Bloomberg's Soda Farce

Even the big-government left is lining up against the proposal.

Just how bad an idea is the plan by the mayor of New York, Michael Bloomberg, to limit the size of sugary-drink cups (okay, pailsBucketsDelivery devices?) to 16 ounces?

Even the big-government left is lining up against the proposal.

The Democrat who is speaker of the New York State Assembly, Sheldon Silver, told the New York Post, “We may be getting too close to Big Brother….I just think we ought to step back and look at the freedoms that we have been given in this country and reflect on them.”

The former governor and attorney general of New York, Eliot Spitzer, a Democrat, who wasn’t shy about using his powers against Wall Street banks and insurance companies, said on television, “This I just don’t think works,” and framed the issue as “Come on guys, let me lead my life.”

Donna Brazile, vice chair of the Democratic National Committee, said on ABC News’s This Week program that “Obesity is a national problem. I don't think you can solve it by banning one of many sugary things out there. And besides, people will just cross over the Hudson and get a Big Gulp over there.”

USA Today, not usually a font of libertarianism, had an editorial declaring “Bloomberg’s plan is short on logic and long on intrusion,” and asking, “what’s next? Will New York, home to the towering corned beef sandwiches, soon allow them to be piled only 3 inches high?” The New York Times ran its own editorial opposing the ban, describing it as “overreaching” and “too much nannying.”

On “The Daily Show,” Jon Stewart mocked what he called “a terrible idea” that “combines the draconian government overreach people love with the probable lack of results they expect.”

Before tilting back that lemonade and toasting the common sense of Eliot Spitzer, Donna Brazile, and the New York Times editorial writers, though, it’s worth pausing to examine just how we got here.

It’s President Obama’s fault.

That is not to absolve Mayor Bloomberg of all responsibility — we’ll get to him in a moment. But Bloomberg resorted to his portion-control power play only after the Obama administration, after ten months of deliberation, rejected an earlier, more sensible, Bloomberg plan to prevent food stamp recipients in the city from using the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits to pay for soda or other sugary drinks.

It’s Mayor Bloomberg’s fault, too. More precisely, the whole episode is an example of how Bloomberg’s vast wealth, while a great political advantage, is also a liability. The fortune works in Bloomberg’s favor because it conveys the impression that he “can’t be bought.” It also helps pay for direct mail, campaign commercials, and other election-influencing tactics that increase Bloomberg’s clout. But the mayor’s money also can serve to exacerbate the “yes-man” dynamic that can be an unfortunate feature of boss-subordinate relationships even when the boss isn’t independently wealthy.

In this case, Bloomberg could have been saved a lot of embarrassment by having an aide with the stature and independence to tell the mayor that his idea was ridiculous before it was announced. But when the boss has the power to bestow a $400,000 bonus on a deputy mayor for campaign advice, as he did on Patricia Harris, or to install another deputy mayor, Daniel Doctoroff, as the president and CEO of his privately held financial information company, what underling is going to jeopardize a potentially lucrative future by saying “no”?

Friends who have gone to work for big grant-giving foundations have told me that all of a sudden, everyone laughs at their jokes. Bloomberg suffers from the same bubble-effect threefold — as the mayor, as a major philanthropist, and as a rich and successful businessman.

Bloomberg can try to adjust for his wealth and power by encouraging his staff to stand up to him when they think it is appropriate, the same way that even the lowliest Toyota employee can stop the assembly line if there is a problem. But the most dangerous effect of Bloomberg’s wealth is not on the mayor’s staff, but on his own personality. It breeds arrogance rather than humility. It doesn’t have to be that way; there are plenty of humble rich people and plenty of arrogant politicians who are not rich.

But imposing this regulation — which, the New York Times reports, applies to sweetened coffee but not to Venti cappuccinos, to “delis” but not “convenience stores” — is an act of arrogance, not only when it comes to the confidence in the ability to draw such apparently arbitrary distinctions, but when it comes to the role of government.

New Yorkers love energetic and ambitious politicians. If Bloomberg had confined himself to reforming New York’s public education system by expanding charter schools, to bringing the city’s crime rates to record modern lows with intelligent policing, and to rebuilding the city after September 11, 2001, and the financial crisis with a pro-business tone, he might go down in history as one of our greatest mayors. Now, he risks being remembered as a laughingstock: the scourge of the Big Gulp, the mayor who, in trying to teach self-control to obese New Yorkers, neglected the same virtue of restraint when it came to the use of his own public power.

