The New Yorker Admires Bloomberg's 'Incorrigible Nannyism'


Defending Michael Bloomberg's scheme to shrink New Yorkers' waistlines by shrinking their soft-drink servings, The New Yorker's Alex Koppelman trots out a dismayingly common argument that was mocked as "politician's logic" on the British sitcom Yes, Prime Minister back in the late 1980s: "Something must be done. This is something. Therefore we must do it." Only Koppelman isn't kidding:

The proposed ban may not be the best way of dealing with the obesity problem, or the role that sugared drinks play in it. It may not work at all—actually, given the rather large loopholes it will contain, it may backfire. But at some point someone had to step in and do something, and for a number of reasons, that someone basically had to be Mike Bloomberg.

Quoting my post explaining why the beverage regulations are bound to fail, Koppelman concedes "it's not at all clear that this latest plan will make much of a dent in the city's obesity rate." But he suggests "the point isn't actually to make people thinner, at least not in the short term." Rather, the goal is to "shift the discussion about what the government can do to protect the health of its citizens." Hence "the ban doesn't have to work that well, or really at all, to be a success."

That's a pretty permissive performance standard, even for government work, and no doubt every politician in America will envy Bloomberg if he can make it stick. But those of us who are wary of a government bent on protecting us from our own choices are not likely to be persuaded by Koppelman's argument that Bloomberg's arbitrary interference with people's drink orders, though unlikely to have any measurable impact on obesity, will set a precedent for more ambitious meddling down the road. Koppelman, for his part, says Bloomberg "deserves the reputation for incorrigible nannyism that he's gotten during his time in office." He agrees that the mayor's drink diktat "is nanny statism taken to its most ludicrous extreme," that "it's a violation of personal liberty and the idea of individual responsibility," and that "it's the act of an arrogant billionaire who, not content merely to remake a city of millions in his own image, is once again looking down at his subjects and deciding he knows best."

But in Koppelman's view, those are all good things, because stupid fatsos need to be saved from their unquenchable thirst for sugar-sweetened beverages. Serving sizes keep getting bigger, he says, and "this trend was never going to stop by itself." Koppelman undermines this claim by noting that 7-Eleven already has downsized its Super Big Gulp (from 44 ounces to 40), and it is hard to believe that by the beginning of the next century diners will routinely suck soda out of gallon jugs, as Koppelman's projections suggest. He nevertheless believes forceful government action is necessary to head off that scenario, because education has failed. Even though the statistics about excessive calorie intake have been "discussed so much that they're hardly worth repeating," he says, "we're all still drinking this stuff."

Well, not all of us. Bloomberg, for instance, confesses only to an occasional diet soda "on a hot day." I myself never drink sugar-sweetened beverages, preferring to save my calories for beer. The difference between Bloomberg and me (aside from $22 billion or so) is that he feels no compunction about forcibly imposing his dietary preferences on other people. Koppelman thinks that's admirable, but he also thinks "incorrigible nannyism" is a compliment.