Living in my head, I have both a libertarian side and a socialist side. They get along surprisingly well, acknowledging that neither of them is always right, but teaming up to point and laugh at people who occupy the muddy middle ground of politics.
Today, both sides are rolling their eyes at New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg's plan to ban the selling of supersized cups of pop. On the surface, this is a sensible public health policy, even if it does feel like having your mom lean over your shoulder to ask if you should be drinking that much Coke.
Pop makes you fat. Lots of other things make you fat, but pop is measured out by the ounce, so it's easier to regulate than the exact size of a burger patty.
My libertarian side objects for all the reasons you would think he does. First, he doesn't like being told what to do, ever, if he's not harming anyone else. Whose business is it but mine if I drink 500 litres of Coke a day, dissolving my bones and fattening up to such a size that small children will use me as a sledding hill, come winter?
Second, it isn't going to work that well. My libertarian side is already coming up with angles, see. He's a mercenary sort, and he's going to patent a new drink: MegaSucrose, the pop packed with 40 times more sugar than Coke or Pepsi! You'll have to eat it with a spoon- but it'll come in small cups.
After that, he'll probably just start offering a special-priced "free refills" cup of regular pop. Hey, it's just one cup, right?
My socialist side thinks the horse has already left the barn.
If you're going to use public policy to influence behaviour, thinks my leftist brain, starting with the consumer is the worst place to begin.
Start with the farmers. Or more specifically, with the vast corporations that have replaced most small farmers.
Maybe we could just thin people down by not subsidizing corn? Most of the sweeteners that have been fattening up North Americans over the past few decades are based on high-fructose corn syrup. They're in everything: your pop, of course, but also your barbecue sauce, salad dressing, granola bars, breakfast cereal, doughnuts, specialty coffee drinks, and it's inside your house right now, my God! the calls are coming from inside your house!
The American government actually takes money from its own taxpayers and then gives it to huge agribusiness firms so that they can then sell U.S. citizens (and us, yay NAFTA!) stuff to make them fat at rock bottom prices.
Socialism, in the form of not sucking up to corporations, might actually make for a better capitalism in this case.
My socialist side also suspects that clamping down on the advertising of products that are just carbonated, lightly caramel-flavoured water, might have an impact, too. It believes that the right to aggressively sell people crap is, perhaps, not absolute.
Finally, both sides of my brain are incensed that pop and only pop is the target of this plan. Not your snooty craft beers, not your ice wines all full of sugar, not your caramel macchiatos with extra whipped cream? Just pop? So nothing that wealthy yuppies and hipsters consume in large quantities, then?
Just because you got it in a trendy bistro or gastropub does not mean that a food has fewer calories. Beer, wine, and a number of coffee drinks are quite high in calories.
Yes, you can use laws to help make people thinner. But not all laws are equally fair, effective, or useful.