While the “nanny state” is commonly presented as a bugbear, there is typically little talk of the nanny corporation. Like the nanny state, the nanny corporation acts to control people “for their own good.” Interestingly, this is a rather old idea: Henry Ford docked his workers’ pay if they smoked, drank or visited hookers.
While all companies impose a certain degree of tyranny at work (think about all the rules for decoration, dress, behavior and so on that go beyond mere professionalism), the nanny corporation purports to have the right to control people outside of work.
For example, Scotts Miracle-Gro does random urine tests for nicotine. Those who fail are fired. As such, the company demands that workers not smoke-even on their own time. As another example, Clarian Health fines employees $10 per check for being fat and $5 each time they exceed the allowed levels for glucose, blood pressure and cholesterol on regular tests. These are, of course, the sort of impositions that folks who loath the nanny state rail against.
It might be argued that since employees are free to leave a job, these “nannyisms” are a matter of free choice and thus are not truly impositions. After all, a person who wants to smoke can simply elect to not work for Scotts Miracle Grow. In the case of the state, people have far less choice. While they can leave the country, this is something rather more difficult than merely seeking a different job.
That said, it could be argued that the nanny state is, at least in the case of democracies, also a matter of choice. People vote for or against the nannyisms and are obligated, as per John Locke;s arguments, to accept the results of these votes (with some notable exceptions that would justify rebellion and resistance). As such, the nanny state would be little worse than the nanny corporation and if choice justifies the nannying, then the state nannyisms wold be just as justified as those of corporations.
It might also be argued that the corporations are merely acting in the way they are supposed to act: to maximize profits. While this nannying might be seen as for the workers’ own good, these impositions actually aim at the bottom line. Healthy employees are more productive, have fewer sick days and cost the company less in health care. As such, nannying is a way to enhance profits or, at least, lower costs.
Of course, proponents of the nanny state can avail themselves of the same sort of argument. Citizens who take poor care of themselves and engage in risky behavior are a greater burden on the public than people who take care of themselves and elect to follow healthy behavior patterns. As such, the same sort of financial and productivity argument can be given. After all, what is good for Miracle Grow is thus good for the nation.
Naturally enough, some people (such as myself) find the public and private nannying to be rather undesirable. After all, as Mill effectively argued, as long as I am a competent adult and not harming others, then I should not be forced to act as others think I should act. Even if it is, in fact, for my own good.
Of course, the argument that the individual is being imposed upon for the general good (or corporate profits) does have some bite. An unhealthy employee who is unhealthy through his/her own choices and actions is unfairly harming the company with lowered productivity, more missed days, and often greater costs. As such, the company would seem to have the right to impose to avoid said harms and fire workers who refused. Likewise, the state has the right to impose on citizens in order to avoid the harms that would accrue from their poor choices regarding health and behavior.
People should, however, have the chance to opt out. As noted above, people who wish to engage in behavior that goes against company policy can find another job. If they prefer to behave in harmful ways, then they cannot expect the company to bear the cost of this behavior. In the case of citizens, they should also have the option to opt out. This can be done by leaving or, less extremely, by forfeiting their claims to state support. So, for example, a person could elect to smoke and forgo buying health insurance. However on that day when she finds she has lung cancer, she cannot expect the state (that is, the rest of us) to pick up the tab for her. She had her choice and, as they say, choices have consequences. While it might be argued that such people would still be owed care and support, the failure would not be on the part of the state. Rather, the person could see who failed them by looking in the mirror. Naturally, citizens can also seek to change the laws so that they can behave in unhealthy ways and yet still have others bear some of the costs for them.