Are Control Freaks a Greater Threat to Liberty Than Terrorists?

Conn Carroll /

In New Zealand, publishers have imposed an unofficial ban on mentioning fish and chips in children’s stories, according to a New Zealand author, who said that publishers have overreacted to sensitivity about children’s diets.

That seems like a pretty big overreaction. Of course, there are people who think that the fate of nations depends on what their citizens stuff in their mouths. Yesterday, at the Oxford Health Alliance Summit, a U.S. law professor declared that obesity is a greater danger than terrorism and that governments should devote far greater resources to fighting this epidemic.

The professor might have added that since automobile accidents kill far more people than terrorism, we should spend more money on traffic safety, too. But such comparisons are meaningless. Obesity is not waging a war against free societies. Terrorists are, and fighting them is a public good—i.e., a good that individuals cannot produce for themselves on their own. Personal safety and health, on the other hand, are largely matters of individual behavior. In a free society, some individuals are going to make choices that are not good for them. Government can’t do anything about that, unless we decide that we no longer want to live in a free society. Some people want to move in precisely that direction.