Monday, June 06, 2005

Daddy Government 

There were a couple of unrelated stories that I was going to comment on separately. I think there is actually some connection, but then again I always think different items are often linked somehow.

This is deja vu of the wrong kind for San Francisco: a few days ago a young boy was mauled to death by two pit bulls. This tragedy follows the tragic dog mauling death of Diane Whipple in 2001, an event still traumatic to the city. San Francisco being what it is, the immediate reaction was for the local government to find a quick solution to this problem (I leave it to you to judge whether this is a good or bad thing). The city government is putting all options on the table including banning ownership of pit bulls within city limits. Mayor Gavin Newsome sums up why San Francisco City Hall has feels it has to consider such a drastic measure:

"We have to be realistic," Newsom told the Associated Press. "You've got dogs that literally can kill. We've seen it demonstrated. If we can't change people's behavior and make them think what's in their best interest, then that's when government comes along and becomes a bit paternalistic.

"In this town, having a pit bull or two or three and three kids is not acceptable because we're not going to deal with the consequences of losing a life."



Newsom, in his typical smart fashion, hits the nail on the head. "Paternalistic" seems like the right term to me, with all the negative connotations that come with that word. But, in this case, is it worth restricting freedom of ownership to improve public safety? It's not clear yet if there was any negligence involved in the case of the young boy's death, but most pit bull attacks seem to be due to some form of owner negligence. Yet the vast majority of pit bulls, and other breeds of dogs considered dangerous, never attack. It's only a few bad apples that spoil the bunch. I can understand the urge to ban pit bulls, but I don’t think I agree with that option. Still, more owner education and regulation could help. I’m just not yet sure what the right option is.

The other story from Monday that caught my attention was the Supreme Court decision regarding the use of medicinal use of marijuana. Here's where the libertarian side of me rally kicks in. Here is a case where the government is being "paternalistic" but definitely for the wrong reasons.

I don't know enough legally to say whether the US Supreme Court was right or wrong in saying that Congress has the power to override state laws on drug use, but I do know for sure that I don't like the law as Congress passed it. Setting aside for a moment whether it should be legal to recreationally smoke Mary Jane, this is different from the case of the pit bulls; the majority of pit bull owners are responsible, whereas the majority of pot smokers don’t get a prescription. Still, though, just because there is a significant population improperly baking their brains out on pot, why should this preclude those who may benefit medically from using the drug? If the medical effectiveness of pot is in dispute, then it should be legally tested like any other drug.

I see no difference between this case, and that of legalized painkiller. The abuse of painkillers affects millions of Americans, should they be made illegal? In the case of marijuana, the government would much rather throw out the baby with the bathwater, and write off any good this drug may have for legitimately suffering individuals.

I personally see the proper role of government as something like that of a referee in a sports match. Its job is to insure the game (life) is running smoothly, calling fouls when necessary (but calling those fouls fairly). If a referee is doing his job correctly, spectators will likely forget he is on the field of play. Government should function in the same way, stepping in to the degree it needs to, and getting out of the way when it is a hindrance.

Comments:
read xrlq's bit on the dog case.
 
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