New York City’s ban on sugary drinks larger than 16 ounces encompassed just about everything that is wrong with life regulated by the Nanny State.
The law, blocked by a judge this week as it was about to take effect, ostensibly sought to correct a societal ill, obesity, and related health problems, in order to leave people better off than they are when making decisions for themselves about what to drink. That’s as far as it got — good intentions.
As noted by Judge Milton Tingling, the soda ban was arbitrary and capricious; an over-reach of governmental power and, effectively, legislating by administrative fiat, damaging the separation of powers. Nonetheless, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and his Board of Health felt that dictating lifestyle choices should be within their purview.
Judge Tingling corrected that misconception, citing enough legal flaws and other demerits that overturning his decision may be unlikely. Expect the mayor and the city’s would-be soda police to appeal, anyway.
The legal problems are apart from numerous other adverse effects, most of them the unintended consequences of shortsighted do-goodism. Would dispensers of outlawed 32-ounce sodas switch their “large” sizes to 16-ounce containers, but retain the bigger drink’s price? How much would restaurants need to spend reprinting menus or warehousing surplus large cups? How could thirsty patrons be prevented from buying two smaller servings to quench their larger thirsts?
Some predicted the ban might even have increased what it sought to decrease.
“The policy is so convoluted, it is unclear if it [would] actually encourage an increase in calorie consumption,” according to David R. Just, co-director of the Cornell Center for Behavior Economics in Child Nutrition Programs.
For example, if vendors required customers to add sugar on their own to large coffees, might that prompt purchase of more drinks with milk — which were exempt from the ban — such as lattes, with even more calories, wondered Just.
Government dictating virtue top down generally fails. It often leaves a trail of unintended consequences and hidden costs, as well.
But legal failings, such as the soda ban’s uneven enforcement and hodgepodge of loopholes, and its unintended adverse consequences are only the most obvious problems when government plays nanny.
A more fundamental issue is that government exceeds its legitimate authority when it dictates such personal behavior. It also is an affront to personal integrity and individual responsibility when myopic bureaucratic values supplant individuals’ values.
We agree that large helpings of foods contributing to poor health are unwise. But ceding wisdom in personal choices to government decision makers is not an improvement. Indeed, it encourages rule-breaking by those who insist on having their drinks and other personal preferences the way they want them. It also builds dependence on impersonal government rather than requiring people to face the consequences of their own bad choices.
Unfortunately, this Nanny State trend accelerates as more personal responsibilities, like health care, are handed off to government. When we rely on others to pay our bills, we lose the moral high ground to protest when they dictate what unhealthy habits we must curb.
From the Orange County Register