First “Do No Harm”

Physicians swear to first do no harm. Doctors must carefully weigh their treatments and interventions into the body to be sure not to do more harm than good. They must weigh the pros and cons, they utilize science to make informed decisions and to guide their patients.

If only government understood this simple idea. We have an activists government, a government that sees problems everywhere and is eager to solve them with laws, regulations, prohibitions and interventions of force. It is of course our own fault, we expect our government to take care of us. Governments have always existed to prevent force from outside their borders and maintain an army and defense. In modern times governments have become expected to do many more things. The government is expected to shepherd the economy to make sure the citizens have jobs that pay the bills. Governments are expected to care for the elderly and provide fairness in all things. Drugs are bad- so government must outlaw them and put those who refuse to obey in jail.

When politicians see a problem they immediately start thinking of how to address it with the force of government. All too often we pass laws thought to address a problem that create more harm than good. No one would argue that the disabled should be discriminated against so we passed a law, the ADA. Then we all moved on feeling good about our great society. But the result of that law was that fewer disabled people got jobs as businesses were afraid of the costs of accommodating them or being sued if they didn’t work out. It didn’t matter if a particular disabled person was happy to work somewhere under the conditions, the government wouldn’t allow it making that person a liability- and taking away that choice. Prostitution is demeaning to women so we prohibit it almost everywhere. But the demand remains and so now women who become prostitutes, some willingly some not, are at the mercy of the lawless streets. The intention is to get rid of the behavior we abhor but the result is worse.Regulation of industry is similar. The process was described in comical fashion by Ronald Reagan: “If it moves tax it, if it continues regulate it, if it stops subsidize it!”

In my debates I am often asked to prove that a particular law or regulation is harmful; shouldn’t the burden be on the government- the only institution with the compulsion of law to prove that it isn’t? Shouldn’t we expect our lawmakers to first do no harm? Shouldn’t they examine all the costs and weigh these against the proposed benefits of what they propose? The problem with laws and rules are that they rarely go away once passed. Year after year they persist despite all the evidence of their failure or high cost to benefit ratio. Whole industries thrive on these laws and protect them with powerful lobbyist and lawyers.

We have an ever growing nanny state, the only difference between Republicans and Democrats in recent years has been the size and scope of the nanny state. Mayor Bloomberg of NYC, a quasi Republican has gone after smoking, salt, and now soda in his city all in the name of protection. He has even tried to control the amount of pain killers doctors prescribe in the cities hospitals. We are more enamored today with safety and comfort than we are freedom. We expect to be protected and we have been all too willing to give up choice and freedom to do it. Let the citizens demand that their government first do no harm.

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