Peter Lawler offers some thoughts on New York mayor Michael Bloomberg’s proposed ban on large sugary drinks, seeing it as a somewhat intelligible proposal and yet also further evidence of ascendant Belmontian neo-Puritanism:
Bloomberg’s policy is full of barely concealed class consciousness. Prosperous and sophisticated Americans never buy those giant drinks. They are, first of all, unimpressed by the bargain. Plus they’ve long ago sworn off sugary drinks. [ . . . ]
The mayor’s policy is part of the NUDGE theory of economics—a kind of fashionable paternalism. (Paternalism, I hasten to add, isn’t always bad.) Those who are enlightened when it comes to health and safety have the duty to nudge the unelightened in the direction that’s really best for them.
Given that the private sector is nudging pretty hard in favor of drinking ridiculous amounts of sugar, why shouldn’t government nudge back? It’s still possible for the poor sucker to drink as much as he wants. He just has to do it 16 ounces at a time. The bet is he’s too fat and lazy to get up for a refill.
On the other hand, some might find it odd that government is regulating sugar consumption more than it’s regulating abortion. Others might say that we free people should accord the same dignity to sugar preferences as we do to any other area of personal choice.
Actually, this regulation is schoolmarmish but trivial. But what’s next on the health-and-safety front?
While Bloomberg’s proposal certainly isn’t a death knell for human freedom! , as talk radio hosts will probably claim, nor is it really any kind of imaginative new stand on public health. It’s simply further regulation in the vein of his already well-publicized interdicts against smoking, salt, and trans-fat. But each of these bans do raise the question, as Lawler notes, of “what’s next?” Where do the non-negotiable limits of government nannying come in? Or are there any, provided rules are being made on the basis of what’s beneficial for us physically? A cousin of this mentality, indeed, seems to factor into the thinking of many supporting the HHS mandate: it’s not a question of liberty, or right and wrong, it’s a question of health . There’s a kind of dehumanizing deracination at work.
Perhaps most tellingly, these municipal prohibitions expose the contradictions of those on the left who seem so concerned to “keep the government out of my personal life.” (At least right-libertarians are consistent, though wildly and anthropologically wrong, on these issues).
Amusingly, the best counter-argument in defense of Bloomberg from the “my body, my choice” crowd is that this ostensibly personal decision is in fact not so personal—because the cumulative health effects of consuming vast quantities of sugar ultimately impact the medical system, raising rates and forcing higher public outlays to subsidize the consequences of poor choices. If only this interconnected moral imagination extended to other topics.