Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Consumption Cops

Elizabeth Whalen lashes out at the DOH food police in this morning's NY Post: "IF the city Health Department gets its way, government officials - local, state and federal - will soon be deciding what you can and can't eat. Writing in The Journal of the American Medical Association last month, Drs. Lynn Silver and Mary Bassett (both of the Health Department) argue that Americans eat too much fat, sugar, salt and calories and that it's up to government to take urgent action to protect citizens from "unhealthy food" - in other words, to protect people from themselves."

Now Lynn is a friend of ours, and she's one of the nicest people we know; but her ideas, on the other hand, well, we just don't agree with her whole approach to the country's health problems. Frankly, the cure they suggest is much worse than the disease. In fact, it smacks of the kind of "liberal fascism" that Jonah Goldberg chronicles so well.

The phenomenon in question encompasses the impulse to compel folks to behave better-in their own interest of course, but the larger public good is seen as underpinning all of the policy initiatives. It is what made up the core of the eugenics movement, a belief system that resonated well with National Socialism's own health consciousness. In many cases, especially in the United States, this form of social hygienics was championed by all of the reformers coming from the supposed better classes. It is, moreover, an impulse that leads us down a slippery slope to a system of "soft" government control; one that sacrifices individual liberty for the Health of the larger polity.

Which is exactly what characterizes the good intentions of Lynn Silver and her co-author: "Specifically, the doctors call on government to take immediate emergency action to force the food industry to make "healthier" food, including placing hefty taxes on fare they deem unhealthy - thus contributing to the already soaring price of food. They reject government guidelines and education as "relatively weak interventions" and argue that "stronger actions are needed immediately to reduce obesity, hypertension, heart disease and other chronic ills."

And with national health care on the horizon-tax supported, of course-it's not a big leap from the coercion of industry to the force feeding of the citizens: " They argue that "the ubiquity of food [has become] treacherous" and that food should be regulated like alcohol and cigarettes, "putting reasonable limits on where and how [food] can be sold . . . amending zoning [to] limit the number or density of locations selling unhealthy foods in restaurants, vending machines and other outlets."

This all hearkens back to Rousseau's observation, that sometimes you have to, "Force people to be free." The slippery slope here is ominously treacherous-particularly when those promoting the coercion actually believe that their actions are enlightened: "In other words, the Food Police is getting warmed up for a major government push to make us eat healthier - whether or not we want to. The tragedy of these proposals is twofold: First, eating habits are culturally determined and very hard to change. People want to eat what they want - they want choice and don't want to hear that the only tomato juice they can buy is the dreadful-tasting "low-sodium" kind."

Well, that's too bad-particularly when Big Brother's paying for your medical bills; and if these folks have their way, choices will be circumscribed-determined by the health agency bureaucrats. It is a frightful vision of expanded government and circumscribed liberty. Frankly, it's a Brave New World that we wouldn't want to live in.