The role of the government - a poll

This is a multi question poll, so please respond in-line (you can just provide a number list and yes/no responses, or add detail, if you’d like. A ‘yes’ answer means the government SHOULD regulate as indicated, and a ‘no’ answer means the government should reduce or repeal restrictions in the indicated area).

(1-9 are items the government mostly does already (within the US anyways), 10-11 are additional restrictions the government could impose):

Should the government, in it’s various ways:

  1. Mandate seat belt usage for adults?
  2. Mandate car seat usage for kids below a certain age?
  3. Criminalize hard drugs (Heroin, Cocaine/Crack/Meth)?
  4. Criminalize Marijuana?
  5. Tax cigarettes and other tobacco products heavily (i.e. as things now are - cigarettes typically much more heavily taxed than say, candy)?
  6. Mandate motorcycle helmet usage?
  7. Set speed limits on roads at levels low enough so that ~half or more of motorists routinely speed by 5-10 mph or more?
  8. Impose strict controls on pharmaceuticals? (i.e. roughly the current regime, which emphasizes safety and efficacy at a cost of slowing deployment of new drugs, and adding development costs)
  9. Impose roughly the current regime of FCC regulation of over-the-air broadcasting? (i.e. attempting to limit profanity and the like)
  10. Impose much stricter advertising restrictions on junk food for kids?
  11. Impose more severe tobacco restrictions? (higher taxes, greater limits on packaging, point of sale displays and the like)


I realize it’s hard to read folks’ responses with just the numbers, so feel free to respond to the following abbreviated version:

1 - Seat Belts?
2 - Car Seats?
3 - Hard Drugs?
4 - Marijuana?
5 - High Tobacco Taxes?
6 - Motorcycle Helmets?
7 - Speed Limits?
8 - FDA/Pharmaceuticals?
9 - FCC/Profanity?
10 - Junk Food Ads (Kids)?
11 - Tougher Tobacco?

Too many of these are impossible, because they are too linked in with other matters relating to government. Do I care if the people do not wear seatbelts (so long as they are making an informed decision). Not really. Do I care if their battered, bleeding husks are dragged into the emergency room for a free 4 day repair session on my nickel? Yeah. So if I have to pay for someone else’s healthcare, I should get to dictate what they do.

CA has criminalized smoking in the car when minors are present.

  1. Yes
  2. Yes
  3. Yes
  4. No
  5. No
  6. No
  7. No
  8. Yes
  9. No
  10. Maybe, depends exactly on how such regulation was formulated. There’s a public good to be served there, but there’s also a free market to be respected.
  11. Yes

Having answered point by point, I don’t think it’s a good poll about role of government because people disagree on the amount and type of danger presented by some of these things. So it’s quite possible for a weird bizarro-world me with the same views on the role of government to stroke his goatee and come up with different answers.

  1. Yes
  2. Yes
  3. Yes
  4. No
  5. Yes
  6. Yes
  7. No
  8. Yes
  9. No
  10. Yes
  11. Yes

Could you explain your reasoning for seatbelts, but not motorcycle helmets?


Cars != Motorcycles. And I don’t mean that technologically, I mean in terms of their role. Cars are the bread and butter of our transportation infrastructure. The majority of people use one every day. Motorcycles have a much bigger toy/fun aspect to them, though I’m not denying they do get used for common transportation tasks as well. Since motorcycles are a much smaller and less used class of vehicles, and riders presumably know they are signing up for bigger risks regardless of helmet usage, there’s much less point in trying to force safety regulations on riders than on daily drivers.

Oh, and I say all this as someone who rode for years, owned more than one bike, and never rode sans helmet.

That . . . makes no sense whatsoever. I think you’re saying that motorcycle riders are somehow grownups that get to make decisions about their health, whereas drivers of cars need to be babied. Is that it?


Slyfrog hit on the best explanation for these kind of laws I’ve heard.

I suppose the hardcore libertarians would just say you should end all freely provided healthcare (e.g. crash your bike with no insurance and the emergency room turns you away).

Malphigian - you can take the argument the other way. Because the government is involved in health care, it should be much MORE involved in personal decisions - hard core involvement in food choices, mandated exercise, and so on.

I think you can make reasonable arguments about the pros and cons of government involvement in these areas without leaning too much on the government-provided health care rationale that SlyFrog outlines.

Interesting set of questions. The unifying theme appears to be “the government making a decision for you around what’s good for you in the long term.”

Seat belts: Yes.
Car seats: Yes.
Hard drugs: Maybe.
Marijauna: No.
Sin taxes: Yes.
Motorcycle helmets: Maybe.
Speed limits: Not sure what you’re getting at here.
Pharmaceuticals: Disagree with your framing.
FCC: Keep the regulation, but it’s entirely based around the wrong things.
Junk food advertising: Pretty much all advertising to kids is broken, but I’m not sure what to do about it.
More tobacco restrictions: no.

Really, it comes down to “how big is the benefit” and “how annoying is it to the users.”

Re: Speed limits…

This is an issue with both local roads and interstates. But looking at interstates in particular, the speed limit in Illinois on interstates, is, I think 65 mph (this may not be true in all cases, but for the main part of I-55* which I take, I think 65 is the limit).

If weather and traffic conditions are reasonable, 65 feels artificially low. If you actually drive at 65 under good conditions, you will be passed frequently, and almost never pass other drivers (including semis, which I think are supposed to be driving 55).

There may be a deterrent effect at play - setting the limit at 65 keeps most folks to 70-75 or so, whereas raising the limit to 75 might bump speeds even higher. Nonetheless, it’s my experience that most drivers on I-55 break the law. Should the law, therefore, be changed?

You can generalize this discussion out to other speed limits on other roads of course. I think the phenomenon of speed limits being lower than what folks tend to drive at is fairly common.

