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Neither Here Nor There

There is a scene in the first season of The West Wing in which President Bartlet is discussing gun control with Vice President John Hoynes of Texas. Bartlet is trying to get Hoynes to sign on to prohibit concealed handgun carry. In what I’m sure was a QED argument in writer Aaron Sorkin’s head, Bartlet asked, if guns are supposed to deter violence with their presence, why should they be concealed. One can imagine the “Boom!” in Sorkin’s mind as he expressed this. There may be a point there, but what it eludes is that largely the same people that object to concealed carry also object to open carry. From my own perspective, there are arguments for why guns should be visible and arguments for why they should be hidden, but if you’re arguing whatever is in front of you it becomes clear that the “carry” is the problem rather than the “open” or “closed.”

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A week or two back, Jaybird sent me this link about HUD’s plans to ban smoking in its housing:

“What I do in my apartment should be my problem, long as I pay my rent,” said Gary Smith, 47, a cigarette in hand as he sat outside the door to a building in the Walt Whitman Houses in the Fort Greene section of Brooklyn.

The impact of the prohibition would be felt most heavily by the New York City Housing Authority, which is known as Nycha and houses more than 400,000 people in about 178,000 apartments. Though it is the largest public housing agency in the country, it has lagged behind many of its smaller counterparts in adopting smoke-free policies.

Since the federal government began to press for smoking bans in public housing in 2009, more than 600 agencies encompassing over 200,000 households have voluntarily barred indoor smoking. In moving to require the prohibitions across the country, federal officials say they are acting to protect residents from secondhand smoke, which can travel through walls and under doors; to reduce the risk of fires; and to lower building maintenance costs.

Image by ale'streets

Image by ale’streets

This seems like the sort of thing that would rile me up, but… it doesn’t, for the most part. Mainly, because from what I’m reading this would mostly bring public housing in line with private housing. Which is to say that landlords – including the government – have their own incentives apart from social engineering to prohibit smoking in their apartments. Smoking represents a fire hazard. It smells, obviously, and can be difficult and costly to clean. If the places are furnished (which I suspect, though don’t know, they might be), you do get cigarette burns on the furniture. So all of these reasons make such a prohibition pretty valid.

The reason given is characteristically weak, however. A lot of the people who live here live alone, and with other smokers, and no distinctions are made. While smoke can escape into neighboring apartments, it’s less likely to be an issue if they smoke indoors than if you push them outside.

Which brings us to the other side of things. The Bartlet/Hoynes discussion. There are arguments for why we would want smokers to smoke indoors, and arguments for why we want to push them outside. Each offer their own set of benefits and drawbacks. Indoors is more likely to cause acute distress among people in whatever room it is occurring. But outdoors makes it harder to avoid. But if smoking is to be legal, it does need to be legal somewhere. This applies both to indoors/outdoors discussions and location more generally. And as we’ve banned smoking in public places, there has been the implicit agreement that they should be able to smoke in their own private places. Now, of course, that too is being questioned.

The new HUD regulation has opened up a flurry of advocacy over at Vox about smoking bans generally. Dylan Matthews says – with obvious lament – that we can’t ban all indoor smoking even though it would be more fair.1 German Lopez endorses the idea anyway. This is ostensibly due to concerns over second-hand smoke, but it relies on shoddy data. And while at present there are no plans to include ecigarettes in the mandate, they’re discussing it despite there being little indication that the justification of the fear carries over. Almost all movement on ecigarettes has been towards including them in smoking bans.2

Doing so, of course, will push people outside and their smoking into more public areas. Except that we’re trying to move smoking out of public areas. Which pushes it back inside. But we don’t want people smoking inside. The government has the ability to influence people through HUD, but that’s unfair to people who rely on government housing. So, for the sake of fairness, we should consider making it uniform. If they can’t smoke here, why should they be able to smoke there? If they can’t smoke there, why should they be able to smoke in that other place?