Ira Stoll is editor of FutureOfCapitalism.com and author of Samuel Adams: A Life.

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  • DarrenM||

    I don't think you can solve it by banning one of many sugary things out there.

    Bloomberg obviously did not go far enough. I wonder what the reaction (or lack of it) would be from the Left if he were a Democrat.

  • TELLMOFF||

    This typical libertatian article is too long and too short with name calling. The term "fucking asshole" is not used even once.

  • anon||

    Damn. Initially read as "Soda face."

    I now has a sad.

  • Pound. Head. On. Desk.||

    Again, though, the question remains, What's driving people to consume so much sugar?

    Until we answer that, there is no end to the obesity problem. And clearly the Gluttony/Sloth (Calorie in-Calorie out) advocates aren't convinced by the science that's already there. Looks like simple inertia to me, but then I do have personal experience.

  • anon||

    What's driving people to consume so much sugar?

    The fact that this question is asked makes me laugh my ass off at how fucking stupid people can be. The end is nigh!

  • TANSTaaFL||

    What's driving people to consume so much sugar?

    Ummmm...

    A biological drive to acquire calories that is caused chemically by the release of endorphins and nueropeptides that cause pleasurable feelings. Evolutionary causes for such drives come from the long periods in human existence when calories were few and far between and hyper-consumption of available calories could allow your survival during periods of famine.

    Sure psychology plays a role - in the same way we do have a say in our sex drives for example. However, this just illustrates the ridiculousness of Bloomberg thinking he can overcome a human biological drive acquired over thousands of years.

  • anon||

    Well, I was actually thinking "Because it's delicious." But that works too.

  • LarryA||

    See? You just don't understand. In Bloomberg-land pleasure = not green.

    All of your calories should come from organically-grown salt-free fungi raised within a mile of your city dwelling. The fact that the stuff tastes like moldy cardboard is a feature, not a bug.

  • AlmightyJB||

    Also pot. Ill have 3 large pizzas and a dozen 16oz cokes dude.

  • Brian D||

    Clearly endorphins and neuropeptides need to be banned!

  • Voros McCracken||

    No, just regulated and possibly taxed. And what worries me is that I'm not sure that's all that far-fetched an idea.

  • Pound. Head. On. Desk.||

    A biological drive to acquire calories that is caused chemically by the release of endorphins and nueropeptides that cause pleasurable feelings. Evolutionary causes for such drives come from the long periods in human existence when calories were few and far between and hyper-consumption of available calories could allow your survival during periods of famine.

    Leptin resistance didn't just develop since 1980. And sugar was just as freely available too. What changed?

  • TANSTaaFL||

    Food has changed to become more tasty which typically means more calorie dense. That is a side effect of continued prosperity. 2. Our lifestyle has become more hectic and "on-the-go" resulting in less home cooked and balanced meals and more fast food. Also, that lifestyle comes with more stress which causes us to crave the endorphins stimulated by sugar and fats. 3. Physical labor has become a lower percentage of not only the job requirements, but life requirements. Cars are cheaper, more stores with more diversity meaning less travel. Internet has allowed people to accomplish more from their chairs and homes. better digital entertainment (games/TV/computer) encourages less physical entertainment (sports)

    So, really Bloomberg just eeds to ban the internet, xbox, cars, office jobs, meals away from home, fast food, and mandate exercise and physical labor to really accomplish the win against obesity.

  • Pound. Head. On. Desk.||

    Food has changed to become more tasty which typically means more calorie dense.

    Protein: 4 calories per gram.
    Carbohydrate: 4 calories per gram.
    Fat: 9 calories per gram.

    Looking at foods of the past 'nobody' eats now: Pemmican, tallow, lard, marrow, brains, organ meats... Today's low fat food is more calorie dense than all that fat our ancestors ate?

    We have more stress than people who went through two world wars, the dust bowl and the great depression? We have less time than people who worked 12 to 14 hours per day?

    Research shows people who do physical labor are heavier than the general population. Alternatives to cars: Canoeing for an hour works off maybe two slices of bread. Do that for 13 days in a row and maybe lose a pound. (Actually you won't, but that discussion won't fit the word limits of this forum.)

