It's the controversy we've all been waiting for. Hizzoner Michael Bloomberg, Mayor of Gotham City, has ripped the heart out of libertarians throughout the known universe. He proposes a ban on mega-huge sugary soft drinks in restaurants, and movie theatres, and even at the little carts of street vendors.
It has caused a nationwide uproar, an eruption of a long simmering conflict between people who like soda and those who like pop. Of course, we also must tolerate those who see both sides, all sides, every side, and then some: those, like Mitt Romney, who wink at everyone. Romney tells one audience he enjoys soda, then on the same hot afternoon, tells another gathering that he prefers pop. Confronted that evening, he explains to a journalist that he actually likes soda-pop. He then accuses President Obama of dividing the nation by not convincing people like Romney himself to rally behind him. Okay, I made the entire paragraph up.
But really and truly, Mayor Bloomberg wants to outlaw large drinks.
The anti-Nanny-State folks really are up in arms about it. Mark Hemingway of the Weekly Standard has paused in accusing media outlets of mistreating Mitt Romney for dancing around issues so gracefully to write this: "I didn't think anything would make Mountain Dew A.M. seem appetizing, but now it tastes like freedom."
There is some precedent for interfering in the marketplace. Food processing plants are routinely inspected. Eating establishments, for the most part, are no longer using partially hydrogenated oils in cooking fried foods. The obvious difference here is that food quality and cooking ingredients are usually not within the control of consumers, except for restaurant chefs and kitchen home cooks.
Emily Epstein of the Daily Mail, looking in from London, does a fair job of summarizing the Bloomberg case:
According to the New York City Health Department, more than half of adult New Yorkers are overweight (34 per cent) or obese (22 per cent).
Obesity also kills thousands of New Yorkers every year and costs $4billion in health care costs.
The single largest driver of these alarming obesity numbers is sugary drinks, according to Mayor Bloomberg, which have grown in size.
For example, the size of individual McDonald’s drinks have increased 457 per cent since 1955.
Bloomberg explains to CBS why his approach will improve the health of the general citizenry.
Every study shows that you will eat a very big proportion of whatever's put in front of you. And if you have to make a conscious effort to go to another cup, you're less likely to do it.
Andy Newman, playfully I think, proposes a slippery slope of sorts. He asks for ideas on what else the good Mayor might want to ban within the borders of Metropolis. He kicks it off with a few suggestions of his own: "bingo, indoor tanning, texting while crossing the street, foot-long hot dogs, Drakkar Noir, dating while intoxicated."
Of course, not all slopes slip in the same direction. If we are to oppose on principle the mayoral ban, why not allow any and all harmful substances? Why not legalize cocaine? Why not heroin? Why not allow Rush Limbaugh his stash of Oxycontin without putting him through the trouble of incriminating his housekeeper?
After all, if we are to argue that we should be able to increase our health risks without even the inconvenience of going back for seconds, if even that enforced extra trip is too much effort for those of us already sluggish, why not go all the way? Why not allow anyone to self-poison with any substance at all? And if adult citizens are determined to poison their veins with viciously addictive drugs, the government can't stop it and shouldn't even try. Right? Right? RIGHT? Just legalize pretty much everything.
Well, yeah. I actually stand with extreme libertarians on that one. Let freedom ring. Let adult citizens self-medicate themselves into flatline land. Let people eat the sugars they buy in any amount they want.
And let Mayor Bloomberg go back to Gracie Mansion, mourn for lost souls, and comfort himself with all the diet Cokes he can absorb.
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"I think the discussion about whether the government has the right to intervene and whether its intervention efforts are successful should never be mixed."
I agree with him. The primary libertarian argument against intervention is based on freedom. Whether or not the government could successfully end drug use would have no impact on their position. That it has failed so far is simply a convenient excuse to oppose intervention and to get others to adopt their position.
However, two significant differences between drug use and diets immediately come to my mind:
1.) We have to eat; we don't have to do drugs. While we do have a choice of healthy and unhealthy foods, we are also more ignorant of what we consume and the effects that it has on our health than we are of drugs and the effects that they have.
2.) While many of the harms related to the war on drugs might disappear if we simply stopped fighting them, we already have serious and growing dietary problems without a war on food. Doing nothing cannot end the problem if the problem is worsening while we do nothing.
I certainly don't value liberty above health and happiness. It is a means to an end, not an intrinsic good. However, if we must frame every debate in the United States around this vague concept of freedom, I can point out that deteriorating health affects others as well through health care and insurance costs and loss of family members. And all for what? So that Bubba can have his Happy Meal?
I'm also not convinced that a harmful black market would develop around banned foods. But I suppose that, if there's a new kind of coke on the street, we can expect at least some hamburglars.
Now I find most of Ryan’s writing to be exceptionally interesting, even though I do not always agree with his conclusions. One can always, at least, follow the progression of his logic in his positions. That said, I find his statement, “I certainly don't value liberty above health and happiness”, to be symptomatic of the very core problem of this issue.
As a nation, we have become so uneducated about our history, civics, and the reason that our forebears sacrificed as they did for our future generations, that we now are willing to sacrifice those liberties for what we think will make us safe or happy. THAT is truly frightening, and those all-encompassing nanny-statist politicians like the arrogant Michael Bloomberg are the inevitable result of us not willing to think and provide for ourselves in all aspects of life. Instead, it is easier and thus makes many people happier to have those irritating everyday decisions made by our betters for us. Why take care of ourselves and make our own decisions when we can have government do that? If I have to worry about all of those piddling little things then I don’t have time for video games or I might miss Dancing with the Stars. And my happiness is not worth sacrificing for the inconvenience of having to actually think for myself. Like OMG!
“Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty or safety.” - Ben Franklin
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