In the nanny state that is modern America, do parents have any rights left?

From the LRC blog:

"A preschooler at West Hoke Elementary School ate three chicken nuggets for lunch Jan. 30 because a state employee told her the lunch her mother packed was not nutritious.

The girl’s turkey and cheese sandwich, banana, potato chips, and apple juice did not meet U.S. Department of Agriculture guidelines, according to the interpretation of the agent who was inspecting all lunch boxes in her More at Four classroom that day."

The child was forced to eat processed chicken nuggets - after all, they meet the federal dietary guidelines! - in place of the lunch her mother chose for her.

The issue here is not simply of this one incident in which the system fails to achieve its own stated goals and, instead, ends up producing the exact opposite of its intended purpose - to require all students eat a healthy lunch. The issue, (as it always seems to be around here) is the system itself. The very notion that it should be the role of the state, not the parents, to determine what a child can or can not eat is appalling. Once you concede that premise, (regardless of how innocuous whatever form the original proposal assumes) the practical application and consequences that must follow, in this case, state agents rifling through the lunchboxes of 4 year-old children, are already incorporated within and are merely the logical continuation of the policy in action.

The ends do not justify the means. They cannot. The goal of creating a healthier society is a laudable one. So, too, are the efforts to create a more charitable society, or a thoughtful, or caring, or compassionate one. And so on. None of these goals justify the use of force, as a means in which to achieve them. You can not craft a more just, healthier, or fair society by employing an immoral method for doing so. A starting point of denying the rights of some, so that many may prosper, is incompatible with a free society and is the hallmark of tyranny. There is nothing moral about using force to have others behave in a more charitable manner. There is certainly nothing just in using force to deny parents' their natural rights to provide for children as they see best, which erodes the very core of the human experience. If the parent-child relationship is no longer deemed off-limits to government control, what realm of human life is?

If we wish government to function not as the protector of private property rights and provider of just law, but instead to create a "better" society, where it provides for the safety and well-being of its citizenry, where is the logical stopping point? If the government is tasked with keeping our physical body safe and healthy, what is to stop it from expanding towards the mind and soul? As Mises wrote in Human Action:
 "...why limit the government's benevolent providence to the protection of the individual's body only? Is not the harm a man can inflict on his mind and soul even more disastrous than any bodily evils? Why not prevent him from reading bad books and seeing bad plays, from looking at bad paintings and statues and from hearing bad music?
...If one abolishes man's freedom to determine his own consumption, one takes all freedoms away."
Liberty is not just the highest political end, it is the only political end. The subjective nature of concepts such as safety, health, or happiness precludes them from being ends in which government may be tasked to provide. Government force and law are only legitimate when used to provide for the objective concept of justice - the enforcement and protection of private property rights. The admirable goals of helping others to make healthier choices becomes deplorable when choosing the scythe of government force as the means in which to carve out this "healthier" society. Peaceful communication and voluntary cooperation are the only means possible for affecting change in a manner fit for a free society.

While the case for liberty rests and must exclusively reside in purely philosophical grounds, ie. natural rights, sadly, much debate over the role of government tends to occur within an utilitarianism context. It is worth noting, then, that even on these grounds government rarely produces a desirable outcome. The above example perfectly illustrates this. Clearly, even those in favor of this policy regulating the food parents provide to their children for lunch, would agree that this example was an unfortunate incident which failed to deliver the desired goal of providing healthy food for children.

Most proponents of a welfare state fail to properly appreciate the nature of government. Remaining blissfully unaware of the true nature of the state they believe it will allow for seamless integration of their proposed "improvements" to society, in a virtually effortless manner. In reality. the state apparatus that is used to employ these changes is much like a wayward wrecking ball that carves a path of property-rights violating, unforeseen harmful consequence-causing, lobbyist beholden, intrinsically inefficient and incapable mayhem wherever it goes. If the would be reformer explored the true nature of the state, perhaps they would recognize employing a system that occasionally glitches and results in throwing out a parent-provided healthy lunch, in favor of processed chicken nuggets, is not merely an aberration, but indicative of the diseased bureaucratic system chosen to supplant their role as parents.

(Example of "lobbyist beholden" charge: food companies lobby Congress to classify frozen pizza as a vegetable so they can continue to be served in school lunches across the country.)

Update: A mother is being charged with 2nd degree child endangerment for having her 10 year old son walk to school. The article contains a must-see interview with the police spokesman who so clearly depicts the underlying mentality that it is the State that owns your children and crimes are now defined as behavior that they deem as being unsafe or potentially dangerous.

Update #2: Another case of a 4 year old's parent-provided lunch being thrown out in favor of processed chicken nuggets has just been reported by The Blaze. It occurred at the same school as the earlier incident, and appears to be part of a pattern, not an outlier as originally reported.


  1. As illustrated by your article, government’s best efforts to protect children can be counter-productive and sometimes plainly ridiculous. As government keeps accumulating “responsibilities”, clear examples of its overreach are likely to become more and more common.

    However, I have doubts about your broader conclusion that parent-child relationship should be off-limits to government control. Should not the authorities be able to protect children from parental abuse? Admittedly, I have no idea where is the line beyond which the relationship can be defined as abusive, but some examples (take Josef Fritzl, for instance) seem pretty obvious.

  2. Don't breaded, processed chicken nuggets have higher calories and fat content than a turkey and cheese sandwich?

    1. Yup! But this is the nature of the bureaucratic method. The bureaucrat's only objective is to follow the rules/regulations in place. Even, if it is obviously wrong. What reward does he get for doing "the right thing" here? Nothing.

      Unlike the market, which rewards innovation and action that consumers value, in a bureaucracy there are no such rewards. In fact, the only way you fail - as a bureaucrat - is if you deviate from the existing regulatory framework. So why risk it?

      And that is why we have stories like these, and will always continue to do so. I'm sure the agent involved recognized that chicken nuggets are not healthier than the turkey sandwich, but, and this is the key, self-interest motivates him to prioritize keeping his job higher than "doing what's right", and risking disciplinary action.

      These types of stories are not aberrations they are inherent features of the bureaucratic method. In a market, where this idiocy would be punished by loss of business, and innovation is rewarded by increased profits, we see the opposite tendency.