Musing on government regulation

Jun 06 2012 Published by under [Et Al]

Not to step on DrugMonkey's toes here, but I am continually struck by the obsession that many USians have with "freedoms". Perhaps it's our heritage and history stemming from the revolution. Maybe it is the perpetuated belief that the class system is more fluid in the US than other places. I honestly don't know. But the mere hint of government regulation of things that are demonstrably bad for people sets of a firestorm of protest.

The current "NOT R FREEDOMZ!!!" cry is coming from NYC, where the mayor wants to limit the sale of sugary soft drinks to 16oz. Mind you, this is just a measure to limit the serving size, but not the number of 16oz servings you buy. Although I wonder a little about the added waste of more cups vs. bigger cups, I can't really see this as a major issue. There is no "ban" as the media is fond of calling it, you can still drink as much soda as you want for the same price (i.e. no extra taxation).

It seems I am in the minority.

From the reaction to this move you would think Bloomberg was trying to ban fully automatic "hunting" rifles or armor-piercing bullets.

The noise from this NYC thing reminds me of the freak out over the smoking ban in restaurants and bars. I lived through this twice in two different places and the process was shockingly similar:

Step 1: Smokers and restaurant/bar owners lose their collective shit and claim that business will end, people won't go out, dogs and cats living together...

Step 2: Petitions, more freak out as the drop dead date approaches.

Step 3: Ridiculous anti-climax where nothing really changes except that the non-smokers don't wake up the next morning feeling like they slept in an ashtray.

Step 4: Business is actually better because a lot of people were staying away to avoid the smoke and everyone who wasn't still wants to eat and drink.

Step 5: One finds it very odd and backwards to visit a place that still allows bar smoking / waking-up-ashtray.

At the end of the day, the result was good for public health (unless you think those formerly avoiding the bars and restaurants are now less healthy) and did nothing to hurt business, nor personal freedom. So how is limiting the size of one's soda cup such an affront to everything we hold dear? Someone explain to me how government intervention for the betterment of public health is such a horrible thing, without going all unreasonably Orwellian on me.

41 responses so far

  • becca says:

    On the one hand, I won't usually buy soda. On the other hand, I will readily *filch* soda. So, if this policy would encourage someone who buys the largest size by default (like Carebear) to feeling stingier about his soda, I would be *more* likely to buy and consume more soda in NYC than elsewhere.

    I live in PA.You can buy six packs of beer at bars, but you can't buy cases except at Beer Distributors. Buying amounts between 6 beers and whatever-boatload-is-in-a-case is Challenging (although now less so than when I moved here 8 years ago... they finally loosened up some of the grocery store restrictions by grocery stores having 'restaurants' in them). The idea, I think, was to make it possible for people to buy beer, but nudge them to not buying too much. Or possibly to make sure they take it home to drink.
    The effect of this law seems to be to annoy the heck out of anyone who grew up in a saner state. And, judging by the # of drunk driving fatalities /100k (for instance) there did not seem to be a strong impact on the problems resulting from drinking.

    For beer, the *idea* sounds fine, and the public health goals are reasonable, but I don't think the policy actually worked. I doubt the NYC soda thing will work either.
    That said, the question of whether a particular policy results in healthier habits is an empirical one. I hope someone studies the soda thing.

  • proflikesubstance says:

    I completely agree that the effect of the soda policy my be little or none. But is there harm in trying the experiment?

  • becca says:

    Like I said, I could imagine scenarios by which the total consumption of soda goes up because of this policy. So the effect could be negative, if the goal is to reduce consumption. I don't think that outcome is both so dire and so likely as to preclude the experiment, but only if somebody IS actually collecting data on this. To just do it as a law, and not measure the impact, seems rather foolish.

  • Genomic Repairman says:

    If you charge for refills and then enact this measure, revenue is going up. Excuse me gotta go open up a soda stand in NYC.

  • Lady Day says:

    I think the intended outcome on the size ban is to make a minor (if negilible) impact on people who carry drinks around with them. They are unlikely to get refills, so the reduction in portion size may be real, for them. Think: the average people who buy "big gulps" (or whatever those drinks are called) to drink while they drive around in their monstrous SUVs (with the TVs turned on so the kids will stay quiet).

