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All Cracked Up


I’m too young to start wistfully hearkening back to my childhood as if they were the good old days, but I’ll do it anyway because it makes the point that it wasn’t that long ago when we were still a nation that valued liberty.

As a kid, I rarely wore a seat belt, never wore a helmet when I rode my bike, regularly ran with scissors, and played all day with sticks and rocks and never lost an eye. It wasn’t unusual to find me, along with three or four cousins, packed in the back of my uncle’s station wagon, rear window wide open, for high-speed treks to wherever. No self-respecting kid of my generation would be found anywhere else in a station wagon, and the only time anyone ever got hurt was during the merciless application of a noogie.

That’s not to say that my experiences were universal. Sure, not wearing a seatbelt undoubtedly resulted in many deaths and injuries that might have otherwise been prevented, but personal liberty sometimes means people get hurt. It means taking responsibility and, occasionally, paying a price for the choices we make. It also means reaping the rewards of those choices, whether they come in the form of a profitable business, or simply feeling the wind in your hair. There’s a danger in not wearing a seat belt, or a helmet; there’s a danger in smoking cigarettes, in drinking too much, in eating too much; there’s a danger in overextending finances through credit card debt and a hefty mortgage. But there’s an insidious danger in telling people they aren’t smart enough to make those choices on their own.

My family lives within its means — or tries to, at least. I don’t smoke. I find the stink of cigarette smoke to be foul. But there’s no law against borrowing a lot of money while smoking a Camel. And for me, the march of anti-smoking laws has gotten out of hand, encroaching on citizens’ private property rights. Similar laws targeting trans fats and tiny paper flowers demonstrate that this trend is spiraling out of control.

Wait a second… did I just say “tiny paper flowers?”

Boston City Councillor Chuck Turner is sponsoring a law that would ban the sale of vials containing tiny paper flowers because he believes they contribute to the scourge of crack cocaine use. Seems some addicts like to turn the glass tubes into crack pipes, so the answer is, obviously, to rid the city of the cheap novelties. Arcade, Ga., police chief, Dennis Bell, called for a ban on the tubed flowers in January this year, and other communities across the country have had the items defined as drug paraphenalia.

But as anyone who has given this idea a second of thought inevitably concludes – even Turner, who has called his proposed law mostly symbolic – that logic would also demand banning the sale of whatever other items resourceful crackheads are known to use to get their fix: soda cans, baby food jars, radio antennae, wrench sockets, and so on.

Seems to me the problem isn’t so much that people are using novelty glass tubes as crack pipes, but that there’s a problem with people using crack cocaine in the first place.

Instead of worrying about outlawing novelty flowers, why not take a step back and try to better understand the root cause of the problem? Lack of economic opportunity and a growing sense of desperation among America’s lower classes is at the heart of the drug problem. We can’t eliminate the desire some people will have to seek pleasure through the application of chemicals, we can do better to extend economic opportunity and a greater sense of pride and self respect to those who, today, feel left behind.

Much was made of the Dow Jones Industrial Average eclipsing the 14,000 point mark, and most analysts will say that the economy is on an unprecedented growth spurt, with less of the flash but more substance than any such period since the early 1960s. But what this economy growth spurt seems to lack is a solid set of benefits for the American working man and woman. Stock prices are rising, but the growth is benefiting stockholders and C-level executives while fueling an emerging middle class in India and China. Working stiffs in this country, meanwhile, are seeing jobs outsourced, benefits slashed, and opportunity dangled just out of reach.

Democrat presidential candidate John Edwards has been trying to draw attention to the plight of America’s poor, but as a nation we don’t seem to want to acknowledge that there even is such a thing. Why? Poor people in America tend to stay away from the polls on election day, so addressing issues on the periphery of poverty – issues that appeal to the fears, suspicions, and biases of the middle and upper classes – get the attention.

Banning little paper flowers, mandating seat belt and helmet, telling people they can’t smoke in their own home, outlawing common fast food ingredients, and promising to get tough with so-called predatory lenders won’t make a whit of difference in preventing drug abuse, reducing health care costs, encouraging a trim and fit America, or keep people from personal economic disaster.

By avoiding the root of the problem while passing silly law, politicians can pretend to have addressed so-called important issues, but if the people fail to recognize the consequences and hold their elected representatives accountable, the result will undoubtedly be the elimination of liberty in America.

Share  Posted by Mike Spinney at 3:12 PM | Permalink

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