The ostensible rationales for these policies are getting lost in the shuffle, in part due to the desire for uniformity. The only uniformity that can occur is either to allow smoking anywhere or to allow it nowhere. The first is unacceptable, and most people know better than to expect the latter. But to avoid being un-realistic and unfair, we need to answer the basic question of where we should consider smoking to be permissible. It’s not clear that we have any place in mind.

 Notes:

  1. Taking us way out of any ostensible “landlord’s choice” rationale which I can be on board with. And if you’re paying attention, it should be clear that the second-hand smoking pretext has its limitations, and those limitations are being ignored. []
  2. Admittedly, the statist in me is intrigued at using these regulations as an inducement for people to switch to vaping. To do so, of course, would mean accepting that people are going to consume nicotine in a form that looks like smoking. I don’t think that such a concession is likely. []

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Will Truman is a former professional gearhead who is presently a stay-at-home father in the Mountain East. He has moved around frequently, having lived in six places since 2003, ranging from rural outposts to major metropolitan areas. He also writes fiction, when he finds the time. ...more →

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92 thoughts on “Neither Here Nor There

  1. Also, are we really willing to evict someone just over smoking? Will this be applied universally or will authorities pick and choose based on who they like vs. don’t like.

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    • HUD folks say that the number of evictions where the bans have been in place have been minimal (and that eviction is long down the list of interventions). My guess is that it’s relatively toothless, but reduces smoking anyway because a lot of the people will follow the rules anyway.

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        • Only evict unsympathetic people for the first few years of evictions. Morbidly obese, ineloquent, obviously stupid, cruel, entitled.

          Get that baseline going for a year or so. Establish precedents in the minds of the public. When you start to evict sympathetic people, everyone will have internalized the rules.

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        • I don’t know how the government “feels” about it, but if I was renting out a no-smoking property and the tenant insisted on smoking in it, I would definitely be willing to evict them, sob story or no.

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    • …[A]re we really willing to evict someone just over smoking?

      What, have you been talking to my clients ex parte? I have actually been asked to do evictions based on that alone. Each time one of my paralegals brings me a client with that issue, I push back:

      Attorney: “So what’s the real reason you want to evict them?”
      Client: “Because they’re smoking! They’re breaking my rules!
      Attorney: “Yeah, but come on. I’m your lawyer here, and this is a confidential consultation. What’s the real reason?”
      Client: “No, that’s the real reason! I’m telling you the truth.”
      Attorney: “Here’s the deal. If you’re having a hard time convincing me, rest assured that the judge just plain isn’t going to believe you at all. Landlords don’t evict paying tenants because they smoke. They steam-clean the carpets and put a fresh coat of paint up when the smoker moves out, because they are going to have to do that anyway even when a non-smoker moves out. So level with me here, what’s really going on?”

      …And so on until I get a real answer. Then I can dispense actual legal advice to guide the client to their objective.

      About half the time, it turns out that the thing that really bugs them is not the fact that the tenant is smoking, but rather the nature of the substance being smoked. Because drugs are bad, mmmkay.

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  2. Maybe prohibition would have worked if we just got rid of gin first… then vodka… then rum… then whiskey… like, over a period of 20 years, then focused on wine and beer.

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  3. “It’s not clear that we have any place in mind.”

    Of course there is no place in mind. Smoking is a bane on society. Society pays the health costs of these smokers, and it contaminates cities and contributes to global warming. You will be nudged, continually, and by force if necessary, to stop this habit, through regs like this, social stigma, and choking and killing the vendors that sell you these products. Are you surprised at this?

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  4. I am generally not fond of tobacco* but this is just punishing the poor for being poor.

    *I find the smell atrocious and it is really bad for your health. Interestingly, I am not fond of the smell of marijuana either. These are not reasons to ban the substances though.

    I am all for smoking bans in closed sections like airplanes and restaurants and bars and I am old enough to remember going out to meals with my parents and being asked if we want to sit in the smoking or non-smoking section.

