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More respect could reduce government role as public nanny

Posted: May 7, 2014 - 4:34pm

In general, we think less means better when it comes to government. At its best, government should do what citizens can’t do without some help from government. As much as possible, however, government should stay out of the way — except in key areas like public safety, education and roads — those things citizens can’t provide on their own.

Lately, though, we’ve been reconsidering our views on government and are left pondering this horrific thought: Maybe citizens really do need a nanny.

Remember the plastic bag debate? It wasn’t about not using plastic bags that got opponents of the ordinance, including this newspaper, riled. It was about government’s reach. In arguing for the repeal of the ban on certain plastic bags, we believed citizens would continue to do the right thing — use their reusable bags — without government prodding.

We don’t have any scientific evidence, but a quick glance around Homer’s grocery stores indicates most of us haven’t changed our behavior. We’re still relying on the plastic bags — even though most of us believe reducing our plastic would be better for the planet.

It’s curious behavior for Homer residents, many, maybe even most, of whom like to think of themselves as environmentalists and minimalists who don’t need government telling them what to do. What gives? 

As we’ve continued to ponder human behavior and government’s role and reach, we’ve concluded having rules in place — a nanny, so to speak — doesn’t necessarily change our behavior for the better. Go down to Bishop’s Beach, for example. Signs clearly indicate where vehicles are allowed, but that doesn’t stop vehicles from going where they are prohibited. Drive up or down Main Street and almost inevitably you’ll see pedestrians walking with their backs to traffic — even though signs, traffic laws and common sense tell us to always walk on the left facing traffic. Don’t get us started on loose dogs within city limits — where there are leash laws. 

There are a plethora of other rules and laws that lots of us tend to ignore, because we think we’re above those rules, they somehow don’t apply to us, they’re stupid and should be ignored, we think we won’t get caught, we think there are no consequences for not following them, we’re ignorant of the rules and why they’re in place — or some combination of the above.

As we continue to ponder human behavior and government’s role and reach, we’re drawn to the idea that a nanny isn’t what we need — thank goodness.

Instead, it occurs to us a little more cooperation might lead to a little less regulation. More respect and civility toward one another might mean fewer laws. Government could reduce its reach if each of us increased our commitment to personal responsibility.

It’s sounds simplistic, but if we don’t want government acting like a nanny, we need to step up and do the right thing. And that includes using our reusable bags when we shop.

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