Let’s Talk About Bloomberg’s Goddamn Soda Ban
It is almost impossible to understate the pernicious nannying instincts of New York City Mayor/Petty Fascist/Vladimir Putin Analogue Michael Bloomberg. The lengths Bloomberg will go to protect New Yorkers from the freedom they so frequently abuse—by smoking cigarettes and eating tasty treats—has been well documented. Bloomberg’s unwavering self-righteousness as he attempts to micromanage the lives of his constituents is nearly beyond parody.
He may finally have gone too far. Bloomberg’s latest proposal to ban soft drinks over 16 ounces seems to have united Americans of all political persuasions in their contempt for this man’s loathsome paternalism. But even if Nanny Bloomberg’s soda crusade suffers a small setback today, soda prohibition is probably inevitable. Unfortunately, too many Americans are perfectly comfortable with government officials meddling with our dietary preferences.
The story so far…
What an asshole
Bloomberg has been the bane of soda drinkers for some time. He has flirted with punitive soda taxes. His health department has run revolting anti-soda ad campaigns. It was only a matter of time before he attempted outright prohibition.
I’m not sure if prohibition by one thousand cuts – i.e., banning the sale of soda in quantities greater than 16 oz. – is more or less craven than an absolute ban would be. On one hand, at first blush it seems less appalling in raw terms than a complete ban. On the other, since it can’t possibly be effective, it’s essentially an act of unconcealed petulance. Obviously, any individual who wants more than 16 oz. of soda at one time can either get free refills or buy more than one.
If this ban is successful, no one can dispute that it will have negligible impact, other than making busybodies feel good about themselves. This has nothing to do with promoting public health. It’s pure, petty authoritarianism for its own sake. Bloomberg himself said as much in an MSNBC interview.
You can still buy large bottles in stores. But in a restaurant, 16 ounces is the maximum that they would be able to serve in one cup. If you want to order two cups of the same time, that’s fine. It’s your choice. We’re not taking away anybody’s right to do things. We’re simply forcing you to understand that you have to make the conscious decision to go from one cup to another cup.”
Could there be a more brazen expression of contempt for the harmless choices of others? This vicious bastard is talking about soda. Usually when some obstinate public official talks about forcing people to behave properly, it has something to do with the failed war on drugs. Bloomberg is marshaling the resources of the state to punish people for drinking sugary, fizzy water. What a world.
If there is any reason to hope, it’s that people across the political spectrum seem to realize that Bloomberg’s lunatic soda crusade needs to be reined in. Last week the New York state assembly speaker was considering passing a law to stop Bloomberg, saying the ban “may be getting too close to Big Brother.” And early polling data indicates a strong majority of Americans do not approve of the proposed soda ban.
That’s all well and good, but it’s only a matter of time before more restrictive measures are taken against soda merchants. There are plenty of busybody do-gooders out there praising Bloomberg for taking on Big Soda, and they’re pushing the same arguments that always get trotted out in these “for your own good” situations. Let’s review.
Doing something ineffectual is better than doing nothing
In his latest CNN.com column, former Bush speechwriter David Frum describes Bloomberg’s pathetic soda ban as visionary, and excretes opinions such as:
Good for Bloomberg. Obesity is America’s most important public health problem, and the mayor has led the way against it. This latest idea may or may not yield results. But it is already raising awareness. Even if it fails to become law, it ought to prod the beverage industry into acting as more responsible corporate citizens. […]
But if a restraint on soda serving size will not do everything, it may still do something. Or possibly not. The idea may fail. The idea is an experiment, and most experiments fail. We learn from failure how to design a better effort next time.
Only someone who has worked in government could think that doing something that won’t work is a good idea – “raising awareness” is an end unto itself. But who the hell doesn’t know that soda has no nutritional value? For the paternalists of the world, the answer must be, “lots of people, because I’m so smart and most folks are surely dumber than me.”
