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Posted: June 18, 2012

Giving thanks for the nanny state

The greater good trumps your opinion -- deal with it

David Sneed

Within the first 14 seconds of every political debate, one side will throw up the word nanny, as in: “I don’t want to live in a nanny state,” or “Please put lead back in my paint.”

See what I did there? There aren’t many of us left to sing the virtues of toxic wall coverings and, thanks to old-timey nannyism, your window-sill-gnawing kids are somewhat normal.

Let’s take a moment to remember the people who made this world a better place by:

  • Banning DDT
  • Prohibiting slavery
  • Taking the sawdust (and worse) out of our hot dogs
  • Pricking you with the polio vaccine
  • Checking that the wings won’t fall off your airplane
  • Making the cook wash his hands

This list can go on for days. But here’s the gist: they’re all examples of government (us) deciding that even though some people are inconvenienced or put out of business, overall good trumps your opinion.

Nannyism sounds bad and of course it can be overdone (see 18th amendment prohibition fiasco), but overall, it’s made America a better place to live. Chances are you owe your life to a law that’s saved you from eating mad cows or flying through a windshield.

Lead paint companies protested. So did slave owners, hot dog rollers, and the polio factory. We all have vested interests to defend sure, but what’s strange to me is that so many people defend interests that don’t defend them.

Without the FDA nanny testing food, darling little Susie might eat Radioact-O’s® for breakfast. Without the FDA nanny, Pfaxo-Bayerson® could cello-wrap guano and call it penicillin.

The FDA now wants McBurgerBell® to stop making fat taste good. Is that so wrong? They want to call nicotine a drug because it’s more addictive than crack. Is that really out of bounds?  New York City wants Dr. Poksi (again ®) to ease up on tempting kids with buckets of sugar water. That’s a bad thing?

We all benefit from nannyism whether we want to admit it or not. We’re only outraged when it affects us directly. “How dare they not serve me whisky? I’m 14 and a half, dagnabit!” 

“Who do they think they are telling me I can’t go over Niagara Falls in a barrel?”

The government has a role as nanny because we make dumb decisions that affect other people - and because smart people will take from the stupid. That’s why we won’t let you serve little Timmy a shot, why we don’t let you to drive a tour bus drunk, and it’s why we make sure you’re paid a minimum wage. It’s even why we have an Air Force. You can’t stop a Russian MiG dropping a bomb on your house - but Nanny Sam can.

Look, obviously there’s a limit to what the government should tell us to do, but are you sure the issue you’re so fired up about is the line they shouldn’t cross? The next time you’re tempted to start your anti-nanny rant, remember: You benefit from a regulation every 48 minutes. They can't be all bad.


David Sneed is the owner of Alpine Fence Company,and the author of" Everyone Has A Boss– The Two Hour Guide to Being the Most Valuable Employee at Any Company." As a Marine, father, employee and boss, David has learned how to help others succeed. He teaches the benefits of a strong work ethic to entry and mid-level employees. Contact him at

