I think it’s pretty obvious why it’s okay to have laws that prohibit smoking in public places (undeniably terrible for you and the rest of us can’t escape it), that require us to be vaccinated (because smallpox isn’t just tiny chicken pox!), or that prevent people from dumping toxic crap in the water supply.
But it’s less obvious why we have laws that make us do things (or not do things) that really only harm ourselves. Take seatbelts. If you want to take a risk and drive without any kind of bodily restraint in a 1-ton hunk o steel careening down the highway at 80 mph, that’s your choice, so the theory goes.
The government shouldn’t legally require you to wear a seatbelt because, unlike in the previous examples, you alone take the risk and you alone will bear the responsibility.
That’s not really what happens though. You alone may take the risk, but lots of other people bear the burden of your stupidity. I mean choice.
Referring to mandatory helmet laws, Mary Ann Glendon writes:
It is the rare driver, passenger, or biker who does not have a child, or a spouse, or a parent… The independent individualist, helmetless and free on the open road, becomes the most dependent of individuals in the spinal injury ward.
And even if you were a true human island with zero personal connection to another human being, it’s the rest of us, via our taxes, that will pick you up off the side of the road, deliver you to an ER, fund at least a portion of your care, pay for your unemployment benefits or disability insurance while you recover, and then, when you’re better, watch you do the same thing again.
It’s easy to forget the invisible cost and interconnectedness of our society and health care system (stay with me) by assuming a strictly libertarian approach to the proper role of government. Of course there’s a level when such concerns for the interconnectedness yadda ya become straight overreach (banning sugary treat for those under 18? really?), but seatbelts and other cheap, easily enforced, and highly effective solutions to entirely preventable deaths don’t count.