Wednesday, October 10, 2012

David Gordon on Bloomberg's Ban on Large-Size Sugary Drinks

In a review of The War on Drugs Is a War on Freedom By Laurence M. Vance, David Gordon comments:
The efforts, spurred by Mayor Bloomberg, to ban large cans of drinks deemed too sugary have been much in the news lately; and a peculiar point in the mayor's defense of this measure is highly relevant to Laurence Vance's excellent book. What struck me as odd in the mayor's comments was that he confined his defense to pointing out the dangers to health posed by the drinks he wished to ban, along with the attendant monetary costs that illnesses that resulted from consuming these drinks might impose.

It never seemed to occur to Mayor Bloomberg that whether an individual decides to consume a harmful substance ought not to come under governmental supervision. The decision is the person's alone to make. What was odd about the mayor's comments was not so much that he rejected this view, but rather that he did not deem it worthy of mention. State paternalism for him required no defense.

As Vance reminds us, it is not only libertarians who reject paternalism. To the contrary, the view that the state can address only acts directed against others, not ones that affect immediately just an individual himself, is integral to the classical-liberal tradition. It received its canonical statement from John Stuart Mill:

The only freedom which deserves the name is that of pursuing our own good in our own way, so long as we do not attempt to deprive others of theirs, or impede their efforts to attain it. Each is the guardian of his own health, whether bodily, or mental and spiritual. Mankind are greater gainers by suffering each other to live as seems good to themselves, than by compelling each to live as seems good to the rest. (p. 13, quoting Mill)
Mises applied Mill's principle to the subject of Vance's book, drug regulation, in characteristically incisive fashion. To allow regulation of dangerous drugs opens the door to attacks on freedom of speech and of the press:

Opium and morphine are certainly dangerous, habit-forming drugs. But once the principle is admitted that it is the duty of the government to protect the individual against his own foolishness, no serious objections can be advanced against further encroachments.… And why limit the government's benevolent providence to the protection of the individual's body only? Is not the harm a man can inflict on his mind and soul even more disastrous than any bodily evils? Why not prevent him from reading bad books and seeing bad plays, from looking at bad paintings and statues and from hearing bad music? (p. 24, quoting Mises)

1 comment:

  1. However, Bloomberg does not seem concerned with blind pedestrians being run over by speeding bicyclists in Central Park. This blind Bernstein guy has been in the hospital for eight weeks now. Power, not safety, seems to be the force driving Bloomberg.