Yesterday, the mayors of 18 large cities sent a letter to House Speaker John Boehner and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, urging them to bar sugary drinks from being covered by the food stamp program, formally known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
“More than one-third of American adults are now obese, costing approximately $147 billion per year in associated medical expenses,” wrote the mayors. “It is time to test and evaluate approaches limiting SNAP’s subsidization of products, such as sugar-sweetened beverages, that are contributing to obesity.”
Signees included the mayors of Los Angeles, Chicago and Boston. And, of course, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
This letter must be viewed in context of the larger battle for freedom and against nanny-state-ism. This is always how nanny-state-ism works: in small bites, with seemingly reasonable minor intrusions on liberty, before inevitably moving on to ever-larger intrusions.
Bloomberg’s campaign began with banning smoking in restaurants and other indoor public places. After all, reasoned supporters, if you want to harm yourself, go ahead, but you have no right to harm other patrons, who simply wish to enjoy a smoke-free meal in a privately owned restaurant.
But discerning liberty advocates knew that was just the beginning of a campaign to completely reshape our lives, our habits, our health – and our personal responsibility.
Sure enough, then came the law banning trans fats from restaurants. At present, we are not aware of any harmful effect on others from second-hand trans fats.
When the trans-fat ban was first enacted, George Mason University economist Walter Williams warned that this was only the beginning. Indeed, Bloomberg & Co. soon moved on to an attempt to ban large sugary drinks from restaurants. As Bloomberg explained it, he wasn’t forcing anyone to do anything. After all, any customer could simply buy two smaller drinks if wanted to; all the law did was “portion control.”
To borrow a phrase from Dr. Williams: “That, our friends, is tyrannical double-talk.”
Advocates of nanny-state-ism often argue that the government is indeed justified in seeking to control our food and prevent obesity: Since a large portion of our health care is paid for by government, isn’t it the government’s right to try to save money by keeping people healthier?
By that logic, since so much of our lives is funded by government, it can claim the right to control virtually any facet of our lives, all on the claim that it affects government’s health-care costs. How much we eat, what we eat, how much we sleep, how much exercise we get, how much stress we undergo – these are just some of the factors that affect our health-care costs.
Entitlements should never be used as an excuse by government to micromanage the lives of its citizens.
And now we come to this attempt to ban sugary drinks from being purchased with food stamps. All those who value liberty should insist that government not use the program as a vehicle for controlling more of our lives.
Governments, ever-mindful of any sort of ethnic or socioeconomic disparities, are troubled by rising obesity among the poor, and see this as a way of essentially forcing the poor to get healthier (inevitably in the name of giving them a “choice”). But you don’t help people by forcing them. Laws like these essentially treat the poor as if they were dumb and helpless to make their own decisions, without the assistance of their protectors in political office. Poor people should be allowed the liberty of choosing the meals and snacks for their families just as the rich do.
Each of us has his individual needs, and each of us is best-suited to judge how to best fill those needs. Nobody would argue that frequent consumption of sugary drinks is advisable for anyone, but how many are “too many”? Is one a day okay? How about two or three? It all depends upon the individual, and no politician should be allowed to mandate a one-size-fits-all standard.