IEA Conversations

Would John Stuart Mill back the nanny state?

July 18, 2019

John Stuart Mill articulated the Harm Principle in On Liberty, where he argued that "the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others."

So would he have backed the nanny state? Eating sugary food, drinking alcohol and smoking cigarettes are legal activities. But politicians still use the law to discourage them. They raise their price, prohibit or limit their advertisement, restrict where they can be sold and consumed, and sometimes ban them outright.

So do these politicians thereby violate John Stuart Mill’s famous principle that people should be free to do whatever they like, provided they harm no one but themselves? Or is the nanny state simply protecting consumers from the harms and excesses of, well, excess. The IEA’s Head of Lifestyle Economics and the Programme Director of Big Tent and PhD student studying evidence-based policy Dolly Theis debate the topic.

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