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.


crhymethinc said...

The main reason for nonsense such as this, is that poor people have no health insurance, therefore their health problems costs the government. A better solution would be to implement a system whereby people who are obese because of the choices they make in nutrition would be put at the bottom of the list for government healthcare.

No matter how hard it tries, the government will never be able to legislate common sense, nor should it try. What should be done is to force people to be responsible for the decisions they make and hold them, rather than society, accountable for their stupidity.

Samuel Wilson said...

I agree with you on this particular issue, but too many people use the same argument against any attempt to regulate the economy. Even when the intent is to stop someone from aggressively scamming people, you can depend on a Republican, or a libertarian, or a conservative to say that this, too, is a futile attempt to "legislate common sense." I know you don't think that way, but the challenge for us is to draw a line separating issues where "common sense" or "personal responsibility" should prevail from others where regulation is the right thing to do.