It’s for the Children
And other Big Government fairy tales


Iain Murray

editor’s note: This article is adapted from Stealing You Blind: How Government Fat Cats Are Getting Rich Off of You, from Regnery.


The government robber barons justify themselves by telling you that big government is for your own good or, even better, “it’s for the children!” What they really do is treat you like a child. The robber barons’ regime is predicated on the idea that a bureaucrat knows better than a private individual what choices should be made; and in the process, big government infantilizes the people it “serves” or, more accurately, fleeces.

The Department of School-Lunch Safety
Sometimes it really is “for the children,” and the children aren’t very happy about it. Take, for example, the school district of St. Paul, Minn., which decided its job was to change students’ dietary habits. In 2010, it declared that its schools would become “sweet-free zones.” No longer would children be rewarded with candy. Cupcakes as birthday treats became a thing of the past. Brownies at bake sales were right out.

The reason given for the move was childhood obesity. School superintendent Valeria Silva discovered that the obesity rate in St. Paul’s public schools was 40 percent, 11 percent above the national average. So she decided it was her job to do something about it by banning sweets — though there is very little evidence that such programs have any effect on obesity. The students realize this.

“All my friends say, ‘This really sucks,’” Misky Salad, a ten-year-old fifth-grader at Chelsea Heights Elementary told the Star Tribune. “A lot of us feel it should be up to us to determine what we should do with our bodies.” How very liberty-loving of her — but how utterly opposed to the nanny state. Perhaps the St. Paul public-school teachers could use their time better by expanding Misky’s vocabulary beyond “sucks” than by policing the possibility of her having cookies in her lunch bag.

Programs such as St Paul’s very rarely work because there is a wealth of sweet carbohydrates beyond the school gates. Take, for instance, Jamie’s School Dinners, a project of British celebrity chef Jamie Oliver. Disgusted at the standard of food served in British schools, in 2004–2005 he started a project to bring healthier school lunches to the students. After a well-publicized TV series and no end of hectoring of children, lunch ladies, and politicians, the British government earmarked almost $1 billion in public funds to improve the standard of school lunches, based on Oliver’s advice.

It failed. Badly. Before Naked Chef Jamie’s intervention, about 45 percent of students took school lunches. Five years later, after the government had spent vast amounts of money following Oliver’s ideas about what makes a good school meal, that figure had slumped to 39 percent. Oliver might have made more nutritious meals, but they were favored by well-educated families, not the working-class families he had crusaded to save; they simply opted out of the program. Oliver brought his busy-body philosophy to Huntington, W. Va. in 2009–2010, with similar results. As the leftist website AlterNet reported, Oliver’s meals exceeded the county’s fat-content and calories guidelines and were much more expensive:

The reality behind Food Revolution is that after the first two months of the new meals, children were overwhelmingly unhappy with the food, milk consumption plummeted and many students dropped out of the school lunch program, which one school official called “staggering.”

In England and Huntington, West Va., school administrators would have been better off remembering the adage that you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink. The real beneficiaries of such programs are not the children, who don’t want them, but the bureaucrats who are employed to check the schools’ progress, tabulate and file results, produce “performance indicators,” issue reports, and, most important, demand more funding. It is programs like these that drive up education costs and continue to be funded when teaching budgets are cut. Bureaucrats always look after their own — their interests aren’t yours.

The EPA Conquers America
It’s bad enough that Congress keeps churning out oppressive, government-enriching regulation. But sometimes bureaucrats even “tailor” laws to give themselves powers that Congress didn’t intend them to have. That’s what’s happening with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which asserts it can alter the plain meaning of the Clean Air Act in order to regulate greenhouse gases.

The EPA announced in 2009 that greenhouse gases endanger human health and welfare. That finding paved the way for a huge power grab by EPA bureaucrats. It could lead to the EPA’s complete regulatory control over the nation’s energy supply and kill its use.