Thursday, October 07, 2010

Sweetening Government Power

We have just recently commented on the selective libertarianism of Mayor Mike-telling New Yorkers that government has no business restricting who people should, or shouldn't marry. But, as we said, Bloomberg's concern with government's reach doesn't extend to what you eat-and now he wants to get the permission of the federal government to restrict the use of food stamps for the purchase of sugary soft drinks.

As the NY Times reports: "Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg sought federal permission on Wednesday to bar New York City’s 1.7 million recipients of food stamps from using them to buy soda or other sugared drinks. The request, made to the United States Department of Agriculture, which finances and sets the rules for the food-stamp program, is part of an aggressive anti-obesity push by the mayor that has also included advertisements, stricter rules on food sold in schools and an unsuccessful attempt to have the state impose a tax on the sugared drinks."

But what this really dramatizes-besides the mayor's unbridled need to intrude into the lives and liberty of everyday New Yorkers-is the danger that the expansion of government oversight and control over health will lead to the severe curtailment of individual freedom. Once government is paying the bill-and the food stamp program is a clear example of this-they will reserve the right to mandate what you can eat and, trust us, so much more.

But in our view, if you are going to encourage better choices, it makes more sense if the government, rather than restricting certain foods, gave out specific vouchers for healthier fare such as fruits and vegetables. But in any case, the mayor's urge to purge soda from the diet is the ultimate example of the old maxim: He who pays the piper, calls the tune, It is not only doomed to failure; it is an ominous sign of the future when health care mandates and governmental control will loom all over the personal choices of all Americans.

Thankfully, however, there is even some push back from the food police on the enactment of the Bloomberg Diet: "Public health experts greeted Mr. Bloomberg’s proposal cautiously. George Hacker, senior policy adviser for the health promotion project of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, said a more equitable approach might be to use educational campaigns to dissuade food-stamp users from buying sugared drinks. “The world would be better, I think, if people limited their purchases of sugared beverages,” Mr. Hacker said. “However, there are a great many ethical reasons to consider why one would not want to stigmatize people on food stamps.”

No ethical reasons to restrict government's reach? Oh well, we'll take our support from any quarter on this. Bloomberg for his part, is claiming that he wants to conduct this food stamp ban as an experiment-which brings to mind the fact that he launched his silly menu labeling initiative without the benefit of any public health research; and the so-called experiment was a flop.

Here's the mayor's take: "The mayor requested a ban for two years to study whether it would have a positive impact on health and whether a permanent ban would be merited. “In spite of the great gains we’ve made over the past eight years in making our communities healthier, there are still two areas where we’re losing ground — obesity and diabetes,” the mayor said in a statement. “This initiative will give New York families more money to spend on foods and drinks that provide real nourishment.”

This is, excuse us, rather fatuous of Mike. What the mayor has done is increase governmental health restrictions and mandates without any concomitant healthy gains that would begin to justify the intrusions. What's really droll is that the mayor and his health handmaiden Farley want us to believe that this latest foray will have any impact on the obesity epidemic: "Mr. Bloomberg and his health commissioner, Dr. Thomas A. Farley, said the ban would help curb the city’s obesity epidemic, which they contend has been fueled by rising soda consumption over the past 30 years. City statistics released last month showed that nearly 40 percent of public-school children in kindergarten through eighth grade were overweight or obese, and that obesity rates were substantially higher in poor neighborhoods. City studies show that consumption of sugared beverages is consistently higher in those neighborhoods."

So much for all of those, "great gains," that Bloomberg has alleged on the health front. So here is what the mayor has done to posture as a health maven: "The health of New Yorkers, and particularly obesity, is one of the mayor’s signature issues. During his first term in office, Mr. Bloomberg expanded the city’s smoking ban to almost all indoor public places, and he is proposing to expand it to beaches, parks and plazas. New York City has banned trans fats in restaurants and requires restaurants to post calorie counts."

Or, to paraphrase the Momas and Poppas, "and nobodies getting fat," but all of the city's low income school children. Yet, in spite of a record of failure, the faux scientists with public health degrees persist in making absurd observations and claims-and our two health commissioners are the Abbot and Costello tandem: "Dr. Farley and Dr. Daines said that over the past 30 years, the consumption of soda and other sugary beverages in the United States had more than doubled, paralleling the rise in obesity. They blame that trend for the rising rate of diabetes, which now afflicts one in eight adults in New York City, and is nearly twice as common among poor New Yorkers as among wealthier ones."

Causation is not the same as correlation-if it was, than we could blame the FDA's nutritional labeling ruling in the early nineties for the obesity epidemic-since the enactment of that rule, designed to educate Americans about healthier eating, is precisely coterminous with the rising obesity trend. Yet no one is claiming causation here; and as absurd as the suggestion is, it isn't that much sillier that the unscientific pointing out of other correlative data.

But back to the larger point. Once the government has a vise-like grip on your health care, it will promulgate all kinds of rules and regulations to insure that certain food consumption patterns and exercise behaviors are followed-in the name of health, but camaflouged as cost savings for tax payers. When the Bloomberg cohort of health fascists finally get the reins of power over individual choice, the whole idea of individual choice will be relegated to an anachronistic, and quaintly old fashioned notion.