27 Sep 2009
Food Police

William Saletan of Slate has a good rant about the food police, spurred by a proposed tax on sweetened soft drinks.

In my case, the provocation is partly scientific and partly libertarian. But mostly, it’s a shift in the slippery slope. One of my basic rules is that slippery slopes run both ways.

Some of his points about an article in the New England Journal of Medicine:

  • “It declares soda fair game for government intervention on the grounds that ‘market failures’ in this area are causing ‘less-than-optimal production and consumption’” because not all consumers appreciate the health consequences of consuming sodas.
  • It says the burden of poor eating habits justify government intervention. Saletan says “If you’re trying to sink health care reform, this is a good way to do it: Show everyone how subsidized health insurance will entitle other people to regulate your eating habits.”
  • In what he calls “sheer paternalism”, the article notes that short-term gratification in spite of long-term harm also justifies taxation.
  • Finally, the article suggests that beverages with noncaloric sweeteners be monitored to see if they need taxing because they justify or promote bad consumption habits.

A previous Slate article by Jacob Weisberg quotes John Stuart Mill (from On Liberty):

The only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not a sufficient warrant.

Hat tip to the Slashdot article, where, by the way, a commenter noted

Of all tyrannies, a tyranny exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end, for they do so with the approval of their own conscience. –C.S. Lewis

Category: Life-Society
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