Sunday, September 17, 2006

My Two Common Cents...

Further to the comments of the last post, how do you get people to smarten up and not give away freedom in the process? Should people be allowed to be freely stupid at a cost to others, and if that is curbed, is that an encroachment on freedom?

From what I’ve seen, people don’t change their ways unless is costs them big time. And even then it sometimes doesn’t take. Still, can you legislate common sense? Is that what no smoking laws are? Seat belt laws? Drunk driving laws? Is that the government stepping in saying “you’re not smart enough not to hurt yourselves, so we have to do something about it.”?

If people want to do something stupid and the only cost would be to themselves, I say have at it. It’s when their actions cost me that I get perturbed. Take the smoking bans for instance. I’m all for banning it. Just because someone can stand beside me and smoke and pump out noxious fumes that screw my lungs up doesn’t mean they should. I don’t like the fact that my health is taking a hit just so someone else can have the ‘freedom’ to smoke. Where’s my ‘freedom’ to be healthy?

But how do you make people start to think unless the cost is large. Take the drunk driving laws. From Wikipedia, here’s Canada’s laws if you blow over 80:

For the first offence: $600 fine, 1-year driving prohibition; or jail time
For the second offence: 14 days jail, 2-year driving prohibition; and time in jail
For the third or subsequent offence: 90 days jail, 3-year driving prohibition.

That’s way too lax. And here’s the max sentence ever handed out:

On Dec 15, 2005, Charly Hart of Watford, Ontario, a man with a 35-year history of impaired driving which included thirty-nine convictions, was on the occasion of his latest such conviction sentenced to six years in prison, the most severe penalty ever handed down in Canada when the offence did not involve a fatality, and the maximum sentence permitted under the law.

That’s insane! 35 years and 39 convictions of drunk driving and he finally gets a 6 year sentence. The justice system should be embarrassed. If you really want to cut out drunk driving here’s what you do – first conviction = lifetime license revoked and 10 years in jail. THAT’s how you get people’s attention. If someone wants to drive their car around on their own property stone drunk, I say have at it. But you go on the roads and put my life at risk, I say throw the book at them.

Now, how is that different from smoking? Banning drinking and driving is taking away freedom and legislating common sense and so is banning smoking. Both actions risk the health of others, but one is commonly accepted as being justly against the law and the other is fought tooth and nail as losing a ‘freedom’.

If my tax dollars have to go into a health care system that is just holding together by a thread as it is, would it be a bad idea to put in a law that says self inflicted, preventable injuries have to be paid for by the individual so the free health care can go to those that need it? The mega problem with that, however, is who decides where that line is. Politicians? Insurance companies (shudder)? Doctors?

There’s obviously no good way to do it, so the freedom to be stupid and have someone else pay the price remains intact. But if I have to work my ass off so half my paycheque can go to taxes to cover the costs of people being stupid, is that really freedom to begin with?

Comments on "My Two Common Cents..."


Blogger The Original LRU said ... (September 18, 2006 3:31 AM) : 

I posted a reply to the previous article before reading this, so you might want to check that out too.

You raise a lot of points, and we're wading right into the Canadian vs. American views on social conscience and taxes. I'm using those terms loosely of course, but I think they are relatively accurate.

As I see it:

Canadian: society has a responsibility to take care of its citizens, and everyone shares the cost. This is socialist. You pay your taxes not just for the services you receive, but also for those of your neighbours.

American: freedom is paramount, and the government should not meddle in the affairs of its citizens, even if there could be a positive outcome from it. You should pay as little tax as necessary to keep the country going, and pay your own way through life. If you need help, the church, or concerned neighbours can lend you money on a case by case basis.


First, I don't think the example group of legislated common sense is quite correct. Seat belt laws and bicycle helmet laws are in the category of personal injury, and up to you. Both are only protecting the victim of an accident, and not really harming anyone else (unless you count insurance payouts for injuries, which is another whole kettle of fish I won't go into). Let's just say that these laws are there to protect you from yourself. As such, I think they can safely be removed in the name of freedom. While it may be a good idea, it should not be mandatory.

Secondly you mention drunk driving laws. This directly impacts other people, and can lead to unnecessary injury or death. In this case, I think it is perfectly legitimate to have such laws, for you are protecting people from being harmed by others. This is the purpose of law, and freedom is not harmed by it.