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Readers Respond

I don’t always agree with what you say, but I like the way you say it. By Monique on 2012 06 22
John, I agree. Wholeheartedly. My article was not to ask for more regulation, but to ask anyone who uses the argument "Law X will make us a Nanny State" to stop. We already have one as a result of laws created by both parties. The nanny argument doesn't hold water because we can all agree that some regulation is necessary and desirable. My final paragraph asks: "Are you sure THIS law is the one that goes too far?" Anyone who wants to fight a regulation needs a better argument, no matter what side their on, than the "Nanny State" argument. The blanket statement "We should trust everyone to their own 'personal responsibility'" is provably disastrous also. No reasonable person thinks there can be complete freedom for everyone to do whatever they want, whenever they want. That goes for individuals AND business. This wasn't a political article, it was a language article. By David Sneed on 2012 06 21
A good example of a complete nanny state is one run by Fidel Castro. I could use others who are better known, but Fidel is less controversial. In fact the complete nanny states - China, Russia, Germany (1930s), Vietnam, Cuba - etc have worse human rights, environmental, safety conditions, etc. - than free market states. The free market encourages competition which improves quality and productivity. The nanny states encourages - demands - monopoly - which breeds sloth and corruption. It seems that many are willing to accept your premise that the nanny state really has our best interest in mind. It does not and history has proven this time and time again. Europe has proven this time and time again and is proving it again now. Tell me how Greece (today) is better off as a nanny state. By John Herschelman on 2012 06 21
Great article, David. Our quality of life now, including the fact that my car won't fall apart at 60 mph, the fact that I could go to grad school on student loans, the fact that our streets are safe, and the fact that I know what I'm getting if I get a prescription filled, are all results of the "nanny state." The current hatred of all government and worship of the "free market" puts many lives at risk. By John Heckers, MA, CPC, BCPC on 2012 06 20
Yes, we do pay taxes and yes, a bunch of it is wasted. However, paving your own street out of pocket would cost what? I bet that your portion of street paving would be hundreds of times more than you pay in taxes. Good luck getting your neighbors to pitch in on that project. So we created a government to do these things because they have the power to FORCE the neighbor to pay up. Society needs governments, governments cost money. Fight the waste, sure, but not the agency itself. By David on 2012 06 19
One more thing to consider in all of this, is who pays for this? The and me as individuals and families. There is a cost to govern and it's a big one! The last thing we need to do in today's economic climate is create another government agency with a track record of squandering money. You say nanny state, I say more taxes because thats exactly what will happen. History should be our fact finder.......a government too large is worse than a business with too much overhead because it affects everyone from their personal freedoms to thier pocket books. In short, too many bads to be good. I'll stick to doing what's best for me and mine. By Michael on 2012 06 19
I totally agree with John. There are good things the government does and is necessary for. Like other comments, I agree we will only find disagreements to the depths in which govenment should govern our personal lives. Good discussion because of the topic of discussion.....the news media spends millions of dollars to fill air time talking about the same thing. Wearing a seat belt for example is a good thing because thats the way I see it and it should be my choice to wear it, it's NOT my responsibilty to govern my neighbor in a so-called free society. No where in this discussion do I hear about God. Maybe that's the reason this dicussion even exist. By Michael on 2012 06 19
Another well written opinion piece David. I couldn't agree more. I'd recommend some leadership behind those regulations so we don't have lobbyists like Jack Abramoff writing all the rules for their specific interested groups' benefit. I'd rather have well intentioned regulations than none at all. By Raj Dwivedi on 2012 06 18
As far as comments go, suggesting that we can the FAA and just wait and see how many planes "fall out of the sky" is even less considerate of the safety of the general population than any nanny would be. My biggest concern with leaving regulations up to any private business it that a private business benefits more from selling a product for profit (not for the greater good, not for improving the community, not for keeping our families safe...) than any government agency. Chances are our government doesn't give a shit if a company can cut overhead by cutting corners. By Julie on 2012 06 18
Good arguments, all. Katie - If I have 20 infected cows I want to unload I start "Dave's Hamburger," sell the cows, and go out of business. I don't want to stay around, just make a quick buck and go. Free markets have no policing powers, and no amount of 'personal responsibility' or Laissez- faire will keep you from getting BSE. John, I'm not saying agencies/regulations are always effective, I only say that there is at least one regulation that everyone thinks is necessary. (Do you want cars going 80mph past your driveway?) At the point we want one law, we're in a nanny state and we are only arguing over degrees. Some want more - some less, but only an Anarchist or a fool wants NO regulation. By David Sneed on 2012 06 18
