I started typing this as another comment in repsonse to the previous post, but I figured that since I had so much to say (and it's my blog), that I'd start a whole new post here on this issue, because so many other issues are brought up in my reply. Here is the reply:
Wow, this is certainly one of the most controversial and discussed topics on this blog. I appreciate all of the banter and the really good points brought up by everybody.
R. Waterhouse brings up fantastic points about civil liberties, and where to draw the line on other "dangerous" activities, such as promiscuous sex.
This is such a complex issue. Certainly, the most FAIR system would be NO entitlements and people paying for the consequences of their own indiscretions. There is a huge part of my internal psyche that feels it should be this way.
Then, the other part of my psyche that ends up causing me cognitive dissonance, is that as human beings, we cannot be completely selfish and we should help out the less fortunate. As pointed out by Kath, behaviors that may seem to be solely personal choice are considered by the medical community as "diseases" (e.g., alcoholism, drug addiction). The fact is, that too many people have some sort of combination of being either too "diseased", too weak, or too stupid not to get themselves in trouble with the evil pleasures in life. Thus, sometimes it behooves a government to try to willfully impose a kind of restriction, tax, or punishment for those behaviors. But that results in the predictament of the slippery slope of reaching a point of too much governmental control. I agree with Will that the banning of trans-fats and smoking in public places are probably good policies.
I think the only answer is some kind of balance. This argument can last forever. One of the classic examples is the whole "war on drugs" by the government. Why should we ban any drugs? I can make plenty of good arguments for abolishing all of the rules on drugs. Why should smoking pot, doing cocaine, doing heroin, or any other drug be illegal? The DEA and the billions of dollars spent on the war on drugs has largely been a waste. These drugs are still widely abused, and, one can argue, that making the drugs illegal has increased harm to society in terms of violence and costs of trials and imprisonments. If drugs were legal, there would be no drug lords. There would be less shootings over drug deals gone awry. The police force could be smaller. Our jails would have more room. There would be fewer trials funded by public monies to try to imprison and sentence these folks. Finally, drugs could be sold and taxed just like cigarettes, which would give the government more revenues to spend on more worthwhile causes.
Arguments can also be made in the other direction. Why is alcohol and tobacco legal, while the other drugs are not? Many more thousands of people die each year as a result of alcohol and tobacco, than all of marijuana, cocaine, heroin combined. If the government wanted to keep people safe, then they should ban alcohol and tobacco first, and then worry about the other drugs, and other things like fatty foods.
I don't have the best answer for how much governmental control is appropriate for all of these issues. In the end, or for the time being, I think that federalism (state's rights) might be best. I think it is best for the issue of gay marriage, and it may provide some semblance of a solution. Why? Because it would not require people to leave the country if their idea of appopriate governmental control was the complete opposite of their beliefs.
There could be gun-toting states and non-gun toting states. States that allow gay marriage and states that don't. States that ban drugs and states that don't. States that despise moral hazard and believe in pay for your own regarding healthcare, and states that believe health care should be a collective cost. I'm sure there would be plenty of comments about this as well from both sides (e.g., "poor people won't be able to be as mobile and move to another state" or "the country would be too fractured to run efficiently") but, really, many of the important issues are determined at a state level (e.g., death penalty, gay marriage, rules on abortion timing, etc).