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Thursday, May 17, 2007

Libertarian Poison

Let's say that there is a hypothetical poison that makes food taste great. It's not a very strong poison, so it mostly doesn't kill anyone immediately, rather it takes repeated doses over a period of time before it kills. Let's say restaurants use it regularly to flavor the food. The poison is slow enough acting so that no one ever dies while still in the restaurant.

Let's also say that the effects of this poison aren't widely known: the patrons of restaurants don't know that the restaurant is using this poison and aren't even really aware that this substance is a poison; the restaurants and the employees don't really know that this substance is a poison either, just that it tastes good.

Finally, let's say that it's difficult to disseminate information about this poison throughout society because of naturally occuring constraints on communication of this sort (which I won't describe in this post).

Would a libertarian support any government action to try and stop the poisoning of the populace? An example of a possible action might include banning the use of the poison. There are other possible actions as well. However, assume that education of the populace (another possible government action) would take many years.

Would you support any government action to try and stop the poisoning of the populace?


Oroborous said...

That's not really hypothetical, since it's already happened several times.

The latest good-tasting poison is trans-fat, and earlier ones were certain artificial colorings and sweeteners, and absinthe.

But the answer to your question is "yes", in part because a certain percentage of the population is incapable of making informed decisions about medical choices, even when provided with the necessary info, and in part because the U.S. have a semi-public health care system.

I would be in favor of licensing people to consume poison - if they pass an exam proving that they mostly know what they're getting into, and they agree to pay higher premiums for health insurance, then they could purchase and consume "x".

James said...

The basis of your question relies on whether an individual believes that government exists for the benefit of society.

To somebody who does not think that government does not and never will satisfy that condition, the question is null. There is no supporting an organization the existence of which depends on theft, slavery, and murder.

People educated themselves somehow prior to the existence of centralized schooling and propaganda efforts. Now, however, instead of receiving information with a discerning eye, too many people blindly accept information when it comes from an "official source."

Susan's Husband said...

I wouldn't support anything beyond education, because of entailed costs with acting, including (but not limited to)

* Capture of the banning agency by activists
* Lack of knowledge that it's really poison — if it's so hard to convince people, perhaps the original information is in error?
* Direct government action against ignorance is usually counter-productive.