This week, New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg announced that he will outlaw the sale of sodas, sports drinks and other sugary beverages that exceed 16 ounces. Don’t worry. There are numerous exemptions to this petty interference. Feel free to indulge in high-caloric milkshakes, fruit juices or just head to the convenience store and grab a Big Gulp, a Slurpee, or buy large bottles of Diet Coke.
When you act like a petty tyrant, making arbitrary decisions with absolutely no basis in science or common sense is your prerogative. In the Bloomberg’s vernacular this is referred to as “leadership.‚?Ě “I think that’s what the public wants the mayor to do,” he explained. The public’s loathing for large-sized soda is so high, evidently, that they need a billionaire technocrat to force them to stop buying more of it.
This is nothing new in New York. Bloomberg, who embodies C.S. Lewis’ observation that “those who torment us for our own good torment us without end,‚?Ě has banned smoking in bars and restaurants, public parks and on private terraces. He has gone after salt and he has banned trans fats in restaurants. He is America’s leading proponent of using punitive measures to dictate perfectly legal habits. “We’re not taking away anybody’s right to do things,‚?Ě the mayor explains, “we’re simply forcing you to understand that you have to make the conscious decision to go from one cup to another cup.‚?Ě
One might wonder what business a mayor has forcing free citizens to “understand‚?Ě what the mayor thinks about sugary drink or what quantities he thinks we should drink it in? Or you may wonder who in New York – or the world, for that matter — doesn’t understand that gulping down a 16 oz soda every day is insalubrious? If you don’t, you’re beyond the help of Nanny State regulations. And if you do know, an intrusive new law won’t stop you from continuing your bad habits. Study after study says so.
Bloomberg and others argue that obesity costs society a lot of money so we all have a stake. In New York City, supposedly half of all adults are obese or overweight. According to Dr. Thomas Farley, Bloomberg’s health commissioner, sweetened drinks are responsible for “up to‚?Ě half of the increase in obesity in the city over the last 30 years. There is no way to quantify this sort of thing, of course, no matter what ¬†scaremongering bureaucrats tell you. But even if it were true, there is an array of costly externalities associated with behavior – take promiscuity, for instance. Using Bloomberg’s logic everything we do can come under the purview of government’s paternalistic guidance.
Moreover, New York’s Big Soda law is collective punishment. First, those who aren’t obese may occasionally enjoy a gigantic Mountain Dew or — who knows? — a couple might want to share a big drink in a movie theatre. Second, companies that would lose money from laws will certainly pass along the cost to you. If you’ve followed the leading lights of Nanny State policy, you already understand that driving up the cost of unhealthy products is the very point of regulation. So those who drink responsibly — as it were — are punished with those who don’t.
In the end, Bloomberg shows a deep ignorance about human nature, as well. The vast majority of Americans understand that portion control is one of the only ways to lose weight. But if we don’t choose to be healthy, no regulation can coerce us into good health.