The Man Can't Bust Our Muselix

California's self-defeating war on bad health

No doubt dismayed by California's disappointing status as only the nation's eleventh least overweight state, anabolically incorrrect fitness freak Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R-Calif.) recently approved legislation that will make trans fats verboten in restaurant food and baked goods. In Los Angeles, the city council is doing its part to keep residents healthy by declaring a one-year moratorium on new fast food restaurants in a 32-square-mile chunk of the city's South Los Angeles, West Adams, Baldwin Village, and Leimert Park neighborhoods. And in San Francisco, the Board of Supervisors outlawed cigarette sales at drug stores like Walgreen's and Rite Aid.

Call it the flipside to Michael Moore's mouth-watering vision of universal healthcare as a tasty buffet of all-you-can-eat medical care. Instead of bottomless salad bowls of angioplasties and farm-fresh upper gastrointestinal endoscopies, it's Big Brother as Biggest Loser jackboot, regulating us all into tighter blue jeans and less costly LDL levels. Today, Moore and other reformers dream of living in England or France, where hip replacement is a fundamental human right, not just a medical procedure. Tomorrow, they may seek asylum in any country that does not consider double cheeseburgers a felony.

Not that anyone's taking the trans fat ban too hard; even the California Restaurant Association didn't put up much of a fight. Apparently, donuts fried in canola oil are just as tasty as their slightly more lethal counterparts fried in partially hydrogenated vegetable shortening, customers seem to like the idea of trans fat-free food, and making the transition to non-hydrogenated alternatives provides a great excuse to jack up prices. One Southern California hamburger joint told The New York Times it will have to increase the price of its fries from $1.75 to at least $2.75 because of the change.

Similarly, the fact that there are already 400 or so fast-food outlets in the area of Los Angeles where the one-year moratorium will be enforced means a Happy Meal should still be easy to come by. Finally, banishing cigarettes from San Francisco pharmacies just means that smokers will be more likely to patronize liquor stores to get their nicotine fix—and anything that encourages addictive personalities to impulse-buy a quart of Jim Beam over an Odwalla Mo'Beta Smoothie can't be all bad for society, can it?

Or to put it another way: These laws are getting passed not because they promise to radically change things, but rather because they aren't going to change things enough to truly inconvenience anyone. Which also suggests they won't have much impact on California's eating and smoking habits. Trans fats will still be available in packaged foods. In burger-plagued South Los Angeles, sit-down restaurants already outnumber fast-food outlets by more than 100, but the ready availability of slowly delivered fare has apparently done little to curb local appetites for fries and shakes. Why it's necessary to penalize the fast food industry to attract Applebees and vegan cafes is a mystery the LA City Council has yet to divulge—it makes about as much sense as penalizing auto parts stores to attract yoga studios. But even if the moratorium does somehow result in more sit-down restaurants, waistlines may actually expand. After all, the absence of a clown mascot doesn't automatically knock 500 calories and 20 grams off every dish on the menu.

And when these measures don't really have much impact on public health, what next? It's probably best to think of trans fat bans and fast-food moratoriums as appetizers, small portions of government waistline engineering designed to get us used to even more proscriptive preemptive strikes against obesity and other health issues. And indeed, who can blame government officials for thinking this way? As we continue to normalize the idea that unlimited health care is something the government owes us, why shouldn't the government demand more compliance from us in exchange for the care it renders?

In Japan, the government requires anyone between the ages of 40 and 74 have their waistline measured on an annual basis. If they don't meet certain standards—33.5 inches for men, 35.4 inches for women—their employers or local governments are subject to fines. So much for the Masters sumo circuit, so much for bean paste Fridays, and so much for the old-fashioned idea that what one does in the privacy of one's dining room should have little bearing on one's employment status.

Of course, it's all but impossible to imagine the U.S. adopting a similar policy. Too many of our most passionate healthcare reformers would end up on the wrong side of the divide; even Arnold is looking pretty thick in the middle these days. But really, if increasingly proscriptive waistline engineering is the price we're doomed to pay as we increasingly turn to the government to provide us with healthcare, the Japanese model is a more palatable alternative to the bans and moratoriums we're currently experimenting with.

At least it preserves a certain measure of personal choice: Eat all the trans fat you want, but just know that you might be risking your job. Surely, this is an approach Arnold Schwarzenegger can sympathize with. Without his multi-decade diet of steroids, he might not even be Jean-Claude Van Damme, much less governor of California. But he had the freedom to consume steroids without government intervention. And while doing so exposed him to myriad medical dangers, it ultimately paid off in spectacular fashion. If only he'd acknowledge that the next time he gets the urge to make our health choices for us.

Contributing Editor Greg Beato is a writer living in San Francisco. Read his reason archive here.

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • ||

    Much as I think CA's ban on (some) foods is ridiculous, if the laws are not going to inconvenience anyone in their pursuit of food-vice, why worry?

    It's a tremendous waste of time in the part of CA's legislative body, to be sure, and I guess the laws provide some sense of relief to the populace. If the effect is neutral, as Beato points out, then only the appearance of "doing something" for the [insert subset demo incapable of taking care of themselves] sake has been accomplished.

    However, we do need to keep beating the drum about the senselessness of policies like this, lest the People's Republic of New Jersey and other states in our union decide to follow CA's lead and waste time and money enacting nonsense legislation. Oh, wait...

  • Episiarch||

    Much as I think CA's ban on (some) foods is ridiculous, if the laws are not going to inconvenience anyone in their pursuit of food-vice, why worry?

    Because they open the door to more and more increasingly restrictive bans. You can look at smoking bans as a perfect example.