Thirdly you mention the smoking ban. This is a fuzzy area in my view. The only victims here, with a little stretch of the imagination, are the waitresses of the smoking restaurants. The owner is not a victim, since he can chose what clientele he can cater to. The clients are not victims, because you can go somewhere else if you don't like the smoke. The waitresses are possibly victims, because it is harder to find another job than it is to just find another restaurant.

In this case, I'm conflicted, because there is definitely a limit on freedom, but there is a good cause for it as well (that is, protecting workers from forced smoke inhalation; not the health care cost reduction). I look at the issue from another perspective: in a smoking banned location, there is no way for a restaurant owner to specifically cater to smokers. Restaurants are legal. Smoking is legal. But you can't put them together. This I find inconsistent with freedom.

My only solution to this is to allow smokers-only restaurants, but to ban the non-smoking areas you used to have in the 80's. This way a restaurant owner would have to choose which clientele he wants to deal with, and which one is more lucrative. The clients get to choose, and they have a real choice as well, not some fake choice with smokers on one side and laughable non smoking on the other.

I would even be ok with a special tax on smoking restaurants, since the health care costs of smoking are documented. Such restaurants might as well share the wealth for the health care they use for their habit, and this would encourage non-smoking restaurants.

I think that after experiencing a ban like we have experienced here, a balance would be found with such a system. Plus freedom would be preserved, and everyone would be happy.


Blogger The Original LRU said ... (September 18, 2006 3:46 AM) : 

In my last response, I mentioned briefly that I wouldn't mind taxes on smoking restaurants. This leads to a response to your question on whether people should pay for their own health care when they do stupid things.

My idea is that taxes are much preferrable over laws that ban things.

Taxes can help shape behaviour, and fund alternatives. For example, taxes on cigarettes are very high. I support this in the view of how much of a cost smoking can be on society, especially in a society that pays its own health care.

Also, there are taxes on gasoline. I support this as well, as the users of highways should pay for their maintenance through use, not through their income taxes; and gasoline, as a non-renewable resource, is the perfect "bad thing" to tax in relation to transport. If anything, I would support an increase in gas taxes if the money went to funding alternative transportation methods.

Taxes are a disincentive. People find ways to avoid paying them. They are economic brakes on society, and should be used wisely. If there is an action or behaviour that society deems undesirable, one way to affect it is to tax it.

Incidentally, with this view, it makes for a comical look at how government views income..... :-)

I don't think the answer is to tax health care services based on the treatment needed or the cause of the injury. But if there is an industry fueling a lot of injury related occurances, perhaps a new tax is in order.

Anyway, some good questions in your posts. I hope other people post as well. If not, you'll be stuck with my wild ideas. :-)


Blogger Eaglewing said ... (September 19, 2006 3:30 PM) : 

Apparently, you've put a lot of thought into this :) some good points, although I guess in the quick synopsis of Can Vs US ways, I might actually lean a bit towards the US view. I see so much waste of tax money and people screwing the system that sometimes (note, sometimes) I'd rather have my money back, let me manage my own affairs, and let the other idiots sink or swim on their own without me having to pull the weight of half of society's deadbeats.

No matter what though, there will always be those that get hurt and those that take advantage of the system. It's human nature, and greed and lazyness are predictible modus operandis.

Just gotta make the best of the mess we got.


Blogger The Original LRU said ... (September 21, 2006 1:59 AM) : 

I think a lot of people are tempted to like the US way at first, because they are so unimpressed with the government, and the job they are doing. It seems like common sense to get rid of the waste, and government appears to be candidate #1.

I was this way myself for a while. You might not know it now, but I used to silently cheer on Mike Harris.

Ironically, it was discussing these things with Americans online, who continually extolled the virtues of individual freedom that made me see some of the wisdom of Canada's way.

Canada tends to emphasize community at the expense of the individual, while America (or at least the ideal version) emphasizes the individual at the expense of the community.

But at least in the American context, if you're not a fortunate individual in the economic department, you can easily get left behind.

I think a healthy community is one of the ingredients needed for a healthy individual, but focusing on individual rights seems to subtly change a person's viewpoint into "me me me" when the real value is thinking what is best for others.

While there are tons of good arguments on either side, it is this community-oriented thinking that has won me over, and why I'm more proud of Canada now than I have been before over the years.


post a comment