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Bloomberg vs. Science and Common Sense

The Associated Press reported yesterday that soft drink makers are considering legal action against the Pop Czar’s latest edict: banning larger size soft drinks in certain locations. It doesn’t appear that Mayor Bloomberg’s proposed ban will be in all that much legal trouble, though the article notes some constitutional objections to the plan as well. But there is another, possibly more effective way for opponents of the ban to fight the policy, and it’s one they really haven’t employed: science.

Politico’s Tim Mak wrote a comprehensive piece on opposition to the soda ban this week, but nearly every “expert” who opposed the drink ban gave Mak a variation of the following quote, from Quinnipiac’s Mickey Carroll: “The people who are against it aren’t against it because it’s bad health [policy] but that it’s over-intrusive government.” But that’s silly–it’s terrible policy. Why cede this ground? Over at the Atlantic, two economics professors who focus their research on food economics introduce a bit of reality into the equation:

In similar lab settings, this kind of approach has inspired various forms of rebellion among study participants. For example, openly serving someone lowfat or reduced-calorie meals tends to lead to increased fat or calorie consumption over the whole day. People reason that because they were forced to be good for one meal, they can splurge on snacks and desserts at later meals.

Although the authors tell us that Bloomberg’s scheme contradicts “150 years of research in food economics,” we don’t actually have to go back that far for a case study in Bloomberg’s super-sized record of public health failure. No, I’m not talking about his indefensible delay in clearing the unsanitary roving rape circus that Occupy Wall Street became in downtown Manhattan. I’m referring to the 2008 law that mandated the posting of calorie counts in the city’s chain restaurants. When researchers studied the law’s effect, they “found that people had, in fact, ordered slightly more calories than the typical customer had before the labeling law went into effect.”

In other words, Bloomberg is contributing to–or at least doing nothing productive to fight–obesity in the city. No one should pretend this is good health policy when our empirical research (not to mention common sense) tells us this isn’t.

But that actually brings me to the one positive aspect of the soda ban. Its obvious ineffectiveness is a good thing, at least with regard to civil liberties. The encroaching nanny state does its most far-reaching damage to personal liberty when its policies are at least successful. Nobody likes the fact that the TSA is groping children and humiliating sick, elderly travelers. But opposition has grown beyond civil libertarians because all signs point to the program’s futility.

People are often willing to trade their personal liberty for productive policy, even if invasive. But the constant failure of policies like Bloomberg’s health initiatives–which, let’s remember, he doesn’t follow himself–does more to discredit the nanny state just about anything else.


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