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  5. I’m OK with them banning smoking tobacco indoors, not so much for health reasons as simple smell ones. I no more would want people smoking tobacco in a building I owned, than I’d want them them peeing on the walls; once it sets in, that smell is just about as hard to get out. Unlike drinking or popping pills, burning things that produce smelly smoke in a contained space is inherently something which almost without exception will affect the people around you, and even ones who use the space later. Health and safety reasons are secondary, but valid IMO.

    But people should be allowed to smoke outside. Open hallways, stoops, balconies, rooftops, that sort of thing.

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    • This is going to run you up against first amendment stuff. There are many occasions when Hindus may have to conduct religious ceremonies involving sacrificial fires (burning twigs, flowers, ghee, dried cow dung etc) and these often need (or at least tend) to be conducted indoors. Some housewarming ceremonies involve precisely this. The aim is to get the smoke to reach every corner of the house. A land lord banning such ceremonies would be akin to a land lord banning religious displays in the house (well not so much akin but an actual instance of).

      My point is this. Even if you think that the right to private property wins out in this case, we can still see it as an immensely problematic way to exercise your private property right. And in principle, without further argument, I can see someone, with good reason saying, that people’s private property rights just don’t extend so far as to interfere with the religious activities of one’s tenants

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      • This is where the way I interpret ideal church/State separation, differs from the current popular US conception.

        I see no reason that religious people should have their beliefs privileged over my theoretical belief that I must “mark my territory” by peeing in each corner of my rented house. Assuming no water damage, there is no “harm” to others, other than pee-smell (urine is sterile, so there’s no health risk; “secondhand pee” is not an issue).

        But….I’m OK with banning non-property-owners from peeing in indoor places that aren’t toilets.

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      • How often do they have to carry out these ceremonies? Once or twice an hour during all waking hours is typical of a regular smoker.

        I would have no problem (I think) with someone in a neighbouring apartment with which I share ventilation who, say, once or twice weekly burned incense, smudge sticks, flowers, scented lamp oils, or whatever. That’s on par with smelling your neighbours’ cooking, which is just part of living in an apartment building and not something to complain about if you want to retain people’s respect.

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  6. This is a difficult issue for me. On the one hand, I really dislike the new trend of employers regulating their employees’ smoking (and other behaviors) offsite. I think it’s a horrible and disturbing trend. Property owners taking the same stance is a problem for me in the same way. Yes, you can work/live someplace else, but choice is not infinite and those with less means get screwed.

    And so I have no problem with people smoking in their homes. I would think that security deposits could be used to address the issue of cleanup after moving out. In fact, I think that security deposits have already been used this way for smokers. If there’s concern about spillover (some smoke seeps into neighboring apartments, maybe? It would have to be a real risk), then address via non-smoking and smoking areas in apartment buildings.

    My problem is that I am a child of two parents who were smokers. My mother died of lung cancer. They smoked in the house, in the car, everywhere. I remember hours-long car rides (we lived out West) where the car would be filled with smoke. Smoke filmed the windows. It was only when I moved away that I realized that I always smelled like smoke because of my parents. I don’t know if the evidence is all in on the effects of second-hand smoke, but I do suspect that 18 years of concentrated, unfiltered second-hand smoke has had some health effects on me.

    So the part of me that values people’s freedom to act wants no restraints. My dislike of smoking doesn’t mean I should be able to forbid it. Disincentivize it via taxes, maybe. But when those who have no choice in the matter are involved, I start to think that society has an interest. I have no solution. I don’t want a situation where people can’t smoke at home, but I also don’t want parents exposing their children to health risks unnecessarily.

    I guess I’d say people should be able to smoke wherever and whenever that has no clear impact on others. But that’s not easy to create useful policy around.

    I’m sorry this response isn’t more clear. As I said, it’s a difficult issue for me.

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    • Same boat. Both my parents smoked and my mom died from a type of lung cancer from smoking. In rented units, public or otherwise, i can see banning smoking since that smell can really stay unless there is a sizable cleaning deposit. Outside smoking is fine in general although to be polite it shouldn’t be done right in front of commonly used doors.

