Independence and responsibility

Responding to criticism of his notorious push to outlaw the sale of large sodas in New York City, Mayor Michael Bloomberg penned a defensive op-ed for USA Today, in which he completely fails to appreciate why he’s become a national laughing stock, as well as the living symbol of the creepy nanny state:

The initial reaction to our proposed portion cap on sugary beverages follows a now familiar pattern. But here are the key points. The increase in sugary drink consumption is the largest single cause of the rise in calories in the American diet in the last 40 years. Many studies show consumption of these beverages is linked to weight gain and obesity, and more recently, diabetes and heart disease.

Other studies show that people given larger portions simply consume more without noticing it or reducing calorie consumption at subsequent meals. And portion sizes of sugary drinks have ballooned drastically over the last 50 years, from 12 ounces to 32 ounces for a large beverage at a typical fast-food restaurant, not as a result of consumer demand but because of corporate decisions.

Together, these facts strongly suggest that if people are served smaller portion sizes of sugary drinks, they will consume less, gain less weight and be healthier – and we may just start to reverse the catastrophic epidemic of obesity.

What all of the Mayor’s favorite studies do not suggest is any reason why a politician should assert the power to over-rule the free choice of his constituents, in the name of saving their fat butts from the depredations of their empty little minds.   Nor does anything in the Mayor’s defense suggest a limit to his benevolent tyranny.   In what other ways can this self-appointed crusader against corporate greed and individual folly step into the lives of his subjects, to impose his prescriptions for a healthy lifestyle?

“Under our proposal,??? writes Bloomberg, “people could still choose to drink as much soda as they want. If 16 ounces (promoted as enough for three people in the 1950s!) is not enough, people could purchase two portions.  Is that too much an inconvenience to reverse a national health catastrophe????

Since when is a politician’s notion of acceptable “inconvenience??? supposed to be the limit of government power?   On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the right of another city, Indianapolis, to cheat certain homeowners because they were foolish enough to pay a huge sewer assessment up front, while those who chose long-term payment plans found the balance of their debt forgiven after just one year.   The Supreme Court ruling said that requiring the city to treat all residents equally, by refunding overpayments or collecting the full outstanding debts it decided to forgive, would prove unacceptably inconvenient for the government.   It looks as if the people are supposed to be far more worried about inconveniencing government than vice versa.

Bloomberg’s soda ban is just one sobering reminder that independence and responsibility are inextricably linked.   If people don’t want to accept responsibility for their actions, they must sacrifice their liberty as well.

This is the great challenge facing the European Union, where some member states have discovered that international welfare comes with strings attached.   Independence must be sacrificed to centralized authority in Brussels (which, as some in Greece, Spain, and Italy are grumbling, appears to be located right next to Berlin) before more bailout money will be tendered.   Those on both sides of this argument have reasonable points.   Who wants to give up national sovereignty to a trans-national bureaucracy, forever placing important aspects of civic life beyond the reach of local voters?   But why should the European Union finance further life support for dying governments that feel free to discard austerity measures, at the pleasure of their restless populations?

In the United States, liberals have spent generations selling the illusion of “independence??? without responsibility – the promise of government benefits provided at no great cost to individual liberty.   This illusion shattered forever when the American Left finally achieved its dream of government-controlled health care.   The true cost of dependency could no longer be concealed.   The Catholic Church is no longer free to follow its religious conscience.   Contrary to President Obama’s assurances, you don’t get to keep your old plan if you liked it.

The War on Obesity is still fairly young, as political crusades go, but it has spotlighted the loss of liberty that inevitably accompanies dependence.   If the government is to be held accountable for financing your health care, it must have power over your life, in order to keep those socialized costs down.   Once the basic premise of socialism is accepted, and everyone is collectively obliged to pay for everyone else, this only makes sense.   Why should healthy people be forced to subsidize the poor lifestyle choices of soda-swilling, fast-food-gobbling couch potatoes?

The government is in the process of outlawing risk, by forcing some citizens to bail out others.   President Obama openly rails against the notion of government abandoning its hapless citizens to face the consequences of their actions, decrying his opponents’ putative “you’re-on-your-own economics.???   When central power overrides the judgment of the free marketplace, the result is a dissolution of consequence, which means diminished responsibility??? and the contraction of liberty.   A free man is responsible for his choices.   A servant has neither choices nor responsibility.

“Rather than wringing our hands about the obesity epidemic, we in New York City are once again taking action to improve the lives of our residents,??? declares Chief Nurse Bloomberg.  “History will likely bear out that once the controversy dies down, we will look back and wonder why we did not do this sooner.???

More to the point, there will eventually be no purpose in complaining about it, because you’ll never get your lost choices back.   You will be expected to grow comfortable with a more limited range of motion, within the perpetually shrinking cage your betters have designed for you.   You will become steadily less responsible for your life, and the lives of your children, which is very soothing.   You’ll also be less free, by definition, as your “unacceptable??? choices are taken away.   It is widely assumed that Americans are no longer the sort of people who grow angry over such things.


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