Guardian Unlimited | The Guardian | It's in our interests to be nannied
The problem with critics of the nanny state is that they mistakenly equate non-interference by government with freedom...To maximise our freedom, therefore, we should be interested in creating a society in which we have the maximum power to make choices for ourselves. That may require us to limit the extent to which influences that are corrosive to freedom are allowed to operate.
According to the conventional wisdom, and political rhetoric from the right, conservative policies that restrict government "interference" maximize individual freedom while liberal policies trade off individual freedom for other goods.
Personally I hadn't noticed this, in fact it seems clear to me that it's the other way around. Without government support for schools and student loans I couldn't have gotten the education that provided a real choice of careers for me. Without the enforcement of equal opportunity and affirmative action regulations my range of options in the labor market would have limited to "women's jobs": teaching, typing, waitressing, cashiering and the "helping professions."
Without government interference I would now likely be trapped in 2 square feet of space for 8 hours a day operating a cash register or sitting at a computer terminal keying in data while my supervisor monitored every keystroke. Most women's jobs are like that--restricted mobility, interminable repetition and close supervision with few possibilities for achievement or advancement. I don't see how that counts as freedom.
Freedom, in the most basic sense, means the absence of physical constraint--not being trapped in a small space behind a check out counter or in a carrel answering phones. It means the chance to organize my own activities and more broadly, the available of a wide range of options from which I can choose, making trade-offs in accordance with my preferences. Government interference restricts the options of a few people while increasing the net freedom overall by liberating us from the constraints imposed on us by customs and traditions, the policies of non-government organizations, and the restrictions to our liberty that come from the unchosen circumstances of our lives.