29 July 2008
Eat Not of the Forbidden Food!
Los Angeles has proposed a moratorium on new fast-food franchises in poor neighborhoods on public health grounds. If there was ever a case where libertarian complaints against a "nanny state" were justified, this looks like the one. But since I'm not ideologically opposed to regulation, I might be able to suggest a compromise. Common sense dictates that no food that is not poisonous on contact should be banned from sale. No food should be banned on the premise that long-term intemperate consumption will hurt your health. If one hamburger won't kill you, it shouldn't be illegal to sell a hamburger. But if the people deem it necessary, any municipality ought to be able to regulate portions and place an upper limit on what constitutes a "large" meal. The issue then becomes whether you can limit the number of large meals a restaurant can serve to one customer at one time. My hunch is that there's no practical way to do that, since a determined enough hog could order numerous large meals to go for a family that doesn't exist or isn't going to see that food, and it would go too far to demand that he prove that he has a family or a party waiting at home, not to mention impractical all around to limit the amount a single person can order to go. No plan will ever be perfect, since the insatiable fatty could just travel from shop to shop until he's full, and diet is one area where I endorse the principle of personal responsibility. But if we accept that the people have an interest in public health, libertarian market idolatry shouldn't stand in the way of reasonable regulation, since that's no more than self-government.