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  7. I’m generally with you. I loathe smoking with a burning (hah!) passion; cigarettes killed my Grandmother and worse than killed my Grandfather; but the my tribes’ crusade against them is beginning to get into some pretty squidgy areas.
    With public housing I’m similarily unmoved. Cigarettes are a plague on the unit regardless of health concerns. Make em smoke it outdoors. No big deal.
    Now that fatwas against outdoor smoking are idiocy on a stick. I hate me some cigarette smoke but this is woo medicine thinking with a liberal puritism shawl dra. You are not going to be exposed to enough smoke to cause you any serious health effects prancing down the sidewalk where people are occasionally smoking. Get real.

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    • I’m sure this makes a lot more sense where you live than where I do.
      Where I do, people are already dying from other respiratory conditions caused by airborne pollutants. Even a small fraction more may not be a good idea.
      /not an unbiased party.

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      • Then go after perfume and cologne Kimmie, unless they are with the same (or it should be greater) intensity that they go after cigarette then I do not take any complaints on the subject seriously.

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        • I’m the one complaining about Ryan using carcinogens to eliminate cigarette smoke from his Capital Office. If you can prove that colognes and perfumes have actual physical issues (as I can for the particulate from smoke), then I’m all for banning them, or at least restricting where one can use them.

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  8. I don’t and never will understand these paternalistic crusades. At some point people need to be allowed to make unhealthy decisions for themselves. I have yet to see a war on this or that vice that doesn’t have some pretty ugly class-based hypocrisy underlying it. To be clear I’m all for efforts to help people who want to quit smoking do so. Hell if the landlord wants to ban cigarettes inside their premises then thats their prerogative but its wrong to attach it in any manner to the administration of public benefits.

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  9. I know this isn’t really the point of the post, but the concealed vs open carry issue is an interesting example of externalities. Open carry has negative externalities. A criminal, seeing that you gave a gun, is likely to go after an easier target. Concealed carry has positive externalities. The deterrent effect on criminals from knowing that some people are carrying concealed weapons benefits all potential targets, not just those who are actually carrying.

    There’s a similar issue with The Club and Lojack. A car thief sees The Club and goes in search of an easier target, so The Club has negative externalities, but Lojack has positive externalities since thieves don’t know which cars have it.

    Well, that’s the stylized model, anyway. Maybe thieves can actually get The Club off pretty easily, and see it as a sign that the car doesn’t have Lojack. In that case the Club would actually have positive externalities, since it attracts thieves.

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    • It seems like open carry might have relatively strong positive externalities (in the sense you mean, though I am skeptical that it nets out to an actual benefit in terms of reducing gun injuries to innocent people) over a small amount of space, and then relatively weak negative ones beyond that. I.e., I imagine that a criminal not only wouldn’t target the gun carrier, but would likely go to some other place entirely where they think no one will have a gun to commit crimes against persons. So people around the open carrier benefit, but people not in their vicinity are harmed. But I think they’re harmed very marginally so long as the number of open careers is small.

      It’s also possible that criminals just don’t think this way. Especially with concealed carry, I’m guessing they’re not taking into account the prevailing legal regime in calculating how likely it is that people have a concealed weapon in an area where they strike. To the extent they’re even taking it into account I’m guessing they’re judging it using a more intuitive estimation of the behavior of people in the area, based primarily on observation.

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    • Brandon,
      Concealed Carry has negative externalities. If you look like you’re carrying a gun, criminals avoid you. And yes, they can tell — life and death, ya know? (there are ways to fake carrying a gun too…)

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  10. While smoke can escape into neighboring apartments, it’s less likely to be an issue if they smoke indoors than if you push them outside.

    Did ‘more’ get switched with ‘less’ there? In my experience, smoke getting into my apartment was 100% likely if the neighbour was smoking inside their apartment, and pretty much 0% likely if they’re smoking outside. I mean, if it’s a warm day and we’ve left the windows open, a whiff of smoke might drift in from outside. But the windows are open so it drifts right back out again.