  • It is important to understand that the word "freedom" in the United States is inextricably bound up historically in the freedom that slave owners originally had guaranteed to them in the Constitution to own other human beings and for that ownership to be enforced by government power.

  • Lady Day says:

    Oh, and the kids safely ensconced in the SUVs are watching "reality" TV chock-full of product placement and drinking their own "big gulps."

    That's a great comment, BTW, CPP. Makes a person think.

  • Isabel says:

    "I completely agree that the effect of the soda policy my be little or none. But is there harm in trying the experiment?"

    No harm in a little distraction, eh...nothing like the threat to the status quo that kicking the food and ag industry lobbyists out of DC would be. Better to impress the public by banning something and making a big show of how you had to do it because you care about citizens' health. Nice distraction from the fact that the government is subsidizing the production of junk food in the first place. How much would those Big Gulps really cost if there were no corn and soy production subsidies?

  • proflikesubstance says:

    How much power do you think Bloomberg has, Isabel?

  • Isabel says:

    I wasn't implying that Bloomberg himself can kick the lobbyists out, if that's what you mean. How stupid to you think I am, PLS?

    I'm saying that it is easier for him to do and for you and everyone to talk about than it is to point out the real problem.

    Nobody wants to face the fact that the food & ag lobby is running the show here. So they find other ways to look like they care, to assuage their guilt perhaps? Or to create a smokescreen??

  • pyrope says:

    I am generally against new regulation that seems arbitrary, and this one seems arbitrary to me. John Stewart made the point last week that you can easily go around buying large quantities of high calorie food in NYC, plus with this law you can still buy a big gulp in a 'convenience store' (whatever the definition of that is). What is the rationale for singling out soda as the culprit in America's rising obesity? And, really only soda at movie theaters?
    I also see this as a precedent issue that becomes problematic if you push it all the way to its potential conclusion - should the government start telling you that you can only buy one donut at a time? One hot dog at the ball park? No more costco sized boxes of cookies? Are they then going to come into your home and enforce a 2000 calorie diet?
    Anyway, the combo of arbitrariness and precedent makes me not in favor of this kind of law. But, I agree that it would provide an interesting experiment to collect data for.

  • proflikesubstance says:

    I also see this as a precedent issue that becomes problematic if you push it all the way to its potential conclusion - should the government start telling you that you can only buy one donut at a time? One hot dog at the ball park? No more costco sized boxes of cookies? Are they then going to come into your home and enforce a 2000 calorie diet?

    Frankly, I'm shocked it took this many comments for someone to pull this rabbit out of the hat. The "potential conclusion" argument for keeping government out of everything might be the oldest diversion in the book. Come on now, really? Describe to me how the logical conclusion of limiting the size of a soda is a government employee at my breakfast table. Please. I really want to hear the train of events.

  • drugmonkey says:

    Nobody wants to face the fact that the food & ag lobby is running the show here.

    And BigHeirloom, don't forget about those bastards!

  • student says:

    I just think it is a stupid rule, and one that benefits the sellers far more than the buyers; more people buying refills, often the price of a larger drink is only marginally more than a smaller one. I don't see why the government has any place in this- it is not Big Brother's business if I drink too much soda

  • Jim Thomerson says:

    If you get into dealing with something which is regulated, you best spend some time learning the regulations. If you know the regulations, they have a harder time sneaking up on you and biting you. Even more important, if you know the regulations, you have the possibility of using them to your advantage. I say this having done a good bit of environmental work and consulting.

  • Lady Day says:

    Really? *No* limiting drink sizes at convenience stores? How ineffectual is this going to be?

    I have to agree with Isabel about the "real cost of food" issue.

  • pyrope says:

    Well, the potential conclusion argument is the same reason that I am against racial profiling, even if it's more likely (for example) that a latino will be an illegal immigrant and someone from middle-eastern descent will be a terrorist, because I don't like the step towards a potential conclusion where every latino is asked to prove his/her citizenship and every arab is strip searched. Do I believe those latter circumstances will actually happen? No. But, I find them intolerable, so why would I be in favor of any movement in that direction?
    I realize the analogy is a bit strange, but likewise with banning large sodas - it is arbitrary and a step towards a state that would be at best annoying and at worst incredibly intrusive. Becca's example of beer laws in PA supports the potential for annoying part pretty well.
    However, I would certainly be in favor of reducing subsidies for big agribusiness (which keep soda and candy prices low as well as beef prices). I would also be in favor of a tax on soda and candy, which I believe Bloomberg got nailed on a few years back?

