When I was a kid, my mom used to get me to do what she wanted by offering false choices. Her favorite: You can do it happily, or I can make you. While this is a pretty effective strategy for dealing with a dumb 4-year-old, it's less optimal as a mode for interaction between government and a massive corporation.
Today First Lady Michelle Obama joined Wal-Mart in announcing a healthy food initiative. And she's just thrilled that the nation's biggest food retailer has decided to make some tweaks to make low-fat and low-salt options cheaper and more appealing in its stores.
Obama said that when she first decided to take on the issue of childhood obesity, she was skeptical as to whether it could work or whether anyone was interested in making the needed changes.
"But today, when I see a company like Walmart launch an initiative like this, I feel more hopeful than ever before that the answer to these questions is yes," she said.
Obama has been pushing food companies and grocers to change their practices for over a year now. And while the first lady doesn't have regulatory authority, the subtext of every speech like this one to the Grocery Manufacturers Association last year is the same false choice: You can do it happily, or I'll make you.
A sliver lining: Wal-Mart has probably found a way to make money on these tweaks. But even if they're essentially making unfavorable changes to stave off future regulation, there is an upside: Watching Michael Jacobson of the ultra-paternalistic, lefty Center for Science in the Public Interest applaud Wal-Mart through gritted teeth (unmarred by soda, of course):
Walmart doesn't exactly conjure up warm and fuzzy feelings among many of us who call ourselves progressives....The liberal in me doesn't like the idea of a company as big and as powerful as Walmart. But the scientist in me requires that I put the laudatory things that Walmart is doing on the scales as well.