  • Robert||

    Bloomberg can't, but maybe biochemists can. We have artificial sweeteners, but clearly taste is not the only thing that we have an appetite for. Maybe we can develop some other substitute that makes us feel like we've nearly stuffed ourselves.

    So the question is still apt.

  • Voros McCracken||

    You get done with the some summer yard work and come inside and crack open a Coca Cola from the fridge...

    ...and dear god that's some good stuff. You think they sell billions of these around the world because of some mass delusion? It's some tasty stuff.

  • Pound. Head. On. Desk.||

    People did yard work in 1980, and cracked open a Coke after. Even just in the form Coke, the stuff's been around for 110 years. Why is it only a problem now? What changed?

  • anon||

    Coke now lacks the cocaine to help burn those calories.

  • Pound. Head. On. Desk.||

    Bzzt.
    Not something that's changed since 1980.
    Please insert another quarter and try again.

  • Anacreon||

    What's changed since 1980 is you pretty much only had a 12-oz can of coke then. A Double Big Gulp is 64 oz. Would never agree to ban size choices like Bloomberg but,c'mon, drinking that thing is like eating an entire pecan pie.

  • C. S. P. Schofield||

    "What's changed since 1980 is you pretty much only had a 12-oz can of coke then."

    On what planet? Seriously; no. I remember playing hookey and buying 64oz bottles of soda to drink in my hideaway in 1974. This excuse won't fly.

  • Pound. Head. On. Desk.||

    Coca Cola offered a 26 ounce bottle starting in 1950. People didn't go for it.
    The 3 liter bottle failed 1985 and the 30 liter bottle (no kidding) failed in 1996.

    But if how much you buy at a shot determined how much you consume at a shot, then people who buy sides of beef would rupture themselves at dinner that night.

  • Pound. Head. On. Desk.||

    What's driving people to consume so much sugar?

    The fact that this question is asked makes me laugh my ass off at how fucking stupid people can be. The end is nigh!

    Sugar was as freely available in 1980 as it is now. People didn't used to be so quick to get fat. Simple question: What changed?

    If you cannot answer that, there is no end to the obesity problem.

  • Brian D||

    VIDEO GAMEZ!!

    In 1980 the Atari 2600 was a new fad. In 2012 there are myriad ways to kill a weekend in front of the TV or computer using the WASD keys or mouse with one hand and ingesting horrible junk food with the other.

    That's it, time for some government-mandated calisthenics.

  • Pound. Head. On. Desk.||

    Videogames? How then might you explain the explosion of obese babies? Not enough calisthenics?

  • Robert||

    My answer was going to be the TV remote control, until you brought up the babies. That's an interesting finding if it's true and not a statistic artifact.

    At birth, some infants are abnormally large (though not obese) because their mothers' blood sugar was abnormally high during pregnancy. Infants of diabetic mothers have their insulin prod'n suppressed in utero, and tend to have low blood sugar for a while after birth. Low blood sugar -- low insulin -- less fat storage, so I don't think we can blame fat babies on diabetic mothers.

    Have there been enough obese babies to have some of them die in infancy and have their livers examined on autopsy? We know that babies transiently develop fatty infiltration of the myocardium during the period their diet consists of milk (from whatever source).

    I'm stumped. Are you setting us up because you think you have an answer, or are you as lost as the rest of us?

  • Robert||

    I meant IDM have their insulin secretion increased in utero, not suppressed. So their sugar crashes at birth, and one would not expect them to then put on lbs. of fat.

  • Pound. Head. On. Desk.||

    As an example,
    Archives of Disease in Childhood 2000 Jul;83(1):18-24 US adolescent food intake trends from 1965 to 1996. Obesity rates tripled in adolescents even though actual amounts of food consumed decreased. Fats consumed decreased while carbs consumed increased.

  • anon||

    If you cannot answer that, there is no end to the obesity problem.

    Obesity isn't a problem, so I fail to see a point.

  • BigT||

  • Pound. Head. On. Desk.||

    Obesity isn't a problem, so I fail to see a point.

    Denial's a river in Africa to you, right?

  • Laura10||

    Read "Good Calories Bad Calories" By Gary Taubes. There's your answer. Frankly it's incredible how the science is there but conventional 'wisdom' about nutrition is so screwed up. Bloomberg is right that soda is bad for you. He's wrong to ban it because it won't solve the problem and because a soda ban is an insult to freedom.

