Is Bloomberg a Sugar Nazi?
Peter Lawler is Dana Professor of Government and former chair of the department of Government and International Studies at Berry College. He serves as executive editor of the journal Perspectives on Political Science, and has been chair of the politics and literature section of the American Political Science Association. He also served on the editorial board of the new bilingual critical edition of Alexis de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America, and serves on the editorial boards of several journals. He has written or edited fifteen books and over 200 articles and chapters in a wide variety of venues. He was the 2007 winner of the Weaver Prize in Scholarly Letters.\r\n\r\nLawler served on President Bush's Council on Bioethics from 2004 – 09. His most recent book, Modern and American Dignity, is available from ISI Books.\r\n\r\nFollow him on Twitter @peteralawler.
The nonpartisan yet aggressively reforming mayor of NYC wants to ban sugary drinks of more than 16 ounces from being sold in various public establishments.
We Southerners note that the ban would even apply to SWEET TEA.
Americans, Europeans note with dismay, are relentlessly PURITANICAL and PROHIBITIONIST.
We used to have laws promoting sexual repression, Sunday closing, and whatever. Then we thought we were being intrusive for the good of people's souls.
Now we've moved on from the questionable and contentious soul to the undeniable goods of the body. We've become increasingly puritanical and prohibitionist when it comes to health and safety. We used to ask whether sex was moral; now we ask whether it's safe.
I'm not saying this evolution is good or bad. It's almost certainly both.
Certainly the legal war against smoking has been more good than not. I only wish it were less toughly judgmental.
It's also true that nobody should eat or drink sugar. It always tastes good (as in that REAL coke we can still sneak in from Mexico), but it's really bad for you. It probably sends more Americans to an early death than smoking.
If you really, really care about public health, you'd be for laws that prohibited or strictly curtailed REFINED CARBS. Eating and drinking too many of them is close to the only cause of Type 2 Diabetes and our obesity epidemic. Dr. Atkins and other legendary experts were right that we can eat a lot and not be fat if we stay away from 'dem carbs.
So keeping Domino's, Pizza Hut, and the others from offering huge amounts of pizza for very litte money might do even more good than the mayor's banning of really big drinks.
Bloomberg's policy is full of barely concealed class consciousness. Prosperous and sophisticated Americans almost never buy those giant drinks. They are, first of all, unimpressed by the bargain. Plus they've long ago sworn off sugary drinks. They usually drink water, and the less enlightened drink diet drinks. (I think it wouldn't be hard to show DIET COKE—a toxic brew of random chemicals—is worse for you than real coke. Talk about cancer in a bottle. (But the ban doesn't apply to diet drinks, and the mayor admits he enjoys them on occasion.)
Large sugary drinks are mostly consumed by those who are relatively badly educated and relatively poor. They're getting fatter, just as the rich and sophisticated are often approaching safe anorexia.
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.
There's a kind of selfishness in elitist nudging, of course: We want those poor suckers to be more productive and cost us less when it comes to health care.
Certainly the fast food industry has engaged in evildoing by inventing the massive drink at a very low price. The last time I was in McDonald's—not very recently—I really did order a small drink. (I was going for that LIGHT LEMONADE with only 5 calories and maybe a touch of real lemon juice.) The nice server person told me that all sizes are a dollar, and so I might as well get the large, which I did (I'm no fool). There's no way I could finish it, and it's not something that could be saved for later. I can see how it's really bad to sucker ordinary people into drinking that much Dr. Pepper. I can remember when they default Coke size was the six-ounce bottle.
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?
UPDATE: Several people objected to my use of "Nazi" to describe the mayor. My apologies to anyone who believed I believed that Bloomberg is insanely murderous and so forth. Mine was intended to be an universally accessible cultural reference to the SEINFELD episode about the Soup Nazi. That stickler when it came to his soup was no Hitler either. Thanks to the threader who explained the reference.
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