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  • By Zaldy Dandan

Fat chance

“None of the Robespierres of the world knew how to make a pencil, yet they wanted to remake entire societies.” — Lawrence W. Reed

Saipan — A concerned citizen asks, “Considering the high costs of healthcare, especially medical referrals to off-island hospitals, why can’t the CNMI government require people to be healthy?” The concerned citizen was referring to lifestyle diseases caused by alcohol, drug and smoking abuse as well as lack of physical activity and “unhealthy” eating. “Why,” he added, “should I pay for the costly consequences of other people’s irresponsible and reckless behavior?”

Not all medical referral patients are afflicted with lifestyle diseases, but I get his point. Now suppose that the government can, legally, force people to eat and live healthy — how exactly?

The government can probably start by either imposing a huge tax on or simply banning “unhealthy food and drinks” — including tobacco and betel nut. It can also require citizens to exercise regularly. But what about tourists? Should they be exempted? And who will oversee compliance? How can they prevent violations that may likely involve smuggling? Should there be random, unannounced inspections of homes, business establishments, warehouse, etc.? What is the punishment for violators? Fines? How much? Jail time? How many days, months, years? Will there be a need to hire more law enforcers and build a larger correctional facility?

Of course another concerned citizen could point out that the government and its many agencies cannot even enforce the anti-littering law; it cannot prevent the entry and/or the presence of illegal drugs; it has practically bankrupted its pension fund, and run its healthcare system and utilities corporation into the ground — and yet we expect that the same government can compel every single one of us to not to drink too much, not to smoke and/or chew, not to eat empanada, fried rice with Spam and finadene, crispy pata, fried chicken, red rice with bacon bits, blueberry cheese cake, etc., and then down with a can or two or more of beer or soda drink.


Citizens, to be sure, can move to anywhere else in their huge nation which is the U.S. — or, most likely, just throw out the bums who came up with these “healthy” measures.

It is probably better to provide tax or other incentives to people who stay healthy. Offer more or expand existing programs that can educate and/or help people to stay healthy. And pursue business-friendly policies so that the local economy can continue generating revenue for the government’s public health agencies, including the medical referral office.

But where’s the “hope! change!” drama in all that?

In his 1884 — not a typo — book “The Man versus the State,” Herbert Spencer wrote:

“A fundamental error pervading the thinking of nearly all parties, political and social, is that evils admit of immediate and radical remedies. ‘If you will but do this, the mischief will be prevented.’ ‘Adopt my plan, and the suffering will disappear.’ ‘The corruption will unquestionably be cured by enforcing this measure.’

Everywhere one meets with beliefs, expressed or implied, of these kinds. They are all ill-founded. It is possible to remove causes which intensify the evils; it is possible to change the evils from one form into another; and it is possible, and very common, to exacerbate the evils by the efforts made to prevent them; but anything like immediate cure is impossible.”

And yet, Spencer added, “civilized man persists in ascribing to this idol [government] made with his own hands, powers which in one way or other it confesses it has not got.”

So we persist in assuming that “the body politic [can be] shaped thus or thus at will; and…that aggregated men, twisted into this or that arrangement, will remain as intended. [But] facts forced on his attention hour by hour should make everyone skeptical as to the success of this or that proposed way of changing a people’s actions. Alike to the citizen and to the legislator, home-experiences daily supply proofs that the conduct of human beings baulks calculation. Yet, difficult as he finds it to deal with humanity in detail, he is confident of his ability to deal with embodied humanity. Citizens, not one-thousandth of whom he knows, not one-hundredth of whom he ever saw, and the great mass of whom belong to classes having habits and modes of thought of which he has but dim notions, he feels sure will act in ways he foresees, and fulfil ends he wishes.”

I would rather hear a candidate for office or an elected official say the following:

“If in…personal affairs, where all the conditions of the case were known to me, I have so often miscalculated, how much oftener shall I miscalculate in political affairs, where the conditions are too numerous, too widespread, too complex, too obscure to be understood…. When I remember how many of my private schemes have miscarried; how speculations have failed, agents proved dishonest, marriage been a disappointment; how I did but pauperize the relative I sought to help; how my carefully governed son has turned out worse than most children; how the thing I desperately strove against as a misfortune did me immense good; how while the objects I ardently pursued brought me little happiness when gained, most of my pleasures have come from unexpected sources; when I recall these and hosts of like facts, I am struck with the incompetence of my intellect to prescribe for society.”

But such a person, I fear, would never even consider running for office. So we’re stuck with what we have: leaders eager to solve society’s problems through legislation which usually involves coercion, extortion, oppression.

Zaldy Dandan is editor of Marianas Variety, the NMI’s oldest newspaper.

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