It seems like no matter where Americans go today, they face government regulations in the name of health and safety. The TSA performs invasive searches at airports, numerous congressional attempts have been made to regulate the internet and last year the Senate declared the entire United States to be a battleground for the purposes of indefinite detention of U.S. citizens.
New York City has added to the scaremongering by passing the most insidious, tyrannical despotic and dystopian law yet: the prohibition on sales of soft drinks in sixteen ounce containers or more. Mayor Bloomberg insists that the new law is necessary to curb rising obesity levels among the population, but we all know that the Mayor’s true motive is to control what we eat in an attempt to increase his absolute power over the universe…okay that last part isn’t true, but the tidal wave of controversy over the law might lead you to that conclusion.
Bloomberg’s soda ban has been criticized as a textbook example of gluttonous government control. As far as restrictions go though, New York City’s new law isn’t a huge limitation. Governments often enact laws which endorse or relegate certain behaviors. The ban on oversized soft drinks is justifiable and won’t result in storm troopers patrolling the streets of our nation. Still, the ban has generated debate on the power of government to create such regulations. It’s probably worth a few more minutes to think about this issue.
The primary argument against this law is that it needlessly restricts our rights. The principle behind American liberty is that adults can do as they please so long as they do not harm others; masochism is perfectly fine as long as individuals are willing to accept the responsibilities of their own self-destructive habits. To libertarians, the ban represents an effort to treat people like children, with the state acting as a nanny telling people what they can and cannot do. The power to decide what people consume is a decision which rests with individuals. The government cannot go around making such decisions for us as decision making on the behalf of independent individuals betrays the freedoms upon which America was founded on.
The libertarian argument, however, ignores the reality that government promotes or forbids certain decisions to private citizens all the time. The American tax system is often used as a means for government to influence private behavior. “Sin” taxes on cigarettes or alcohol are designed to make it more difficult for people to obtain such destructive chemicals. Tax credits are often given to those who raise children or to first-time homebuyers as positive incentives to increase such conduct. Nobody, outside proposals to completely restructure the tax system, wants to do away with these means to influence private decision-making. And that’s exactly what government does: it can influence our behavior, but it certainly cannot control us.
Opponents of the soda size restriction might counter that this law bans behavior, not discourages the purchase of extremely large drink containers. Bans are a blunt instrument and should only be used when the behavior is obviously a danger to others, such as texting while driving or stabbing somebody with a really large and pointy object. Otherwise, the government moves away from influencing us to managing us. It is also unclear whether or not such government influence is even a positive goal; the use of such incentives invokes images of Pavlov’s conditioning of dogs, making people reliant upon government power.
However, New York City’s ban is not a blank prohibition either. Like texting behind the wheel of a car, the ban on super-sized sodas is a limitation on excess. People can still buy and drink soda, they just can’t purchase a super large container to hold it all in. Refills and the purchase of multiple small drinks is still perfectly legal. The change influences the citizens of New York to consume less and/or think about how much sugar they are taking in. New York is very far from a total blackout on soda and absolute government oversight.
Mayor Bloomberg’s law will still bother many, despite the nature of the restriction and the fact that it is perfectly reasonable in comparison to other forms of government restrictions. For those who are disturbed by the trend towards the Brave New World though, individuals still have the right to attempt to persuade each other that this limitation on soft drinks is a bad idea. Individuals can always vote their leaders out of office. As long as this liberty is still in place, we are still free.