    But the real, pervasive fug of smoke, where you don’t even notice it anymore until you go home for Christmas and after a few days of not being around smoke you open your suitcase and a strong smell of smoke hits you from your clothes – that only happens when someone’s smoking indoors in your building.

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    • I’ll defer to your experience. The only problems we’ve ever had with cigarette smoke have been people outside. But then, smoking indoors has usually been banned. I was shifting my observations of public venues to apartment complexes, which may be wrong.

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      • It might depend a lot on how the heating is done.

        I’ve only ever lived in places with forced-air heating, such that all the air in my apartment will within a very few hours be evenly distributed over all the apartments that use the same furnace. With hot water radiators, it could easily be an entirely different story.

        Around here, forced air systems are the norm, at least in smaller buildings, and any other system the exception.

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        • Very tangential, but I love mentioning this. I grew up in a place where having heating at all was entirely optional and usually not optioned for in rental units. But if you didn’t have AC, you could get into a lot of trouble.

          Then I moved to Deseret, where AC was optional, but you darn sure had to have heating.

          (Your comment reminded me of that because I was like “Oh, yeah, Canada. Heating would be pretty important there…”)

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        • I doubt it’s just that. The environmental sealing between a room and the outside is generally a lot better than the seal between adjacent rooms (or floors). Even if there’s insulation between floors (no guarantee), there are all sorts of channels for air to travel between interior spaces, especially as buildings get older.

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  11. The problem is that we don’t really have an enforcement mechanism to keep people from smoking in their own houses.

    This speaks to our need to develop one.

    We could also use it for other things so don’t think that it’d only be good for tobacco compliance!

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  12. I don’t think most people who ever opposed concealed carry strongly would have denied a charge they were against open carry as well, at least in a variety of places. Anti-concealed carry was the position because that was the marginal policy question at issue in a bunch of states over a certain stretch of time.

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      • It’s only purported if you take it to be the case that they targeted concealed carry and left open carry to be legal as the best option rather than a forced option. My understanding of the politics of the issue is that open carry was too well-supported to really be a debate, a
        While concealed carry was traditionally reserved for LEFs, and gun activists were looking to change the latter. The Bartlet-Sorkin position (which is really just the position that the real-world opponents of such initiatives took), was simply taking up a side in a debate whose terms were chosen by activists on the other side. The question, not chosen by them, was, “Should we change the prevailing situation and make concealed carry legal?” You can take a position on that without purporting not to have a position on whether open carry should be legal (that it shouldn’t), even though you’re not making a push to make tha change.

        GRAs brought about a debate on concealed carry, so people had that debate. That doesn’t imply purporting about positions not held beyond that are in fact held. They’re held, but the debate was about the other thing.

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  13. Walking in the city today, I walked past a little public square that noted no smoking in or near the square. Which sorta seems understandable on its face. But it effectively made all adjacent sidewalks smoke-free. So if you are just walking by with a cigarette in hand, presumably you are breaking the law.

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    • We have signs like that in the main downtown public square. The signs are just “Thank you for not smoking” not “No smoking under penalty of $50 fine, under bylaw # 12345” so I’m not sure if they’re just a request or a warning of an actual rule.

      That seems kind of weird to me. It’s outdoors. People were already generally pretty good about not smoking when the square was packed for a concert or something, so others couldn’t just stand a little further off.

      Not littering cigarette butts, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to have become a cultural norm.

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      • My former hometown is doing a lot of smoking restrictions too. Mainly, they’re extending the distance for “it is forbidden to smoke within x metres of doorways” – but functionally, that’s going to mean that pretty much the only place people are allowed to smoke is in the middle of the main road.

        At this point I feel like it’s gone beyond “preventing second-hand smoke” into “making life miserable for smokers”. Which, given that tobacco’s pretty much the hardest drug to quit, mostly seems cruel.