  • proflikesubstance says:

    Doubling down, Pyrope?

    You know what also seemed arbitrary and stupid in its day? Seat belts. The point of this movement is to find some way to reduce the sugar intake of kids. Are there possibly more effective ways to do that? Maybe. Working with schools to alter lunch menus and get drink machines out of them, would make sense. I don't know if NYC is one of the places that has done this.

    However, to dismiss this attempt at reducing youth sugar intake as some arbitrary non-sense seems short-sighted to me.

  • proflikesubstance says:

    it is not Big Brother's business if I drink too much soda

    You are totally right, as long as you never plan on using the health care system. Oh, and it's nobody's business if I vaccinate my children either, amiright?

  • Dr Becca says:

    My guess would be that most large-quantity sodas are consumed when people are out and about, not at home. If that's the case, then I'd bet that the "ban" does cut down on the amount people consume, because who wants to walk around double-fisting? It used to be that the 16 oz soda was the largest you could get, but it's not like people got thirstier over the last 30 years; people started drinking bigger sodas because it was made available to them at basically no increase in price. Make it unavailable, and people will adjust, just like they've done with the smoking ban.

  • Dev says:

    How about having stands of freshly squeezed fruit or veggie juices mixed to personal taste with truly clean water and run by starving students?

    I can tell you ahead that it won't happen because somebody will regulate the good idea behind it for true public health.

    I don't mind your insults, or surprisingly your support.


  • Dev says:

    The problems seem to be not in regulation but on misplaced regulations. Now, that is obvious and very curios. It inevitably leads to some conclusions. Like one key piece of the puzzle is money, which leads to the next one important piece.

    I don't think science is really respected, and that is just too bad. It defeats the purpose, and that is what is bothering me.

    You all have been very spoiled, and are reinforcing the same pattern. Hopefully in a subconscious way, which means there's hope of readjusting society for the better.


  • Tenured Radical had a really good article on this the other day.

    And yes, we agree with you... (like we say in our upcoming Saturday link-love) this is libertarian paternalism, not straight paternalism-- you can still get the drinks, and yes, there's a negative environmental but nobody is talking about that (except, apparently, people who see the point).

  • pyrope says:

    I think the equivalent analogy with seat belts would be if NYC recognized that there was a problem with traffic fatalities, and decided to ban Toyota Corollas from city streets, but only on weekdays.

    Re: Are there possibly more effective ways to do that?
    Come now - possibly? The school lunch menus or making candy/soda less accessible to kids as you mention is definitely one. As would a tax on soda/candy or a redux in subsidies for agribusiness. Both changes in accessibility and cost get at altering human behavior, but don't set the precedent of government telling you that you can only have a certain portion of food or drink.
    I am not at all dismissive of attempts to reduce sugar intake and/or improve human health. What you're saying is that the ends justify the means in this case. I disagree.

  • proflikesubstance says:

    Your analogies are about as good as those used in the average GOP misinfomercial. And the "means" you refer to, are saying that in some places you won't be able to buy a soda larger than the stomach of a leopard seal. Wow, the government is out of fucking control!!!! Pretty soon we'll have people enforcing our calorie intake, just as you claim. I'm currently getting fitted for my government issue polyester jump suit with a V on the front.

  • Jessie says:

    I think the analogy to the smoking ban is poor - smoking in public places directly impacts the health (and happiness) of everyone in the location. I was one of those people who started going out more after smoking bans were put in place because my enjoyment of going out increased. Nothing like that will occur with the soda "ban".

    I dislike this law because it basically punishes the entire population for the problems a portion of the population has. It's like saying that bars can only serve you a 16 oz. beer because some people are alcoholics and drive drunk. Yes, there are people who drink too many sugary drinks and it gives them health and weight problems. But there are also plenty of people who have enough self control to occasionally want a large sized sugary drink, but who do so without it negatively affecting their health. How is it reasonable to ban one without banning the other? There are other way to discourage people from eating too much sugar.

