Paternalistic Policy: In Defense Of NYC’s Bloomberg and Baby Authoritarianism
UESTIONING Timothy Noah’s defence of Michael Bloomberg’s move to bar restaurants and theatres from selling customers flavoured sugar-water in railroad-car-sized servings, my colleague invokes the spectre of Torquemada. Of all the historical parallels that might have been raised in this debate, I honestly didn’t expect the Spanish Inquisition. But the idea, which seems appropriate, is to look at paradigmatic cases of state-enforced moral paternalism and whether they can ever be justified. My colleague is saying that stopping people from selling soda in huge single portions is one of those cases where the government forces someone to do what it thinks is good for him, even if it is against his will.
That’s not really what’s happening here. In my colleague’s telling, Torquemada tortured people for holding dissenting religious views, to get them to recant. Does Michael Bloomberg propose to fine people for drinking soda out of 32-ounce cups? No. He proposes to fine people for selling soda in 32-ounce cups. What’s the difference? In the first case, you’re talking about forcing an individual to do what you think is best for him personally. In the second case, you’re talking about blocking individuals and corporations from offering the general public a temptation. The best way to think about this is that you’re collectively making a decision about what sort of behaviour you, as a member of the public, want to promote, or in other words what sort of society you want to live in.