- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 18, 2009

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Yoga? Even yoga? In addition to all the other little things that government is regulating in a drip, drip, drip that is gradually becoming an ocean, states have lately been telling yoga schools what to do and how to do it and threatening them with fines or extinction if they don’t. Take that, you meditating bunch of stretch practitioners.

Believe me, I wish I was making this up, that I hadn’t read about it in the New York Times, that I had not learned about “the fees, inspections and paperwork,” that I hadn’t had to think about how one state, Michigan, told yoga schools to get certified or cease operations, no pleas accepted, no rationality or liberty permitted.

It’s all without rhyme or reason, except the states want more money, legislators want to feel they are wise enough to tell the rest of us how to behave in just about everything, and that then there is this peculiar thing about power. If you have it, you want to use it.

The nanny state, sad to report, has been around for an unbearably long time in this land of the increasingly less free, sometimes in highly restrictive licensing to further the interests of particular groups (by keeping new entrants from competing with them) and sometimes with the purpose of taking care of us poor, helpless adults who obviously cannot cross the street safely without some bureaucrat holding our hand.

But this last brand of the totalitarian ambition — saving us from ourselves — has been really catching on of late, as in states and localities going to war with artificial trans fats in restaurants. A champion of that cause has been Thomas R. Frieden, the New York City health commissioner who has now been named by President Obama as director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, where he can be expected to continue his wish to dictate your behavior in the minutest matters.

He should feel at home in the Obama administration, one that has been unabashedly enthusiastic about a number of nanny state possibilities, including a provision of the House-passed “cap-and-trade” bill that would establish federal commercial and residential building codes, superseding local authority in supplying precise details of what kind of energy-efficient house you might live in. Imagine this — federal building inspectors deciding whether your lifestyle suits their druthers.

James M. Buchanan, a Nobel Prize-winning economist, offers an interesting perspective on all of this, according to a commentary I ran across in my Internet travels, this one from the libertarian think tank, Cato. In addition to other kinds of liberty-squashing socialism, he said, add “parental socialism” that treats us like children, going beyond legitimate means of safeguarding the general welfare to the commands you might once have expected from your mother and father.

All kinds of adverse consequences can obviously flow from this, not least of all the deadening of the energy and entrepreneurship that flow naturally from individuals when they are left to their own ingenious, opportunity-seeking-and-delivering devises. But there’s something even more important.

It is that the very meaning of life is tied up in our inherent right to choose any behavior that adheres — roughly speaking — to the old saying about where my freedom to swing my fist ends: your nose. Regulating the trivial can ultimately have the nontrivial result of divorcing us from vital aspects of our humanity.

Let’s take a cue from yoga teachers in New York. Faced with big fines or worse if they did not end training programs, they organized, sought out political support and persuaded the state’s education department to quit trying to license them.

Citizens of America, unite — we have nothing to lose but our baby cribs.

Jay Ambrose is a columnist for Scripps Howard News Service.

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