  • ||

    Because they open the door to more and more increasingly restrictive bans. You can look at smoking bans as a perfect example.

    Exactly. The legitimize the act of being a government food nanny. Slippery slope and all that.

  • ||

    Epi, I think you stopped reading my post after the first sentence. The final sentence admitted that it only opens the door to more senseless legislation, etc.

  • ||

    Good health has never been more important. We cannot afford health coverage, medical and drug costs have skyrocketed out of control! What are the Sheeple to do?

    JT
    http://www.FireMe.To/udi

  • Episiarch||

    MadBiker, I was responding to your phrasing "if the laws are not going to inconvenience anyone in their pursuit of food-vice, why worry". Because all things like this start out small. If you don't worry now, when you do worry it'll be too late.

  • The Extispicator||

    I just keep picturing thousands of people lined up in the public square, wearing state-approved gray jumpsuits doing jumping jacks in unison, while the Arnold's voice is pumped out over a loud speaker.

  • J||

    Oh God. ultimatecrap guy has discovered the word sheeple.

  • ||

    Stupid, ineffectual laws also create blackmarkets and make a mockery of civil society.

    Blackmarkets arbitrarily corrupt otherwise harmless and voluntary exchange between people, as violent crime during Prohibition made evident.

    Civil society, as noted by Toqueville and others, is what really keeps us free--guns can only keep us safe in our bunkers, while the rule of law has enforced slavery as readily as freedom.

  • ||

    Epi, perhaps I should start using a "/sarcasm" tag. Tone of voice does not always translate well in text, especially when I am an idiot when it comes to using HTML for emphasis or posting links :-)

  • ||

    I've had cancer and a quadruple bypass, but I meet the Japanese waistline requirements!!! Wu Whoo!!! Now, do I like get a starlet or massage???

  • ||

    Of course, it's all but impossible to imagine the U.S. adopting a similar policy. Too many of our most passionate healthcare reformers would end up on the wrong side of the divide; even Arnold is looking pretty thick in the middle these days.

    Ya think so? I remember when the camel's nose entered the tent. It went something like

    We don't want to stop you from smoking, we just want a non-smoking section in restaurants, for the asthmatics and The Childrenâ„¢.


    And certainly people who are "overweight" should pay more in taxes as they, like smokers, use more less different amounts of health care resources.

  • Mike Laursen||

    Much as I think CA's ban on (some) foods is ridiculous, if the laws are not going to inconvenience anyone in their pursuit of food-vice, why worry?

    The answer is that libertarians shouldn't worry about things like this. Do what you can to oppose it, but don't get all stressed out about it. One of the most important things libertarians can do to oppose statist culture is to live fun-filled, happy lives.

  • ConTextant||

    {sarcasm}
    (Twisting Animal House just a tad)
    Otter: But you can't hold the people of a whole state responsible for their bad food choices. For if you do, then shouldn't we blame the whole idea of being free to make our own choices? And if the whole free-choice system is guilty, then isn't this an indictment of our right to make bad decisions in general? I put it to you all- isn't this an indictment of our entire American nanny society? Well, you can do whatever you want to us, but we're not going to sit here and listen to you badmouth the United States of America. Gentlemen!
    [Leads the Deltas out of the hearing, all humming the Star-Spangled Banner]
    {/sarcasm}

  • Tim B.||

    I understand C. S. Lewis had this opinion on this subject:
    "Of all tyrannies a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victim may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated, but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience."

    Let's all hope that one day the type of "moral busybodies" that come up with these stupid, useless and unconstitutional laws just all drop dead!

    Now excuse me while I go have a McDonald's Big-Mac with large fries for dinner and an after dinner smoke to top it off.

  • ||

    J sub D
    And certainly people who are "overweight" should pay more in taxes as they, like smokers, use more less different amounts of health care resources.

    You have in right, according the a Dutch Study http://medicine.plosjournals.org/perlserv/?request=get-document&doi=10.1371/journal.pmed.0050029 :
    On average, healthy people lived 84 years. Smokers lived about 77 years, and obese people lived about 80 years. Smokers and obese people tended to have more heart disease than the healthy people.
    Cancer incidence, except for lung cancer, was the same in all three groups. Obese people had the most diabetes, and healthy people had the most strokes. Ultimately, the thin and healthy group cost the most, about $417,000, from age 20 on.
    The cost of care for obese people was $371,000, and for smokers, about $326,000.

  • ||

    Sigh. This is tax money they're spending that I could be buying stuff with instead. Stuff like comic books and health insurance.
    Thanks, California.

  • ConTextant||

    Tim B. wrote:
    "Of all tyrannies a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victim may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated, but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience."

    Exactly.

    This is the creeping totalitarianism "for our own good" that winds up in the state that Yevgeny Zamyatin wrote about in his futuristic novel "We."

  • Hua Kul||

    The federal government is largely responsible for today's obesity "epidemic." In the 60's they put tariffs on imports of sucrose that quadrupled the price, in order to protect U.S. sugar beet farmers. American ingenuity found a way to extract sugar from corn, and thus was born the high fructose corn syrup industry. Fructose inhibits insulin receptor substrate 2, which helps control insulin resistance. When one's muscles become insulin resistant more of the calories of a meal go into fat cells. Future health care problems as a result of this intervention in the free market will be enormously expensive. It's the law of unintended consequences.

  • ||

    I love it,almost as much as I love my transfats-yum yum! I knew Arnie would make a mockery of CA. I just thank the Lord that he can't be President.

  • دردشه عراقية||

    Thanks

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