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Call Off the Anti-Fun Crusade

Paternalists don’t always have nefarious designs when they place bans on unhealthy activities, but a “take your medicine” attitude toward improving people’s health has unintended, sometimes deadly consequences. And, too often, there is an illegitimate purpose to legislating lifestyle politics: ill-gotten gains for rent-seekers.

For those who thought the baptists and bootleggers coalitions of yesteryear disappeared along with Prohibition, consider its longevity.

Bans on Popular Activities

Rent-seekers and anti-fun lifestyle enforcers (still) make strange bedfellows. For example: The State of New York taxes cigarettes at a rate of $5.85 per pack, banned Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) for twenty years, and has an Attorney General obsessed with shutting down Fantasy Sports. And in nearby Pennsylvania, century-old Blue Laws prohibit hunting on Sundays and limit liquor sales to government-run stores.

On the federal level, the FDA announced that it would begin to regulate e-cigarettes. So we have the baptist, in this case, Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murphy calling for tighter restrictions on e-cigarettes, despite the evidence that youth smoking has declined and that “[r]educing youth access to e-cigarettes appears to increase youth smoking rates.” Then, we’ve got the bootleggers, tobacco companies whose profits are threatened by e-cigarette manufacturers.

Similarly, in Pennsylvania, anti-alcohol activists, or “new prohibitionists,” joined hands with government-liquor-shop unions to halt Blue Law reform.

Only through collusion could those new prohibitionists and their legislative allies manage to keep otherwise popular activities illegal. Before the legalization of MMA in New York and the modest reform of Pennsylvania’s Blue Laws, both changes had overwhelming support.

If the politician and the rent-seeker can line their pockets while simultaneously keeping competition out of the market, why wouldn’t they?

Continue reading at FEE.

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