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How Much Government is Too Much?

A pet peeve of mine is too much government. My wife tires of me babbling about how we have too much government in our lives — too many regulations, too many things needing “permits” (like we have to ask permission to do so many things on our own land), too much absurdity just for the sake of a nanny-nation. New England is infamous for this micro-management style of government (ironically so, given that this is where the nation was born to free its people of tyranny of the government).

Think about it. For centuries, homes in Europe and the early U.S. were built using solid and stable foundations made only of stone and mortar. And while this keeps most of the historical homes stable and safe, every local government now has building codes that require a foundation made of concrete or concrete blocks. Stones? Bah! While they may have been sufficient for our forefathers and most New England homes, it’s not good enough for us!

This absurdity can be taken to extremes that simply fail to make any sense at all.

Take smoking, for instance. Everyone knows it kills you, but so does over-eating, over-drinking, and mountain-climbing. Yet while McDonald’s are on every street corner and caffeine remains a legal substance, smoking is somehow singled out as a particular evil that deserves our unique public attention (and stamping out thereof).

Now, I have to say, ever since smoking bans in restaurants and bars have been instituted here in Massachusetts and New Hampshire, I have greatly enjoyed dining out and going out for drinks far more than I would have a decade ago. But there’s a point where you reach significantly diminishing returns with such bans and just start banning things for the sake of banning them.

Take, for instance, Boston’s decision to ban — in 10 years’ time — its remaining six cigar bars and five hookah lounges:

The restrictions give Boston among the most stringent antismoking laws in the United States and place it at the vanguard of widening campaigns to reduce cigarette smoking, especially among young people and the poor.

Apparently Boston’s governmental authorities can see into the future and predict that in 10 years’ time, cigars and public smoking of all sorts would just be unimaginable. All of this focus just for 11 existing, small establishments (no new establishments can be approved). The justification?

“Cigarettes are bad, they’re harmful to people, there’s a need for us to change the social norms around cigarettes,” said commission member Harold Cox, an associate dean at the Boston University School of Public Health. “Our responsibility as governmental officials is to protect people.”

Cigarettes are “bad”?!? Wow, thanks for the news flash Harold Cox. But cigar bars and hookah lounges are where people go to smoke cigars or to take long drags on flavored tobacco from a communal water pipe. And while these actions may be bad for a person’s health (although there’s little research to suggest that smoking a single cigar once a week or once a month has any deleterious effects on a person’s health), such an action does not target young people and the poor.

It instead targets ordinary people who understand the risks of inhaling smoke or sucking on a cigar. And targets them only because of an activity that is currently on the “outs” of society (much like alcohol was in the early 1930s). These people aren’t at risk for lung cancer (you don’t even inhale cigar smoke!), and certainly are a lesser burden to society than the thousands of Bostonians who spend their evenings drinking at a bar and then attempting to drive home.

Government is generally good, when kept to common-sensical regulations and sound public policy. But when government takes a good cause, and then pushes that cause into every nook and cranny of everyday society, it has the potential of simply going too far for no logical reason. So while Massachusetts recently decriminalized marijuana possession, it will make criminals of these eleven small businesses for no particular public health justification.

Read the full article: Boston bans cigarette sales in drug stores but delays cigar bar closings

How Much Government is Too Much?


John M. Grohol, Psy.D.

Dr. John Grohol is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of Psych Central. He is a psychologist, author, researcher, and expert in mental health online, and has been writing about online behavior, mental health and psychology issues since 1995. Dr. Grohol has a Master's degree and doctorate in clinical psychology from Nova Southeastern University. Dr. Grohol sits on the editorial board of the journal Computers in Human Behavior and is a founding board member of the Society for Participatory Medicine. You can learn more about Dr. John Grohol here.


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APA Reference
Grohol, J. (2018). How Much Government is Too Much?. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 15, 2019, from https://psychcentral.com/blog/how-much-government-is-too-much/
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 12 Dec 2008)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
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