New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg doesn’t really seem to get it. Recently, he proposed banning the sale of sugary drinks larger than sixteen ounces in many places within the city. National medial outlets picked up the story, and soon the nation was abuzz over the Mayor’s plan. Of course, it was controversial. It probably won’t work. And oh, it was most definitely lampooned, and by no less than Daily Show host Jon Stewart, who aptly argued that, “It combines draconian government overreach people love with the probable lack of results they expect.”
None of this phases Mayor Bloomberg, though. He dismisses the critics, calling their concerns “ridiculous.” By the way, those critics include the Speaker of the New York State Assembly, Democrat Sheldon Silver, who said that, “We may be getting too close to Big Brother,” and who’s thinking about overruling the ban on the state level. That doesn’t bother Mayor Bloomberg either. When confronted with the State Assembly Speaker’s comments, the Mayor flippantly replied that he would expect Governor Andrew Cuomo to veto such a bill.
As one writer suggests, there’s a powerful element of snobbishness in Mayor Bloomberg’s plan and his complete disregard for the critics. Michael Wolff writes, “He undoubtedly sees these vast beverage sizes as not only fostering obesity, but vulgarity. Bloomberg is one of the few American politicians who doesn’t have to pretend to be a man of the people. …The mayor’s message, in addition to the health point, is that if you guzzle like that, or consume such grease, or still, after everything, go on smoking, you’ve got not (sic) no class or common sense.”
Mayor Bloomberg couldn’t care less. While brushing off more criticisms of the proposed ban, he inadvertently revealed his philosophy of government when he said, “If government’s purpose isn’t to improve the health and longevity of its citizens, I don’t know what its purpose is.”
Let’s start with a simple observation: That’s an awfully arrogant statement. Given its context, Mayor Bloomberg might as well have said: Government knows best. I’m in charge. I’ll tell you what’s good for you. Nanny-state thinking doesn’t get much more obvious than that.
Now, let’s break it down a little. Mayor Bloomberg is arguing that the purpose of government is to improve the health and longevity of its citizens, and he’s saying that this purpose is so basic and fundamental that without it, he doesn’t even know why you would have a government.
This is a pretty radical break from the way the Founders thought about government. They believed that the purpose of government was to ensure that the natural rights of its citizens would not be infringed upon. Fearing that government itself may be used to infringe on those rights, they separated the powers of government and placed strict checks on its limited, enumerated powers.
The most basic natural right is the right to life. This isn’t the same thing as health and longevity. The Founders weren’t concerned with using government to protect you from yourself and your own freely-made decisions, however bad they may be. They wanted to prevent foreign powers and domestic criminals from killing you. So, your natural right to life is the right not to have your life taken by somebody else. It’s not the right to enjoy a long, healthy life.
Is improved health and increased longevity desirable? Obviously. But using the force of government to make it happen isn’t the way to go about it. Is it worth granting government the near-unchecked power to regulate, mandate, or ban whatever is necessary to protect you from yourself and to extend your life? How many of your freedoms do you lose in that trade-off?
What kind of life are you leading in such a society? Wouldn’t it be better to live freely, making your own choices along the way, than to be herded along from cradle to grave in a government-ordered society designed to maximize your overall health and life expectancy? Sure, you’ll probably tack on a few extra years with the latter, but again, is that trade-off worth it?
Yes, obviously this specific proposed ban on sugary drinks isn’t unbearably tyrannical in and of itself, and it isn’t the end of a free America or something like that. It’s a small, petty proposal. But the reasoning behind it logically leads to a society dominated by government-made decisions on your behalf. If you believe in the Founders’ conception of the proper role and purpose of government in society, you’ll undoubtedly find Mayor Bloomberg’s ban and his nanny-state thinking more than a little unsettling. I’ll conclude with an appropriate quotation from President Gerald Ford, although it’s usually misattributed to Barry Goldwater.
“…A government big enough to give you everything you want is a government big enough to take from you everything you have.” – President Gerald Ford, address to a Joint Session of the Congress, August 12th, 1974.