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An Everyday Example of the Evil of Big Government

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My favorite pair of glasses has a scratched lens (despite the much vaunted “no-scratch” coating). So, I went to Lenscrafters to get the lens replaced. They asked me when I got the prescription. It turns out it was a little over a year ago. ”I’m sorry,” the woman at Lenscrafters tells me, “but we cannot replace the lens because your prescription has expired.”

Let’s review the situation. I have a scratched lens in a pair of glasses which are working very well for me. I can see perfectly clearly with the current prescription which is now just a little over a year old. State law prohibits Lenscrafters from replacing the lens. It is apparently ILLEGAL to replace a lens with a prescription older than 12 months.

Now, who benefits from a law of this type? Is it the consumer? No. Is it Lenscrafters? Not necessarily. They lost the opportunity to charge me for a replacement lens, though they may do better from me having to buy new glasses. But the biggest beneficiary is optometrists. Thanks to the law causing prescriptions to LEGALLY expire, I MUST go to an optometrist to solve my problem. Through legal (and therefore coercive) means, the optometrists have made themselves necessary gatekeepers to me resolving my personal vision issues even though I already have a prescription that works well.

Law is supposed to be made for the common good. But what we miss is that the government is an excellent instrument for profit seeking through regulation. If you make the government too big and too important, a variety of interests will go to the government to find a way to make their money instead of making it through customer service, innovation, etc..

Hunter Baker Hunter Baker, J.D., Ph.D. is an associate professor of political science at Union University and an Affiliate Scholar in Religion & Politics at the Acton Institute. He is the author of The End of Secularism and Political Thought: A Student's Guide.


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  • This is yet another manifestation of what I call “The Fundamental Contradiction of the Democratic Nanny State”:

    If you are incompetent to determine whether you need a new examination to replace that lens, by what mystical transformation do you step into a voting booth to elect the state legislators to establish the various state professional Boards and the law that only a licensed optometrist or ophthalmologist may write a permission slip (or perhaps vote directly on some referendum affecting the practice of dispensing eyeglasses), making the very same decision for everyone?

    As Jonathan Edwards put it: “He can’t even run his own life; be damned if he’ll run mine, Sunshine!”

  • Jim

    I agree that it is “wrong” or “bad” for this to happen, but calling it “evil” is too strong, making what could have been a good blog post sound absurd.

  • Doug

    Sounds more like legislation with unintended consequences.

  • Roger McKinney

    Jim, there is a sense in which it is evil. The Church Scholastics determined that the just price can only be found in a free market. Anything not just is therefore evil. There are two ways to coerce people: 1) threat of physical violence as in robbery and 2) threat by the state to cause you financial or physical harm. When the state coerces people in the marketplace it destroys the just price. In addition, laws like this get passed because trade groups, like optometrists, bribe politicians with campaign contributions to pass laws that favor them. In other words, they use the power of the state to coerce consumers to pay them more often than they normally would in a free market. That is Buchanan’s public choice theory of political economy. It all sounds pretty evil to me.

  • Terry

    Having your eyes examined annually is a good thing, no matter your age. I thought my correction was fine but I was developing neck strain. The problem: I needed stronger glasses and my neck hurt because I was compensating by leaning in toward my computer screen. And on a recent check the optometrist discovered a spot within my teenage son’s eye. It might have been a serious problem, but we wouldn’t have known to go to an eye specialist without the optometrist’s annual screening. I am grateful it was not serious. So I don’t spend any time worrying about government being “evil” in this case.

  • Skip

    yes, this is an abuse of power. And this kind of thing goes on all the time. My wife operates a struggling optical shop and the laws of our state have so tilted against her that we face a tough time. One example: an optometrist can hire an unlicensed employee to dispense and repair eyeglasses and that person may do so without the direct supervision of the optometrist. An Optician, also licensed by the state, must be present at all times when an non licensed person dispenses or repairs glasses. Is the unlicensed person somehow more competent when working for an optometrist? Hardly. It makes no sense.

    The day that the government first stuck its nose in our daily lives we were on the slippery slope. Now we have various trade groups buying regulations solely to benefit themselves, at our expense.

    This will never end until we stop it and since most folks don’t even know about it, good luck to us.

  • Steven Herrin

    Thanks Doug for proving that this is quite a holy act of government, not evil. :-)

  • Ec

    Isn’t this another example of using government force to replace good old fashion salesmanship. Another example, Compact Florescent Lights (CFL’s) in place of incandescent Heat Bulbs. If these were the only two examples I would not be wasting time writing this.

    The American Way is to hire a lobbyist to get a law mandating use of your product instead of a salesman to sell the advantages.

    Under the current law if one never started going to an eye practitioner they might miss-out on all the wonderful benefits all their life. We probably need a new law mandating everyone have an eye exam every two years starting at birth. Give me a break.

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