Nanny State

seat belt law

Nanny state is a term of British origin that conveys a view that a government or its policies are overprotective or interfering unduly with personal choice. The term likens government to the role that a nanny has in child rearing. An early use of the term comes from Conservative British Member of Parliament Iain Macleod in 1965 edition.

The term was popularized by the British and American tobacco industry – especially by their touring celebrity-lobbyists Bernard Levin and Auberon Waugh – and later by PM Margaret Thatcher. Some laws considered nannying at the time, such as mandatory seatbelts and smoking bans, were later accepted as common sense.

Canadian journalist and magazine publisher Tyler Brûlé argued that Australian cities were becoming over-sanitized and the country was on the verge of becoming the world’s dumbest nation. This was blamed on the removal of personal responsibility and the increase in the number and scope of health and safety laws. In Austrailia, the term has also been used to criticize mandatory bicycle helmet laws, gun control laws, prohibitions on alcohol in public places, plain packaging for cigarettes, and pub/club lockout laws.

The city state of Singapore has a reputation as a ‘nanny state,’ owing to the considerable number of government regulations and restrictions on its citizens’ lives. Former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, the architect of the modern Singapore, observed: ‘If Singapore is a nanny state, then I am proud to have fostered one.’ In an interview in the ‘Straits Times’ in 1987, Lee said:

‘I am often accused of interfering in the private lives of citizens. Yes, if I did not, had I not done that, we wouldn’t be here today. And I say without the slightest remorse, that we wouldn’t be here, we would not have made economic progress, if we had not intervened on very personal matters–who your neighbor is, how you live, the noise you make, how you spit, or what language you use. We decide what is right. Never mind what the people think.’

In the United Kingdom in 1980, Lord Balfour of Inchrye strongly opposed the introduction of seatbelt legislation, saying it was ‘yet another state narrowing of individual freedom and individual responsibility.’ He worried that future intrusions of the ‘nanny state’ would include restrictions on cigarettes, alcohol, and mandatory life jackets.[15]

In the United States, Dean Baker of the Center for Economic and Policy Research think tank used the term in 2006 to describe conservative policies that protect the income of the rich. Conversely, the term is also used in an at-large sense against the legislative tendencies of contemporary liberal political ideology, with examples such as progressive banishment of tobacco smoking and the enactment of mandatory bicycle helmet laws.

David Harsanyi used the term to describe food labeling regulations, the legal drinking age and socially conservative government policies. Another example of criticism was the response to New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s 2012 proposal to restrict the sale of soft drinks in venues, restaurants and sidewalk carts to 16 ounces.

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