On a recent trip across town, I fell into conversation with an opinionated taxi driver (is there any other kind?). “What about that woman who killed her children?” he asked by way of an icebreaker.

While I am four square against infanticide, I mentioned, mostly in passing, that I am in favor of legalizing drugs. “You’ve got a point there,” the cabbie said thoughtfully. “Then we could tax drugs that are now sold illegally and use the money to take care of addicts.”

“No, no, no,” I said, appalled. “I don’t want the government to collect taxes to take care of people who have made the choice to destroy themselves. I don’t think that’s the government’s job. The taxpayer should not be required to foot the bill for bad choices other people make. I just don’t want deranged addicts to shoot innocent people while committing crimes to get drug money. What happens to the addicts is up to them and any private charity that cares to help them.”

Now it was the cabbie’s turn to be horrified. “You don’t want to help people?” the cabbie demanded. Well, maybe as an individual, I assayed, but I don’t want the government to be involved. “You’re rich,” the by now crabby cabbie said erroneously, adding, not erroneously, that I was probably the kind of selfish person who doesn’t want to pay higher taxes to support universal health care. At least, he wasn’t entirely lacking in perception.

The cabbie shared numerous concerns with me, including the lethal impact of Popeye’s fried chicken on one’s veins, but it all came back to health care. Come to think of it, that’s how Popeye’s entered the conversation. People who don’t eat right might get sick and need medical attention. Obesity is another peril. Another reason for universal health care: growing population caused by, according to my friend, by an unbridled sexual urge. “You know what I mean?” he said. “No,” I replied, “I don’t.”

A republic is in big trouble when a large segment of the population believes that the appropriate response to bad behavioral choices is governmental help. But the underlying philosophy is even more frightening: it’s the notion that there nobody should bear the burdens of their behavior. Sexual urge? You can’t stop yourself anymore than you can resist delicious Popeye’s fried chicken or mainlining heroin, if that happens to be your thing. “Sex is like eating,” my cabbie went on heatedly. “You can’t control it. Know what I mean?” “No,” I replied even more curtly, loath as I am to go into gory detail about human sexual urges with total strangers. “I don’t.”

As the cabbie saw it, many unhealthy people will be born because of this ungovernable urge for sexual activity. Mothers will send children to school who can’t learn because they are hopped up on candy bars (because Mom is hopped up on something else). By now, I could see it would do no good to point out that a banana and milk might be better than a government nutrition program. I was going to ask where all these Snickers addicted youths are, but the cabbie would only insist I am too sheltered. But, surely, even poor parents want to and are able to make good choices for the children. But, according to the cabbie, apparently they can’t. That is a key feature of modern policy. Nobody is responsible.

The list of formerly private matters that now require, or will soon be deemed to require, government intervention is shocking: obesity, a concern of my taxi driver, is one of the strangest. Can you imagine what the authors of the Federalist papers would have made of the notion that obesity is somehow the concern of the government? An intriguing article on the Hoover Institution website by Jay Bhattacharya, M.D., a research fellow at Hoover Institution, shows why such personal choice items should not be elevated to the position of public health issue: “Most of the costs from poor diet and lack of exercise are paid by the obese themselves. This does not mean that the government should do nothing; for instance, it is probably appropriate to warn consumers about the dangers associated with some foods, such as those with high trans-fat content. Also, government should get out of the business of subsidizing foods (such as high-fructose corn syrup) through its agricultural policies.”

In other words, you eat the doughnut, you pay the price. It should not be something for which non-doughnut abusers pick up the tab. Health insurance had been such a theme of our conversation that I screwed up my courage and asked the cabbie the question that was now preying on my mind: “Do you,” I timidly asked, “have health insurance?” He did not, and a minutes more of conversation elicited his thorough knowledge of emergency room policies. A cab driver is the ultimate in a small business operator he must buy gas, lease or own a car and pay for a medallion, either through his own wallet or by working for a company. But I still think it is selfish of him to expect somebody else to take care of his health needs either through universal health insurance or added emergency room costs for the rest of us.

What struck me most was that the cabbie had absorbed the attitudes of the elite. We now have public policy based on the ideas he had shared between my apartment and Union Station.

Shouldn’t he be writing for the Nation instead of driving a taxi?