Bloomberg’s Nanny State

According to today’s story in the New York Times,

New York City plans to enact a far-reaching ban on the sale of large sodas and other sugary drinks at restaurants, movie theaters and street carts, in the most ambitious effort yet by the Bloomberg administration to combat rising obesity.

The proposed ban would affect virtually the entire menu of popular sugary drinks found in delis, fast-food franchises and even sports arenas, from energy drinks to pre-sweetened iced teas. The sale of any cup or bottle of sweetened drink larger than 16 fluid ounces — about the size of a medium coffee, and smaller than a common soda bottle — would be prohibited under the first-in-the-nation plan, which could take effect as soon as next March.

Welcome to the nanny state. Have whatever kind of marriage you want, destroy your fellow citizen’s marriage in any way you find amusing, kill the child within your womb if it strikes your fancy, but please don’t purchase a soda of more than 16 fluid ounces. For the same of the common good. For the good of the commonwealth.

According to the old proverb the need for many laws is directly proportional to the lack of virtue among the people. The view of the founding fathers that a government of freedom by the people depends on the virtue of the citizens is so well-known as to be a cliche.

But really, what do you do here? After all, we have a serious problem.

In New York City, where more than half of adults are obese or overweight, Dr. Thomas Farley, the health commissioner, blames sweetened drinks for up to half of the increase in city obesity rates over the last 30 years.

Don’t forget that the trend in this country is toward government-subsidized health care. I don’t know the statistics for New York, but I suspect hundreds of thousands of the city’s citizens are already fully insured by Medicaid. And New York, unlike most cities, likes to do things. At least so says Mayor Bloomberg:

“New York City is not about wringing your hands; it’s about doing something,” he said. “I think that’s what the public wants the mayor to do.”

So is this really what Americans want? Do we all agree that government should not legislate morality in any way, shape or form, let alone try to promote virtue within the populace? Do we prefer government to limit our choices rather than to be forced to choose well? Should government pay for all the health costs that arise when we don’t make those choices wisely? If so, is it really so bizarre for government to tell us how to eat?

I’m really not sure how the broader public would answer these questions. But it strikes me that the real lesson of this story, in light of other high-profile controversies of the past few months, is that as Americans we are entirely confused about what government is for and what it is supposed to do. That confusion, of course, is directly related to our view of ourselves. Augustine said that those who love themselves above all use the goods of this world in a way that is fundamentally incompatible with true justice. I’m not sure what he would have thought about the American experiment of self-government. But I doubt he would have been entirely surprised at some of its silliness.

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About Matthew J. Tuininga

Matthew J. Tuininga is the Assistant Professor of Moral Theology at Calvin Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Posted on May 31, 2012, in Health Care, Politics and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off on Bloomberg’s Nanny State.

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