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    • I don’t especially have a problem with this. I personally did not start smoking until I was over 21, so I can’t say this would have helped me avoid it, but there is supposed to be a significant difference in addiction level between people who start when they’re older than 22 and those who start when they are younger. The same is probably true between 18 and 21.

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      • As i remember there is a huge difference in long term addiction depending on how early a person starts. If you start at 16 it is highly likely you will smoke more and for far longer. Same deal at 18.

        Smoking is a known harmful behavior that is also highly addictive. I don’t really have a problem with raising the legal age either. In fact the analogy to booze makes it even more sensible that the legal smoking age be 21.

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      • There is a case to be made that it is when we’re talking about moving it from one adult age to another adult age. Or as the argument to lower the voting age went, “If you’re old enough to be fight and die for your country…”

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        • I suppose my question really is what is meant by “nanny state”? It seems to largely be shorthand on the right for “regulations we don’t like”. Now, if there is a more principled or nuanced definition for the term, I’m all ears (and I kinda sorta see you starting to carve that out so, by all means, proceed). But if it is just a way to criticize regulations without offer an substantive objection beyond a fleeting appeal to freedom, then it really has very little place in constructive discourse.

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          • I mean, if I had to break it down, I would think that “nanny state” critiques would be aimed at regulations designed to protect individuals from their own choices. So a prohibition on murder isn’t nanny state-ism because the purpose is not to restrict the individual but to protect the rights of others. But examples of nanny state-ism could include age restrictions on products, such as what we see here. However, I think it’d also need to include the drug war, obscenity laws, and other manifestations of social conservatism (along with a host of regulations favored by liberals as well). So why then does the term as a prejorative only seem to flow one way?

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            • “nanny state” is a short hand insult. It’s not an argument or point in itself. It is used in place to spending the pixels to explain a view and meant more to get partisans on your own side to cheer.

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          • There can be a very clear distinction between run of the mill health and safety regulations and nanny state interventions. The most basic distinction is that the former are normally aimed at protecting Party A from the actions of Party B, whereas nanny state regulations are generally about protecting Party A from himself.

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            • And i think both Republicans/conservatives and Democrats/liberals are guilty of supporting the latter. Which is why it seems odd how it is currently framed. But there are probably ample examples of this kind of BS.

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              • I agree, which is why I retired from the Team Red v Team Blue dynamic a long time ago. I’d rather root for sports teams than political identities.

                That said, you can have a principled opposition to the nanny state measures of both the right and the left. Don’t know to what extent notme fits that bill, though.

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                • I’d say you are one of the people who seems to have a principled objection to nanny state-ism in all its forms (though i can’t remember if you regularly use that term or not). My issue is not so much one of pro- or anti-nanny-state-ism but the way that term tends to be used in these discussions.

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      • No, but as Will pointed out these folks are already legally adults with all the rights given to a person at the age of majority. We “trust” them to vote but not to smoke? Seems kind of nannyish to me. Irresponsible voting is more dangerous in my opinion than a pack of smokes. Heck, why not make the smoking age 25, surely that is more mature than 21 which would be better right? Why stop at 25? When, if ever, do adults become responsible in the eyes of the gov’t? What is the next thing that the state is going to require you to be 21 to get? Soda, junk food, a drivers’ license? It just smacks too much of the creeping incrementalism of the nanny state which never stops b/c it is for the good of the people. Another example of the nanny state is the Bloomberg soda limit.

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  14. It ultimately seems to me that nanny-statism, as a concept, cannot be disassociated from subjectivity. It’s essentially a shorthand as “part of a pattern of excessive government meddling.”

    The “excessive” is the tricky part, for which there is no uniform answer. But if something is not excessive, then it’s not nanny-statism. And something that is nanny-statism to one person isn’t to another. Which doesn’t make the term useless any more than its meaning is useless. It does mean that the term can’t be determinative because it doesn’t explain why this is excessive. It’s use is pretty limited, though, to those who see the pattern and – on some level at least – agree with the speaker’s definition of where the excessive government meddling is.

