How the Nanny State corrodes civil society

cupcakesThe bonds that hold together civil society are being badly harmed by over-regulation.

Last week there was a sadly unsurprising article about how food was donated by concerned citizens for volunteer fire fighters who were on the front line. According to the article:

Mother of three Tarlia Rajeswaran and about 50 other Bairnsdale residents baked dozens of cakes, biscuits and other sweets … But when Ms Rajeswaran delivered the food to the firefighters’ camp at Heyfield on Thursday night she was told … DSE had decided at a meeting earlier that day that “it was not a good idea” to accept the food donations because they had not been cooked in a commercial kitchen.

In the end this story is about bureaucratic zealousness and incompetence. There was no rule against donating food, just a busy body bureaucrat barrier. But we shouldn’t be too quick to point the finger at the bureaucrat. They didn’t act outside of the intent of the law.

First, the balance of the law is already excessively on the side of caution and risk avoidance. So it is hardly surprising they rejected home cooked food.

Second, the law already requires very strict regulations around labelling food and ingredients. The days of home cut tomato and cheese sandwiches without explicit dates of preparation, plastic wrapping and a printed label are gone.

It makes you wonder what society did before all these rules. People volunteered their time and donated food and it was eaten. Very occasionally something may have gone wrong. But we preferred rational management of risk ahead of excessive caution.

To some excessive caution may seem logical. But it is coming at the expense of civil society where people collaborate outside of commercial relationships to promote the greater good.

Anti-capitalists often bemoan that the marketplace doesn’t always deliver outcomes for the community. What they ignore is that charity and volunteerism is that gap and it’s an important part of holding the fabric of society together. The problem is that part of the community is being corroded by the regulation that they prefer.


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