such as hypertension, diabetes and heart failure.


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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