Bloomberg will be judged by doing what is right, not what is popular
When should the government butt out? Are we becoming a nanny state? I’m all for saving people’s lives but there are limits. We know that Prohibition didn’t work. All that happened there was that society gave incentive to organized crime to sell beer and hard liquor. The result was chaos. The same argument might be made about outlawing marijuana, which many experts claim is far less lethal than alcohol. So, there are no easy answers. It doesn’t stop with booze and pot. We have to decide when it is right for the state to step in and say no to things that will kill us.
I don’t always agree with Mayor Michael Bloomberg on everything but I think he largely wants what is right for most of us. We all know that sugar is killing us. We are in the midst of a diabetes epidemic, raising a generation of fat kids who are headed for lifelong trouble. So Bloomberg tries to do something about it by attempting to outlaw bottles of soda larger than sixteen ounces. You know he’s right and so do I. Naturally, he is confronted by all those who make big money selling this stuff: members of unions that deliver it, the people who sell it, the people who buy it, and the libertarians who believe that this has all gone too far.
We know that these mini-prohibitions do work to save lives. It would appear that the rules are implemented incrementally. If, for example, you tried to ban the real killer – sugar – there would be hell to pay since society is addicted to sugar. Instead, we ban large bottles of soda, effectively cutting down on the amount of the stuff that we consume. There are those who can make a good argument that sugar is as bad as smoking and we know that our efforts to cut down on tobacco consumption have shown real results.
The big question, of course, is whether we should do what the population wants. I remember when it was announced that you couldn’t smoke in public places. The response was immediate and ugly. The results of a recent poll show that the people didn’t want the sixteen ounce soda ban but there are times when what is good for people should override what they want. On the other hand, there will always be ways around these prohibitions. It is unlikely that there will be a black market in soda but if it is illegal in one place and not in another, I wouldn’t be surprised to see “soda runs” over the George Washington Bridge. In fact, when one of the artificial sweeteners was banned many years ago, a very good friend who was a juvenile diabetic went to the local supermarket and bought them out of soda, so much so that his wife complained that there was no room in their basement.
Where is the outer limit? I can name scientists who will tell you that the consumption of meat is one of the worst health hazards we face. At what point do we ban meat? I suspect that isn’t going to happen in our lifetimes.
Finally, let me say a word about Mayor Bloomberg. We spend a lot of time talking about the evils of capitalism. There are times when such approaches are dead on. Nevertheless, every once in a while someone named Harriman or Rockefeller or Bloomberg come along and really tries to make a difference. I don’t know about you, but I have to hand it to them. Bloomberg may never be president but it is clear that he understands that in the end he will be judged by doing what is right rather than what is popular. He’ll save a lot of lives. For that, society should respect him.
Originally published in the Legislative Gazette, 8/27/12