Who's Your Daddy

My column this week in Forbes is on Steve Levitt's daughter test.

There are lots of things that are legal, and should stay legal, that I don’t want my daughter participating in.   I don’t let my daughter hang out at the mall without an adult or have a video game console in her room, but other parent’s make different choices.  I think prostitution should be legalized but certainly hope my daughter does not become a hooker.  On the other side of the equation, I grew up drinking modest amounts of alcohol in the home with my parents (ie wine with dinner), and feel strongly this pays benefits later in life in the form of more rational approaches to alcohol, but I am legally barred in Arizona from taking this sensible parenting approach with my kids.

Oh, and by the way, as a word of advice to Mr. Levitt:  While you may be happy to see your daughter as a future poker champion, or you may want her to have the option of an abortion, a large portion of America thinks that your daughter making these choices is roughly equivalent to shooting heroin or engaging in prostitution, and they are going to try to ban them, and maybe even put her in jail for doing so.  In your theory of government, your hopes and dreams for your daughter rely on being able to out-vote folks who have very different hopes and fears.

This flawed view of government thrives in Washington because it neatly reinforces the ego and hubris so characteristic of politicians.  It essentially calls on 535 people in Congress to substitute their judgment for that of ordinary Americans on a zillion different questions, large and small.  Because in reality, Mr. Levitt’s philosophy of government plays out not as the government banning what I think is wrong for my daughter, but what Nancy Pelosi or John Boehner think are wrong for their daughter’s.


  1. Mike S:

    Or more precisely, Washington substitutes the preferences of 268 - 357 individuals for those of the rest of the nation, depending on whether a bill requires a simple majority or two-thirds to pass.

  2. DDC:

    I admit that I also have a "daughter test" when it comes to laws. I ask myself if I would want my daughter thrown in jail for simply making a bad decisioN that only affects herself.

    That is what we are really talking about here. It isn't whether our not I want her to engage in a particular activity our not, it's if I think the government should lock her up for doing it.

  3. hedberg:

    So, Levitt wouldn't mind his daughter becoming a poker champion. I wonder how he would feel about her becoming addicted to online poker playing and turning to prostitution to finance her habit. Or, how would he feel about her getting mixed up with those God Hates Fags wackos? Should the Phelps church be outlawed if Levitt wouldn't want his daughter to get mixed up with them? Personally, I'd rather my daughter be a crack whore than be mixed up with those people (there's more integrity in being a crack whore). He feels comfortable with laws against cocaine because he wouldn't want his daughter to be a coke addict. How about the parallel situation with alcohol? His article is a great example of very sloppy thinking. Typical.

  4. Jens Fiederer:

    I don't think his article is MEANT to be about clear thinking. He makes it clear that he is speaking not about his thinking but his emotional reactions: "despite strong economic arguments in favor of drug legalization, the idea has always made me a little queasy".

    I don't think the law should be based on shallow emotional reactions like that, but as long as laws are made by people they probably will be.

  5. Vitaeus:

    I enjoyed the article as usual, found a small error in your bio on the forbes page

    I have been an entrepreneur in Phoenix, Arizona for ten years, before which I worked FROM other people in companies as large as Exxon and as small as 3-person

    you may want to edit it to either for or change the sentence structure, damn spell check and correct words in wrong places.

  6. DrTorch:

    How does abortion even make this list?

    This decision goes well beyond the individual getting one.

    Fortunately not every libertarian overlooks this obvious fact.


  7. Bill:

    It's against the law in Arizona to have a glass of wine with dinner in your own home with your parents if you are under 21? Wow!

    I note that San Franciscans are voting on whether or not circumcisions should be outlawed. What's next - a vote on whether or not one should be allowed to have pepperoni on pizza?

  8. Gary:

    Wonderful column Warren. It is a great illustration of the false choice we have today in politics between Democrats and Republicans.

    So many people have internalized the notion that "legal" and "illegal" are synonyms for "good" and "bad". Anything "bad" should be made "illegal" and anything that is "legal" must by definition be "good".

  9. Roy:

    Thanks, Dr Torch. Easy to let sloppy thinking slip by as Warren did in his characterizing pro life thoughts as equating abortion to shooting heroin or engaging in prostitution. Instead pro life people equate it with murder. Note well: not killing, but murder (and go look up the definitions if you do not recognize the distinction).

    HSAT, I concur with what I understand Warren's primary point: some folks want gov't to make laws about issues it simply should not. I think of this as among the dilemnas that I suspect law school students wrestle with. Not merely the question of limits on legislating morlity (is it immoral to murder? to drive drunk? vs should it be illegal to let you daughter wear short skirts). Instead far reaching questions such as case law vs principles.