Decent People Helping Tyrants
Walter E. Williams, July 14, 1997


In pursuit of what's deemed as worthy objectives, decent people often pave the way for tyranny. The process usually begins by the piecemeal destruction of the foundations of liberty: private property, rule of law, voluntary exchange and limited government. Those basic rights often stand in the way of do-gooders' objectives. Once those foundations have become seriously eroded, it's an easy matter for egoists and tyrants to take over and produce an agenda quite different from do-gooder intentions. The most tragic example of this process was Nazi Germany, where the seeds for Hitler's rampage were sown long before he came to power. That process, albeit at the embryonic stages, is developing in America.

What's driving the latest round of political extortion of the tobacco industry is the fact that cigarette smoking has harmful health effects. Those health effects impose higher costs on the socialized components of our healthcare system - Medicaid. Americans want to combat those costs by supporting government measures that trash private property rights, peaceable voluntary exchange, and limited government in an attempt to alter personal lifestyles.

We are naive, perhaps stupid is a better word, enough to think that lifestyle tyrants will be finished once they bring the tobacco industry to its knees. The fact of business is that history records no instances where a tyrant woke up one morning and said, "I'm tired of tyrannizing and I'm going to let people live free."

The New England Journal of Medicine, reports that one third of cancer deaths and more than one-half of cardiovascular deaths result from excess weight. Each year, over 300,000 deaths are attributable to overweight, compared to 400,000 deaths attributable to cigarette smoking. Dr. JoAnn E. Mason, of Harvard Medical Schools says, "It won't be long before obesity surpasses cigarette smoking as a cause of death in this country."

Since obesity impacts heavily on healthcare costs, why not do to the food industry what government's doing to the tobacco industry? Yale University's Professor Kelley D. Brownell, director of the Center for Eating & Weight Disorders, and others have that agenda under way by proposing that fatty foods and those with little nutritional content be taxed. She suggests that the tax proceeds be used to build bike and hiking trails. She also says that since the average child sees 10,000 food commercials each year, 95 percent of them for junk food and sugared cereals, Congress ought to regulate junk food commercials. After all the cigarette tyrants got "Joe Camel" banned, why not Rice Krispies?

Dr. Ronald Griffiths, at Johns Hopkins University, is concerned about coffee's addictive qualities and says, "If health risks are well-documented, caffeine could be catapulted in public perception from a pleasant habit to a possibly harmful drug of abuse." That will become justification for FDA regulation of coffee and chocolate caffeine content. Then there's new bogus illness named Multiple Chemical Sensitivity. An official in the San Francisco mayor's office predicted, "Ten years from now it will be politically incorrect to wear perfumes in public." Allergy sufferers have gotten Albuquerque, New Mexico's city council to pass an ordinance banning the growing, selling, importing or planting cypress, mulberry, elm and poplar trees, under penalty of a $500 fine.

That some people are wiser than others is the oldest idea in human history. It also accounts for most of the human misery because elitists believe they've been ordained to forcibly impose that wisdom on others at any cost. Tragically, most Americans have bought into this vision. Maybe it's too late for a recovery; I hope not.

Walter E. Williams
Return to articles page