  • For reference, I-55 from St. Louis to Chicago is quite flat and straight, with a divided grassy median most of the way. Traffic isn’t usually very bad. It’s an almost ideal highway to drive on. Back when the speed limit was 55, it was SO unnatural to try to stay at the limit on this and similar highways. Even at 65, it can feel a bit unnatural, under good conditions.

1 - Seat Belts? No, but if you are injured while not wearing one, don’t expect the government to pick up the tab for your medical expenses. For that matter, even if you ARE wearing one, don’t expect the government to pick up the tab. You should have insurance. And there’s the important point: Insurance policies should be explicit and clear about what they cover, and there should be NO discretion regarding whether something is covered or not–if it is written there, it is covered. If it isn’t, it isn’t. No trying to waffle out of covering something.
2 - Car Seats? Same answer.
3 - Hard Drugs? Drugs in general should be legalized, and then regulated via taxation. But if you harm somebody else while under the influence, you pay all of their expenses or compensate the family accordingly.
4 - Marijuana? Same answer.
5 - High Tobacco Taxes? I don’t think tobacco use should be legal in any form and place where it impacts non-smokers. If it is used “safely” (in that context) then I would tax it at the same rate as the other drugs mentioned above, as well as alcohol at the same rate. Maybe even caffeine.
6 - Motorcycle Helmets? Same answer as seat belts.
7 - Speed Limits? For urban or heavily travelled roads, I don’t object to speed limits if they are set based on research. For highway settings, imo most highways need more lanes, including TRUCK only lanes and NO TRUCK lanes, and then you can take the speed limits off. But again, refer to answer 1). If you harm somebody while blowing down the autobahn, you pay, or your insurance pays.
8 - FDA/Pharmaceuticals? I believe regulation of pharm research and the resultant drugs sold is a legitimate area of governmental regulation–it is an area where the public just doesn’t have the time or access to the information necessary for every person to be able to make an informed choice on their own.
9 - FCC/Profanity? Fuck that! (couldn’t resist the joke)
10 - Junk Food Ads (Kids)? We baby children WAY too much in our culture these days. But on the other hand, I’d regulate advertising WAY more than we currently do. Ads would have NOTHING in them besides a notice that the product exists, what it is designed to do, and what possible side effects could be expected. All in plain English, all spoken at the same volume and speed.
11 - Tougher Tobacco? I answered that above.

1 - Seat Belts? No
2 - Car Seats? No
3 - Hard Drugs? No
4 - Marijuana? No
5 - High Tobacco Taxes? Yes (and for 3 & 4, above, as well)
6 - Motorcycle Helmets? No
7 - Speed Limits? Yes
8 - FDA/Pharmaceuticals? Yes
9 - FCC/Profanity? Yes
10 - Junk Food Ads (Kids)? No
11 - Tougher Tobacco? No

I’ll take my own stab at it. In general, I balance the question of individual liberty with being sensible, and the fact that government regulation sometimes bullies people into doing what’s good for them anyways. I’ve swung back and forth on a lot of these issues. At this moment though, I think I’m in the personal liberty camp, mostly.

1 - Seat Belts? No
2 - Car Seats? No
3 - Hard Drugs? Yes
4 - Marijuana? Maybe - I can’t make up my mind on this one
5 - High Tobacco Taxes? Yes
6 - Motorcycle Helmets? No
7 - Speed Limits? No (Meaning speed limits should not be artificially low. I think we should have them, but at more sensible levels.)
8 - FDA/Pharmaceuticals? Yes
9 - FCC/Profanity? Yes
10 - Junk Food Ads (Kids)? No
11 - Tougher Tobacco? Maybe. We bump into free speach issues here, and I am not for de-facto banning of tobacco. But within reason, I’d support effort to restrict tobacco more.

Perhaps tomorrow I will post again with a new set of answers :)

We have a winner.

That said:

  1. No
  2. No
  3. No
  4. No
  5. Maybe
  6. No
  7. Yes (local government is free to be stupid, and individuals are free to move)
  8. Maybe
  9. No
  10. No
  11. No

I agree 90% with Rollory.

My 5 (tax cigarettes) is a no.

1 - Seat Belts? Yes.
2 - Car Seats? Yes.
3 - Hard Drugs? Yes.
4 - Marijuana? No.
5 - High Tobacco Taxes? No.
6 - Motorcycle Helmets? Yes.
7 - Speed Limits? Yes.
8 - FDA/Pharmaceuticals? Yes.
9 - FCC/Profanity? Yes.
10 - Junk Food Ads (Kids)? No.
11 - Tougher Tobacco? No.

I’m fairly libertarian but I have no problems with laws enacted for issues of public health (seat belts/motorcylcle helmets/speed limits/drugs/FDA).

Marijuana is less harmful than tobacco, should be legalized (at which point I’d probably take up the habit again). Both are harmful - even deadly. So is alcohol. Clearly there is a line that is drawn where people get the chance to make their own screwed up decisions and the argument is over where that line is drawn.

High “sin” taxes, restrictions on advertising seen as “harmful” - this is where public health crosses over into nanny statism - and in the case of sin taxes, purely a money grab enacted because politicians won’t put themselves on the record as pro-sin, so it’s a cheap and sleazy way to raise taxes unfairly.

How is this a government power issue? It’s a technical issue with how speed limits are developed - and for interstates, that’s effectively whatever system traffic engineers use. I haven’t the slightest idea how they come up with them.

Speed limits are also often leveraged as a revenue stream. There’s a stretch of road near my home that suddenly dips from 45mph to 30mph for about 500 feet, and is constantly patrolled. It’s pretty obvious it’s not for reasons of public safety, either.