We know the latest soda ban won’t yield results, because similar efforts have failed. But that’s the mentality behind all government initiatives – if it’s a bad idea that has failed in the past, it must be because we didn’t try hard enough, or spent too little money.
People can’t control themselves, so someone better control them
Writing in the New Yorker, Alex Koppelman deploys a version of the Corporations Control Us argument:
In the nineteen-fifties, the average soft-drink size was 6.5 ounces; today it’s 16.2 ounces. Everyone from McDonald’s to Starbucks is selling drinks that are actually bigger than the capacity of the average human stomach, like 7-Eleven’s Super Big Gulp, which, despite having apparently gone from forty-four ounces to forty ounces recently, still contains roughly four hundred and sixty-five calories when filled with Coca-Cola, only seventy-five calories less than a Big Mac. Put together, Americans are consuming an average of about two hundred and fifty calories more per day than they used to, and roughly half of those calories are coming from sweetened drinks. […]
This trend was never going to stop by itself. Certainly consumers aren’t going to do anything to make it stop. Study after study has shown that if you put bigger portions in front of humans, we’ll eat—or drink—them, whether or not we really need to.
There’s something to be said for the point that humans haven’t yet adapted to the wide availability of high calorie foods. In the hunter-gatherer era of existence, human beings had to hoard calories when we stumbled upon them, and our bodies still have those cravings.
That being said, the Food Police and their surrogates constantly exaggerate how hard it is for people to give up soda or go an a diet. This is a modified version of Frum’s condescending twaddle – “Sure, I can control myself, but there must be all these other dopes out there who can’t resist the power of advertising or a tasty meal.” It’s really just a way of putting yourself above others.
We’re just talking about soda here. Step back and get some perspective. These are personal dietary choices that have somehow been elevated to a moral crusade, with folks like Koppelman routinely implying that a significant number of Americans are easily controlled by sugary drinks. That’s obviously silly, or at least it should be. But it isn’t, probably because we have it in our heads that other people’s lifestyle choices should be our business, because…
We must do what is necessary to protect the common good
As long as we insist that the government have a role in healthcare, there will always be people trying to meddle in the lives of others, particularly when it comes to food. Here’s Michael Tomasky illustrating how arbitrarily these distinctions can be made:
Are bacon-cheeseburgers next? As a practical matter, no. Sodas are an easy target because there is nothing, nothing, nutritionally redeeming about them. But might there come a day when the New York City Department of Health mandates that burgers be limited to, say, four ounces? Indeed there might. And why not? Eight- and ten-ounce burgers are sick things.
We have a health crisis in this country. A country with half of its adults living in a condition of obesity is a sick country, quite literally, spending probably not billions but trillions on the associated illnesses and maladies. Under such conditions, the state has every right to take action on behalf of the common good.
That’s not a good argument for giving the government more control over our food choices – it’s an argument for getting the government the hell out of our healthcare choices. The healthcare market is essentially government controlled as it is. Extending that control will only give busybodies greater power to limit the size of our sodas, hamburgers, ice cream sundaes, buffalo wing servings, and whatever the hell else they decide they don’t like.
That’s what Bloomberg’s soda ban is really about – because we’ve made government responsible for our healthcare, we now have to endure whatever insanity public health officials decide to force on us. Bloomberg’s soda ban is just a particularly galling example of how making healthcare an entitlement has opened the door for lifestyle micromanagement, which I suspect is why it’s provoking so many strong reactions. We’re starting to realize just how badly we’ve screwed ourselves.
There is a way out of this. We know that markets would make health insurance affordable, because they have made car insurance affordable. You can change your car insurance in a few phone calls, and you don’t need to get car insurance through your employer. If we treat health insurance like car insurance, not only would we have more affordable choices, we wouldn’t have puritans like Bloomberg taking away our comfort food. If we would just muster the courage to let the thing that we know works be applied to health insurance, we would never again have to deal with petty tyrants telling us that 17 ounces of soda is too much for us to handle.