“Unless we’re prepared to deny, against all evidence, that the environment powerfully influences children’s choices, we’re forced to conclude that rejecting Mr. Bloomberg’s proposal significantly curtails parents’ freedom to achieve the perfectly reasonable goal of raising healthy children. Why should opponents of the mayor’s proposal be permitted to limit parents’ freedom in this way, merely to spare themselves the trivial inconvenience of having to order a second 16-ounce soda?”
The above statement is a conclusion drawn by Cornell University economics professor Robert H. Frank in a piece for The New York Times where he takes issue with the court’s rejection of New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s ban on large sugary drinks. Professor Frank argues in his piece that Mayor Bloomberg’s proposed ban is similar to the advertising restrictions placed on cigarettes, including the local sales tax policies on cigarettes implemented by some jurisdictions. He challenges critics of Mayor Bloomberg’s ban to show where the benefits from indulging in harmful activities like smoking outweigh the costs of implementing policies designed to discourage smoking.
Professor Frank’s opening premise in his piece is that overturning the ban would threaten a parent’s right to raise healthy children given the unhealthy environment created by allowing the sale of big gulp, 32 ounce drinks. By cleaning up the poor diet environment, just like society discouraged the smoking environment with its tax and other policy restrictions, we would increase the freedom of parents to raise healthier children.
While I find Professor Frank’s concern laudable and his intent noble, I find the slippery slope created by a sugar drink ban one that we should avoid by putting the breaks on policies that take away consumer choice in the first place. It would be a lot less expensive and much more beneficial if government accumulated and disseminated information that would aid consumers in making choices rather than dictating through intrusive consumer choice policies what a consumer should or should not consume. If my son and I decide to treat ourselves to McDonald’s, I, given available information, will determine whether he has low fat milk or apple juice versus a soda.
I don’t think Kasim Reed, Michael Bloomberg, or any other government official is in the appropriate or best position to channel my decisions toward what they deem to be the best social goal. When we allow for policymakers to impose their vision on our behavior, individualism and individual expression becomes history.
Society’s aggregate value in democracy increases when we are allowed to maximize our individual benefits by making our own unimpeded individual decisions.