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    • Incidentally, I have the framework of a post for Hit Coffee to go up at some later date on the subject of nanny-statism and why I am not a fan of it. Since it’ll go there and not here, I’ll share a bit of it. It’s in reference to this lecture.

      I am sympathetic to what the speaker is saying. Not only that, I agree with a large number of her specific arguments. The problem with the lecture, though, is her demeanor and language. Including, but not limited to, her use of the term “nanny state” in its various forms. It doesn’t at all dissuade me from what she is saying, or make me sorry that I spent twenty minutes watching it. But it does make it so that I would not show it to people who didn’t already agree.

      Which is not a failure on her part. She is, I gather, very much preaching the the choir. Meaning, I think the audience is already limited to those who agree. So then the value of the speech is in acting as a primer for how to approach these issues. I do think this might be better served without the tone and terminology (as I can imagine audience members falling into the trap of their usage with outsiders), but does not iand of itself undermine what she is saying or the actual arguments she makes while making them.

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      • The only preaching to the converted issue is why its a useless term. Sort of like political correctness. There are so many meaning embedded that just throwing out the term is meant to get a fist pump from people who agree with you and ignore any issues people who dont’ agree with have. They are to much a short hand. I have no doubt i’d agree with some examples of excessive gov intervention, but the term elides what appropriate gov intervention is and how to figure out what is the right amount.

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        • Not necessarily. It assumes some overlap but not complete overlap.

          Which is to say that among people who consider the “pattern of excessive government meddling” to be a real thing, it’s terminology used to argue that this (whatever “this” is) is a part of that pattern. It doesn’t provide an argument, but it frames the argument to be made.

          If someone thinks that the government does not meddle nearly enough in our lives (Dylan Matthews, say), then it is truly useless. But if someone is sympathetic to the pattern, and doesn’t have an aversion to the term, it can be a neat shorthand for the pattern being referred to.

          To use your example, I do use the term “political correctness.” I don’t use it as an argument against something, but as an identification of something I am referring to. Someone else might argue that what I am referring to is actually just “being decent and respectful to people” and then I may counter that no, this is goes into the area where the “decency and respect” being requested is either not realistic or (on my end) especially desirable. (And then, in another argument, I might be on the other side of the argument.)

          Where I think people are lead astray is when they confuse the terminology for an argument. Or, as with every subjective (or at least unmeasurable) descriptive term ever that can be confused with an argument, it falls into really deep overuse. (Which is why, while I use the term, I don’t use it terribly often.)

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        • The only preaching to the converted issue is why its a useless term. Sort of like political correctness.

          I disagree that these are useless terms. You can say “nanny state” or “political correctness” in a conversation and, more often than not, everyone will know exactly what you mean. Heck, there is even a Wikipedia entry for nanny state and the section on the United States has a picture of a certain politician. Anyone want to guess who? I bet that most people guess correctly.

          Just because some group of people with a particular ideological ax to grind overuse a term and misapply it, that does not meant that the term automatically becomes meaningless. Language is much more robust than that.

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          • fwiw, i didn’t know who’s pic would be on wiki for nanny state.

            People will have strong ideas regarding what you mean if you say nanny state or PC, but i can guarantee you there are a handful of definitions for each. That is part of the problem with them they have a handful of strong meanings and which one is heard will depend on the listener. Lord knows my eye roll hard whenever i hear PC because the meaning i associate it with is very different from people who typically use it. That is a recipe for misunderstanding and dueling talking points.

            Language is indeed robust. But one feature of the modern world is how fast terms spread and mutate. A sensible phrase goes from having a fairly specific meaning to being used broadly and then overused in a year. There are plenty of liberal examples to go along with NS and PC. Something like cultural appropriation seems like a good term and idea but it now seems like 99% of the people i hear use it apply it loosely and without deep thought. If a term is widely misunderstood and over used, that does limit its use.

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    • That is, I think, too broad a definition. I don’t think I’ve ever seen the EPA, for example, criticized as nanny statism even by people who consider many of its activities to be government overreach. Generally, there is a “protecting people from themselves” component.

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