How does Bloomberg get away with such ruinous interference? Essentially, by affixing the adjective “public” before his pet peeves, turning them into respectable social causes such as “public health” and “public security.” The truth is that people who enjoy Twinkies and cola turn off Bloomberg, a rich man with an ultra-yuppie sensibility. But he can’t simply outlaw their preferences and mandate his. In the “free” world, rulers have to offer rationales beyond their personal whims. And the one Bloomberg and his fellow social engineers increasingly deploy doesn’t involve compelling individuals to undertake virtuous actions to advance some broader public good (something that can be constitutionally nettlesome, as Obamacare’s individual mandate demonstrated). Rather, it involves barring individuals from doing things to prevent some public harm—a negative externality, to use economics parlance…

Every Bloomberg edict has been accompanied by a strange kind of doublespeak: He at once denies he’s restricting anyone’s rights even as he identifies the public interest requiring those rights to be restricted. He justified his crackdown on non-violent pot users by citing potential savings to the city’s security budget in case they turn violent. His public health commissioner Tom Farley is flirting with alcohol restrictions on everyone because some people might drink excessively and require costly emergency care. When banning trans fats, Bloomberg insisted that he was not “taking away anybody’s ability to eat what they want”—he was merely “trying to make food safer” to minimize cardiac-related public health costs. Likewise, he defended his clampdown on sugary drinks by protesting, “We’re not taking away anyone’s rights to do things. We’re simply forcing you to understand [that your choices have public costs].”

But public costs are simply a ruse for control freaks like Bloomberg to foist their personal choices on everybody else. To stop them will ultimately require restricting government to its essential functions.