Hmmm, let's see...American companies selling Chinese-made toys painted with lead. American companies selling Chinese-made drywall infected with mold. American companies selling Chinese-made toothpaste made with poisonous diethylene glycol... By Vicki on 2012 06 18
Wow, the premise of your whole article completely ignores the free market and how businesses can't sustain success unless they bow to the pressure of their clientelle - we consumers. Do you honestly think private business will try to poison/maim/kill us and hope to stay in business? The nanny state actually reduces our choices considerably and instead encourages crony capitalism . The government can never make you truly "safe", but will continue to grow and become onerous under the guise of making you safe. Listeria outbreaks still happen with raw veggies, despite the government involvement. Let businesses take responsibility for their lack of due diligence and let the free market decide what we want. I think if you look back at all of your examples, it wasn't the nanny state that made things better, but a result of consumer pressure. By Katie on 2012 06 18
Personal responsibility can make the choice not to get on the plane. Airlines can't have planes falling out of the sky and expect to stay in business. I'm not against rules, but many of the government agencies and inspections are more about the illusion of safety rather than true protection of workers or the public. Wasn't there a full time government inspector on the Deep Water Horizon before the explosion and the oil spill? Life is not without risk. Maybe we can keep some of the FAA nannies if we can keep the air traffic controllers from falling asleep while on duty. By John Gimple on 2012 06 18
Thanks for your comments. Two questions: 1) Can personal responsibility walk out on the tarmac and inspect the 737 you're about to fly? 2) Can we at least keep the FAA Nannies? By David Sneed on 2012 06 18
This piece of liberal dogma is an argument for people to be subservient, victims, irresponsible and to not develop critical thinking and decision-making skills. Those are the people I want to avoid in my life; shouldn't be allowed to vote and, at all costs, should not be teaching or otherwise influencing my children. By Robert on 2012 06 18
Smart and not-so-smart people make stupid decisions from time to time. The presence of a law does not prevent people from making stupid decisions. Restaurant workers still don't always wash their hands. Roofers do not always use proper safety equipment. Homeowners and businesses still hire contractors based on costs instead of qualifications It still comes down to personal responsibility and due diligence. By John Gimple on 2012 06 18
Put your political pen away and stick to writing about business! Your political opinion on this is not of interest to me...I bet I'm not alone. By Rick Avery on 2012 06 18
Bloomberg's Big Gulp... do we really believe someone won't buy 2-3 softdrinks to equal 64 ounces? Any day some a lawsuit will be filed against 7-11! Nutella was sued for advertising its product as hyped nutrition (plaintiff smart enough to sue, but NOT smart enough to read a label)... and then lawsuits lodged against McDonald's, where filers claimed to be shocked that McNuggets & shakes could expand their waistlines (Really???). Where does personal responsibility begin and end??? There was a time when an agency like the EPA/FDA/Affirmative Action, etc., was in fact needed, but where do we draw the line before the pendulum swings too far to the other side? Many of these entities must keep reaching to preserve themselves as an agency and continue to feed on the host organism. The question is common sense or not, personal responsibility or not, Liberty or Not? By Marsha on 2012 06 18
Well said (you may get some flack, however). What some Americans don't realize is that our country has had a 'nanny state' for much of its existence, epitomized by those words, "For, Of and By the People." It's about people, their well-being and happiness, and that's what makes our country what it is. I recently spoke with an engineer who goes to Russia a few times a year on business. He told me about the truck-making factory he toured - no hard hards, no steel-toed boots, no safety glasses, no gloves, dirt floor that had steel plates riveted into it - "very uneavenly" - and simple chain and hoist systems for moving engines and truck bodies high overheard. Inspections, workman's comp and insurance? Furgettaboutit!!! "We (America) may have gone too far, but certainly many countries haven't gone far enough," he said. By Vicki on 2012 06 18
Once the truth is exposed to consumers 9 out of 10 times things will change. You mention hot dogs - once we know what's in them and who is making the good ones our money goes there and the bad ones go out of business - free markets at work without nanny. And if something is going to be done for us let our elected official do it and not some nebulous agency that I have little to no control over. I can vote my officials out of office - and agency just keeps growing and smothering us. By Lance Koberlein on 2012 06 18
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