24 October 2012

The DC Council knows what you should drink better than you do

Via Reason 24-7 News:
WTOP News | Mark Segraves | Some on D.C. Council favor restricting sugary drinks

Several members of the D.C. Council have come out in favor of restricting the sizes of sugary sodas sold in the District - a ban similar to one in New York City.

At a recent debate between candidates for the at-large council seats, current Councilmembers Michael Brown and Vincent Orange said without hesitation they would vote to ban the sale of large drinks.

That news was music to Councilmember Mary Cheh's ears.

"I'm very excited by that," said Cheh (D-Ward 3), who fell one vote short of passing a tax on sodas and other sugary drinks.
Whatever happened to "laboratories of democracy"? Is it too much to ask for legislatures (especially the self-proclaimed "reality-based" and "pro-science" ones) to wait for the results of a reform tried in one jurisdiction before implementing it in their own?

It's clear the real purpose behind bans of large soft drinks or taxes on plastic bags is not to lower obesity rates or cut down on litter. If it were then lawmakers would insist on waiting to find out if such interventions actually work. But that's not the point. The point is to be seen Doing Something. These laws are not reforms designed to have positive effects, they're ways for lawmakers to engage in self expression. Once your peers in some other state or city have taken the Anti-Obesity Stance via restricting soda sizes, every day you wait makes you look Pro-Obesity. The actual effect on obesity is irrelevant; the appearance of fighting obesity is point. Why wait for results when you can start wrapping yourself in the Anti-Obesity mantle right now?
"I think there probably are some good health reasons to support something like [banning large sodas]," [DC Mayor Vincent] Gray said. "We'll be happy to look at it, we haven't taken a position on that one way or another."
Why do I get the impressions the thing he means he'll look at is his political capital for doing this rather than looking at the effect of the intervention has had on NY citizen's health?
Council Chairman Phil Mendelson agreed it's an idea worthy of consideration.

"The issue of nutrition is of critical importance to public health. We need to look at different strategies so people understand what the effect is of the large volume of soft drinks they're drinking," Mendelson said.
Whoah. Hold your horses, Phil. You've just skipped from "informing consumers" to "restricting consumer choice." You know those aren't the same thing, right? You're just counting on use not paying attention to your inference chain, aren't you? Nice try.
Councilmember Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6) also was open to considering a ban.

"I am open to anything that will help young people be healthier," Wells said.
Digression: why in the name of Jan Tschichold do newspapers, etc. make passages like this two paragraphs? We're all capable of reading two consecutive sentences about the same topic or idea without a paragraph break intervening.

Okay, back to Tommy Wells. Warning bells go off in my head whenever a politician takes something that applies to people generally and, without explanation, shifts it to being about children. Ditto discussing something that applies to businesses generally but specifically invoking "small business" or something which affects people generally but described in terms of "families."

Whether this would actually "help (young) people be healthier" is entirely unknown. What it would do is prevent them from engaging in one very specific non-healthy behavior. Those are not the same thing.
Despite the criticism she knows she'll take from some colleagues and residents, Cheh isn't shying away from legislating some food choices.

"I know 'nanny state' and all that, but it's appropriate for government to intervene at times to make sure that the choices that are presented are healthy for us," she says.
Wow. That's a ballsy dismissal. Cheh didn't both to offer an argument, she just mde an assertion. What if we did this routinely? "Yeah, yeah, 'theocracy' sure, but it's appropriate for government to intervene at times to save people's immortal souls from damnation." "Aww shucks, I know, 'communism' or whatever, but it's appropriate for government to own the means of production."

You can't just nakedly assert that the proper scope of government is to save people from themselves. That's not an axiom you can simply pluck off the shelf. I do not think Cheh would like where I could go if we allowed everything that could follow from "government can force us to be healthier."

I believe that it is better to be free than to be not free, even when the former is dangerous and the latter safe. I believe that the finest qualities of man can flourish only in free air – that progress made under the shadow of the policeman’s club is false progress, and of no permanent value. I believe that any man who takes the liberty of another into his keeping is bound to become a tyrant, and that any man who yields up his liberty, in however slight the measure, is bound to become a slave.
— H.L. Mencken, "Why Liberty?”, in the Chicago Tribune (30 January 1927)

Under the pressure of fanaticism, and with the mob complacently applauding the show, democratic law tends more and more to be grounded upon the maxim that every citizen is, by nature, a traitor, a libertine, and a scoundrel. In order to dissuade him from his evil-doing the police power is extended until it surpasses anything ever heard of in the oriental monarchies of antiquity.
— H.K. Mencken, "Notes on Democracy" (1926)

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