Serving up more regulations


One area where Barack Obama’s presidency was supposed to break with liberal orthodoxy was on the issue of regulation. In his first term, the president appointed the distinguished law professor Cass Sunstein as the administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs. Sunstein was notable as the co-author of the book “Nudge,” which suggested a regulatory approach dubbed “libertarian paternalism” (a contradiction if ever we’ve seen one), which aims to gently steer citizens towards making better choices rather than prohibiting them outright from making bad ones.

We recently got a taste of what libertarian paternalism looks like when first lady Michelle Obama announced the FDA’s revisions to the nutritional information that appears on food packaging.

Under the new rules, calorie counts will have to be displayed in bigger, bolder fonts; the standards for what constitutes a “serving size” will be changed; and disclosures of added sugars will be required.

This is hardly regulatory tyranny. In fact, one of the biggest criticisms of this initiative is that it’s basically superfluous. Compare the proposed new labels side by side with the old ones, and you’ll be hard pressed to tell much of a difference. And that’s the problem. The price of this essentially academic exercise: by the FDA’s own estimates, it will cost the food industry approximately $2 billion.

The administration justifies this cost by claiming that the benefits to consumers will be worth $20 billion to $30 billion. Count us skeptical. A study released in November by the New York University Langone Medical Center, for example, was only the most recent to find that customers of fast-food restaurants that display calorie counts don’t change their behavior as a result. Some studies have even shown consumers increasing their calorie intake.

The problem isn’t that Americans don’t have enough information to make healthy eating choices. The problem is that they have no desire to eat the way that government bureaucrats desire.

This is also the story of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, the 2010 law Mrs. Obama supported to increase the nutritional quality of school lunches.

A report released this month by the federal Government Accountability Office revealed that the law has been the dominant factor in more than 1 million American children dropping out of school lunch programs. The report also noted that 48 of 50 states have had difficulty complying with the law, and that 321 school districts around the country have abandoned the National School Lunch Program altogether.

We take no issue with the intent of the first lady’s crusade against childhood obesity, surely a worthwhile effort. Government regulation to achieve that end, however, has repeatedly proved equal parts expensive and ineffective. We’d like to propose our own nudge — one that gets the federal government out of our kitchens.

— From the Orange County Register

 

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