To Ban or Not to Ban

A critique of paternalism

  • A ban on opening a new supermarket is evidence that people want a new supermarket, for if they did not there would be no need for a ban. The same is true of chlorinated chicken, gambling machines and many other products and activities that we are told need to be banned or restricted.

  • It is true that government should stop people doing certain things. It is also true that government should not impose restrictions upon other activities. In the classical liberal view, restrictions can only be justified when there is harm to third parties. If there is no third-party harm, then the restriction on liberty is mere paternalism or protectionism.

  • This paper presents a clear and precise set of rules for deciding whether a curtailment of liberty is legitimate or not. The argument is illustrated through a series of current examples, including climate change, gambling, high street retail, obesity and the green belt.

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Tim Worstall is a Senior Fellow at the Adam Smith Institute and author of The No Breakfast Fallacy (2015), 20 Economics Fallacies (2014), 23 Things We Are Telling You About Capitalism (2014) and Chasing Rainbows (2010).