  • Pound. Head. On. Desk.||

    He's wrong to ban it because it won't solve the problem and because a soda ban is an insult to freedom.

    Correct, the ban is both a moral and practical wrong.

    I think Taubes is onto something with Good Calories, Bad Calories. It agrees with my experience that replacing animal fats with carbohydrates (especially sugar) is a recipe for obesity. I stumbled onto this in 2004, quickly lost 125 pounds, and have kept it off.

  • TANSTaaFL||

    HA! Now we see your purpose. You are trying to sell us a diet plan! Gotcha.

  • Pound. Head. On. Desk.||

    HA! Now we see your purpose. You are trying to sell us a diet plan! Gotcha.

    I'm trying to sell human biological reality. At no charge BTW.
    Libertarians are all about finding the reality of the proper conditions of a man's life so he can thrive, right? Isn't that why we're Reasonoids, Free minds and Free Markets and all that?

  • UneasyRider||

    Um, because its sweet and delicious and people like things that are sweet and delicious?

    Some other questions for you to ponder:
    Why do people have so much sex?

    Why do people eat so much meat?

  • ||

    So Bloomberg is a control-freak and a moron who is surrounded by yes-men. I think Mr. Stoll is saying that Mikey is a typical member of the political class.

  • Agile Cyborg||

    I'd like to see Mayor Big Gulp in a gay bukkake film... you think I jest?

  • Devil's Advocate||

    That picture just begs for captions, such as "Look I am only going to put the government's dick this far in your ass. It is not even the whole thing. What are you complaining about?"

  • wareagle||

    I just think we ought to step back and look at the freedoms that we have been given in this country

    perhaps, New Yorkers could step back and ask how a doofus like Sheldon Silver made it to House Speaker.

  • LTC John||

    Hey now - watch it or those freedoms can get taken right back for questioning the awesome that is the NY aristocracy...er, political class.

  • Johnimo||

    The controllers in our society haven't learned that a "good idea" is almost always a very "bad law." It's a good idea not to drink a gallon of soda, but it's a silly law. It's a good idea not to cheat on your spouse, but it's a draconian law. It's a good idea not to vote for Bloomberg .... wait there are always exceptions to the rule, right?

  • pet winkel||

    I don't think you can solve it by banning one of many sugary things out there. And besides, people will just cross over the Hudson and get a Big Gulp over there.

  • Nando||

  • Pound. Head. On. Desk.||

    I saw that. She's full of shit on a number of counts. I love tidbits of wisdom like The larger the serving size, the more calories they contain. Duh. If soda serving size was what's driving obesity, we wouldn't be seeing obese 9 month old babies. We also wouldn't see obesity explosions in developing economies. Or in the extremely poor before soda, like the Pima Indians in 1900, who were lean 50 years before.

  • maillot de bain magasin||

    New Yorkers love energetic and ambitious politicians. If Bloomberg had confined himself to reforming New York’s public education system by expanding charter schools, to bringing the city’s crime rates to record modern lows with intelligent policing, and to rebuilding the city after September 11, 2001, and the financial crisis with a pro-business tone, he might go down in history as one of our greatest mayors. Now, he risks being remembered as a laughingstock: the scourge of the Big Gulp, the mayor who, in trying to teach self-control to obese New Yorkers, neglected the same virtue of restraint when it came to the use of his own public power.

  • dan'o||

    I thank the stars for smart people who, if elected can better our lives through legislation. Fast food restaurants should be banned next, followed by forced limitations of daily tv/video game/internet with strict censorship (since media creates sex-crazed sociopaths.) I can't wait for the day when we have edicts demanding front-to-back sphincter wiping post defecation ... just think of the healthcare savings from reduced UTI's and hemorrhoids!

  • Chaussures nike shox||

    Before tilting back that lemonade and toasting the common sense of Eliot Spitzer, Donna Brazile, and the New York Times editorial writers, though, it’s worth pausing to examine just how we got here.

    It’s President Obama’s fault.

  • hotsy totsy||

    Why not limit the super size soda ban to people who are obese? If you want to buy a 32oz Big Gulp, instead of showing ID, you step on a scale. Over 200 lbs, no soda for you. Simple.

  • UneasyRider||

    Wait really? You think 200 pounds is obese? I think you need to spend some time in the gym and get your weight up a bit.

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