America unites in contempt for loathsome nanny-state mayor

The “No Labels” crowd that wanted him to run for president as an indie swore that he’d help bring Americans together. And so he has. Is there anyone on either side of the aisle, aside from celebrity buffoons like Alec Baldwin and the social engineers of tomorrow at Ezra Klein’s blog, who thinks this is a swell idea?

The proposed ban would affect virtually the entire menu of popular sugary drinks found in delis, fast-food franchises and even sports arenas, from energy drinks to pre-sweetened iced teas. The sale of any cup or bottle of sweetened drink larger than 16 fluid ounces — about the size of a medium coffee, and smaller than a common soda bottle — would be prohibited under the first-in-the-nation plan, which could take effect as soon as next March.

The measure would not apply to diet sodas, fruit juices, dairy-based drinks like milkshakes, or alcoholic beverages; it would not extend to beverages sold in grocery or convenience stores…

At fast-food chains, where sodas are often dispersed at self-serve fountains, restaurants would be required to hand out cup sizes of 16 ounces or less, regardless of whether a customer opts for a diet drink. But free refills — and additional drink purchases — would be allowed.

Actual quote from Bloomy, summarizing his nanny-state ethos better than anyone else could: “New York City is not about wringing your hands; it’s about doing something.” The punchline here is that the scheme of targeting portion size rather than the beverage itself seems so inept and arbitrary that you’re almost left wishing he was a more effective nanny. At Reason, Jacob Sullum explains:

Even if we accept Farley’s claims about soda’s role in rising obesity rates, it does not follow that Bloomberg’s plan will have a measurable impact on New Yorkers’ waistlines. There are reasons to doubt that it will, starting with the mayor’s observation that extra-thirsty customers can always buy another 16-ounce drink (which might actually result in the consumption of more calories, assuming their usual serving is between 16 and 32 ounces). Nor will undercover health inspectors monitor the city’s fast food restaurants to prevent diners from availing themselves of free refills; the regulations graciously let them drink as much soda as they want, as long as they do it 16 ounces at a time. The size rule does not apply at all to convenience stores, supermarkets, or vending machines, so Big Gulps, giant Slurpees, and large bottles of soda will still be readily available. Bloomberg also plans to exempt fruit juices, which typically have more calories per ounce than sugar-sweetened soda, and milk-based drinks. So while New Yorkers won’t be allowed to order 20 ounces of Coke (240 calories), they will still be able to get a 20-ounce Starbucks whole-milk latte (290 calories) or even a 24-ounce Double Chocolaty Frappuccino (520 calories), not to mention a 20-ounce milkshake (about 800 calories).

In other words, Bloomberg is right when he says there will still be lots of opportunities for New Yorkers to consume large quantities of high-calorie drinks, which means he does not even have a sound paternalistic justification for his meddling. He is screwing with people not to protect them from their own foolish choices but just to create the appearance of doing so. Or maybe just because he can.

Actually, I think the reason he’s taking such a half-assed step now is simply to set a precedent that NYC and other cities can build on later. We may yet see a dip in sugary-drink consumption if portion size is regulated, simply because some people won’t want to pop for a second cup to get their fill. When that happens, Bloomy will point to the decline as evidence that regulation works and the public, meanwhile, will have gotten used to the idea of having its dietary choices restricted. The next step would be to apply the size rule to supermarkets and convenience stores, then after that to impose a calorie rule, and maybe down the road to drop one of those European “fat taxes” on sugary beverages to really drive down demand. It’s the same M.O. as regulating smoking — one of Bloomberg’s points in the clip below, in fact, is how obesity is now a bigger health threat than cigarettes — but minus the “secondary smoke” logic of regulating the individual to protect those around him. What he’s trying to do here is simply get his foot in the prohibitionist door. (And I do mean his foot; according to NY1, Bloomberg won’t even seek a rubber stamp from the City Council to impose this policy.) That’s more important long-term to controlling people’s diets than enacting a policy on soda portions that’s consistent or coherent.

Consider this an hors d’oeuvre for the meal we’re going to have in a few weeks when the Supreme Court rules on ObamaCare and we spend a week revisiting the ever-less-hypothetical “broccoli mandate” hypothetical. Incidentally, show of hands: Does anyone reading this not know that sugary drinks can fatten you up and mess with your blood sugar and that soda, in particular, is basically devoid of all nutritional value? The last time we wrote about diets and nanny statism, I noted that it seems like the better informed consumers are about nutrition, paradoxically the more government wants to micro-manage what they eat and drink. In theory, the more information a citizen has, the less government should need to regulate his activity because he’s better equipped to tend to his own welfare. Instead, at least in dietary matters, it seems that the more information legislators have, the more they feel compelled to meddle with citizens to make “the right choices” for them. That’s an ominous undercurrent amid the many advantages to mass media and the information age. A little knowledge is a dangerous thing potentially, at least in the hands of a tool like this.

Update: You’ve got to be kidding.

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