  • Isabel says:

    "The point of this movement is to find some way to reduce the sugar intake of kids. Are there possibly more effective ways to do that? Maybe. Working with schools to alter lunch menus and get drink machines out of them, would make sense."

    Well, good luck with that.

  • proflikesubstance says:

    Jessie's version of "punishment" is not being able to buy a gigantic soda anywhere at anytime. Don't step on my FREEDOMZ!!!!!

    My version of punishment is footing the bill (figuratively and literally, via the health care system) to put on person's FREEDOMZ ahead of the collective good. Don't worry Jessie, you're in good company. Your argument mirrors those of the antivaxers and the NRA's Freedom plight for the last few decades, both of which have worked out great for the country.

  • Lady Day says:

    Honest to god, I can't understand how *anyone* could drink any more than a 12-ounce can of their favorite soft drink in one sitting. In fact, except for moments when a GI bug hits and the only thing a person can stomach is Sprite/7-up/whatever, I find soft drinks in any amount to be totally and utterly disgusting. How does anyone find that stuff palatable? And, yet, some people drink soft drinks at every meal, and in between, too... which is just nasty.

  • commentariette says:

    If the government authorities won't let me freely choose to drink a very large Coca-Cola, should I really feel confident that they will let me freely make other personal choices with potential health implications?

    I think that's the perceived threat to freedom that people are responding to -- a silly rule with sinister implications...

    When they regulated the soda drinkers, I didn't say anything. Actually, I was somewhat in favor. Soda drinkers are fat and ignorant and we all need to be protected from their unhealthy lifestyle choices...

  • DJMH says:

    I don't care about soda in the slightest, but I think this ban is a waste of energy and money that could be usefully applied elsewhere. I'd count myself as very liberal, but regulation costs money, and I don't see why bloomberg couldn't have used that money, and effort, to get soda out of schools.

  • Jessie says:

    My version of punishment is having my living habits (what I drink, in this instance, but as so many others have argued, this is a poster-child for the slippery slope argument) controlled because other people cannot control themselves.

    Everyone has a vice of choice - be it a love for a McDonald's burger, for chips, for ice cream, or for soda. Why should one vice be regulated, while the others go free?

  • proflikesubstance says:

    So it's all or nothing, eh? Convincing argument.

  • Isabel says:

    "and I don't see why bloomberg couldn't have used that money, and effort, to get soda out of schools."

    Because of the food and ag lobby. Watch the video I posted yesterday at 8:51; it's pretty eye opening. Efforts to make schools offer healthy foods cannot succeed unless we make some changes. The students who live in the poorest districts that are most reliant on federal funds for free lunches are suffering the most.

    Meanwhile, if we stopped subsidies to corn we could let the free market do its magic to end soda consumption.

    I came across this graphic yesterday comparing the foods government recommends that people consume, and the foods that our hard earned taxes are subsidizing.

    Why Does a Salad Cost More Than a Big Mac?

  • miko says:

    First the government builds roads and runs electricity out to your house...but then what? Suddenly there are "safety" rules about how you use those roads and electricity! They tell you you can't eat the paint off your own house! Next, your feet are encased in concrete and you've got a car battery attached to your nipples while a fed inventories your refrigerator. It's a slippery slope, my friends.

  • Isabel says:

    What happened to my last comment?

  • proflikesubstance says:

    It got pulled into the SPAM queue, for reasons I don't understand. It was probably The Man.

  • Isabel says:

    Hmm, well the point was, and the chart I linked to demonstrated, that the government is telling people to eat healthier food while it subsidizes exactly the opposite- junk food, meat, with less than 1% going to fresh vegs.

    With the proposals to tax junk food it's especially twisted- people are being taxed for eating foods that the government is using their taxes to subsidize!

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  • AE says:

    Obviously, a smoking ban in bars doesn't have very much of an effect on public health in one way or the other.
    If you are personally against smoking in bars, then that's ok: You are entitled to your opinion.
    However, the people behind this nonsense (the companies that manufacture nicotine chewing gum and so on) are very happy.

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