Rebirth of Reason

The Free Radical
The Good Life

The Answer to Imprudence
by Tibor R. Machan

Nothing much else stands out so starkly as American influence around the world as the proliferation of McDonald's fast food restaurants. Of course, let's not forget Burger King and the others. Nor are these the most important influences America has had around the globe, only the most visible ones. And in some ways it is quite a benign thing, this influence, but in others it also brings to mind something insidious.

I am thinking here of nothing much more complicated than how millions of people substitute fast food for a decent meal they might have instead. I know this because I have and continue, now and then, to perpetrate the practice, as do many of my friends and acquaintances.

It is especially easy to fall to the temptation when one has kids who often want fast food instead of what would clearly be much better for them. Nor is it all that unimaginable that McDonald's and all the others count on this big time and that their marketing strategy rests on it to a large extent.

But we parents are supposed to be the ones who give wise direction to our children and we should not expect the folks at these fast food places, as well as many other establishments that aim to entice our kids, to do our jobs for us. After all, those folks are trying to make a living and that involves selling their products to as many as possible. No one is being forced to eat there. And even McDonald's has some healthier options these days.

Still, it cannot be denied that what is surely a good idea, namely, the availability of an eatery that gives you your food without much hassle, can be abused. Gambling is a clear case of this: It can be a fun and recreational, taking up a bit of one's budget -- some of which surely should go for entertainment and recreation -- but some folks make a habit of it and thus it becomes an outright vice for them. And indeed, many of the things we can do and buy in the market place have these attributes: in a certain proportion, probably quite different for different folks, they are great -- but they can be overdone (or underdone for that matter) big time.

It is this fact that often tempts people to denounce capitalism, even to prefer some kind of regimented economic system in which supposedly wiser folks at the top orchestrate our various selling and buying practices so as to render them sensible, prudent. The idea that we should leave it to people at the top -- wise folks like the American "consumer advocate" Ralph Nader, for instance, and his cadre of allegedly level headed nanny types -- or that at least we should have some kind of collective decision-making process guide us, has been fueled by the clear evidence we have of personal mismanagement, of which the substitution of fast food for healthful nourishment is but the tip of the iceberg.

The problem is, of course, that the idea that folks at the top can and will do it so much better if they are only given the power to regulate us in these matters is a myth, at best, and a ruse in most cases. Most basically, they have no right to do this. And then, such folks haven't a clue, most of the time, just what is the balanced way for us to eat or do anything else. While there is such a way, to know what it is takes personal knowledge, the kind politicians and bureaucrats cannot get their hands on even in the best of circumstances. So just because of how detailed and idiosyncratic such information would have to be, any wise remote control of how we will behave is a hopeless dream.

But even more important is that politicians and bureaucrats in even the most democratic of systems are exposed to far more insidious temptations than, say, eating fast food too often. The lure of the exercise of power for various special interest projects is enormous and the democratic system so subject to its temptations that by the time the Nader types assume office and begin to try to do the public good, they are nearly completely committed to serving various special interests instead.

And this is especially so in light of the fact that it is impossible for them to do what they claim they are really interested in doing, namely, help us all to do the right thing. Since they have no clear clue as to what that would be, the next best thing they can do, even if they very well intentioned, is to listen to those who come to them for help, the special interest lobbyists.

That is why we have all those committee hearings at all levels of government and why the representatives of thousands of special interest groups are so eager to give testimony. They know that no such thing as the public interest really exists about the millions of matters citizens need to decide, so they propose their phony version of the public interest.

It isn't necessary to deny that free men and women can misjudge things, can fall to temptation and that in the market place there is much evidence for human imprudence. Sure. Yet, freedom is still a much better bet than tyranny, be that of the petty or Draconian variety.

So if you find McDonald's, among other establishments in the market place, annoying because you know lots of folks misuse it, don't expect governments to rectify matters. Start getting some self-discipline and promote it for your friends. That is the only source of genuine help in these and most other matters.

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