Gulp: Bloomberg's Stunning Nanny State Overreach

If you enjoy having a Big Gulp along with your burger and fries, you’d better drink up fast if you live in New York City: do-gooder Mayor Michael Bloomberg thinks you are too irresponsible to know what’s good for you. He believes super-large sugary drinks contribute to all sorts of bad health issues, so he’s determined to make you downsize whether you like it or not.

The mayor’s ban on these drinks could go into effect as soon as early next year, and would affect drinks larger than 16 ounces. Bloomberg’s ban is aimed at drinks sold only at movie theaters, restaurants, or from street carts, meaning you could still get your large-sized drink fix at convenience stores, supermarkets, or other retail sellers.

This isn’t Bloomberg’s first foray into the “nanny state,” or employing excessive state action to protect people from themselves by restricting freedom. Under Bloomberg’s leadership — and via an equally meddlesome and liberal city council — the city has banned trans fats from food preparations in restaurants (the ingredient that makes french fries, doughnuts, and other deep-fried foods taste so yummy) and has forced chain restaurants to post calorie counts on their menus.

Bloomberg, in one of his most Orwellian moves, even banned donations of food to the homeless because the city didn’t have the ability to monitor these much-needed and welcomed gifts for things like fat, salt, or fiber content — a concern not typically voiced by individuals desperate for a meal.

Of course, the mayor’s rationale is the protection of public health. After all, there is an epidemic of obesity and diabetes. However, who among us really believes regularly downing upwards of 32 ounces of soft drink is a healthy thing to do? And since anyone addicted to gigantic-sized soft drinks can easily ask for a second 16-ounce drink or find a nearby retail outlet, is this ban likely to impact obesity among people already making unhealthy decisions?

For libertarians and conservatives, the far more greater concern is government intrusion into our private lives. There can be no confusion about this: controlling the intake of food and drink is simply not a function of good government as outlined by the framers of our Constitution. (David Harsanyi’s excellent book probed exactly this issue. Nanny State: How Fast Food Fascists, Teetotaling Do-Gooders, Priggish Moralists, and other Boneheaded Bureaucrats are Turning America into a Nation of Children spotlighted politicians like Bloomberg.)

The problem of meddling, “I-know-best” bureaucrats obviously isn’t just an affliction local to  New York City. In 2008, Los Angeles City Council member Jan Perry succeeded in imposing a resolution banning any new fast food restaurants in a 32 square-mile area of South L.A. Like Bloomberg, her rationale was the disproportionate rates of obesity and diabetes among the largely poor, black, and Latino residents of her district. The racist, infantilizing message: poor minorities living in South L.A. are too stupid to make their own food choices. Her patronizing solution: experiment with their lives by forcing them to eat what she wants them to eat.

All of this obviously ignores longstanding cultural habits that might cause residents of poor neighborhoods to engage in unhealthy behaviors of all sorts. It’s one thing for bureaucrats to engage in public education campaigns in an effort to steer people away from unhealthy behavior, but another thing entirely to insult them and to argue that government must force them into making approved choices.

And people do already have choices. Even fast food restaurants now offer a variety of food, including salads, fruit, and yogurt, as well as soft drinks that come in a variety of sizes.

If government bureaucrats can ban the types of fast food outlets available, manipulate the size and types of drinks we can consume, and regulate every aspect of food preparation, what couldn’t they attempt to ban? Some studies have suggested that red meat is “unhealthy.” Will Bloomberg next propose a measure limiting red meat intake to one steak per month? Will the nanny state do-gooders ban hot dogs, or force Americans to take part in government exercise programs like those promoted by the first lady?

On the same day that Bloomberg was touting his ban on oversized sugary soft drinks, he was taken to task by a typically compliant member of the media. It seems that the mayor was also taking part in National Doughnut Day, causing even Matt Lauer, NBC’s consistently liberal host, to appear incredulous. He stated that Bloomberg’s support for a day celebrating doughnuts “sounds ridiculous,” as it coincided with his proposed drink ban.

There are far more pressing civic matters. Rather than have food fascists obsess over what we eat or drink, we should force a city bureaucrat like Bloomberg to concentrate on relieving taxation, to provide public schools that actually work, to deal with crime and violence, and to solve his city’s paralyzing traffic jams. Instead, he took us further down the slippery slope of infantilization.