Unintended consequences – NYC soda ban edition

Background on the proposed ban here.

Had a discussion with the missus about this one. She is, along with Spike Lee, Eric Schlosser, Jamie Oliver and others, in favor.

This article from the libertarian site Reason makes a case on personal freedom grounds (naturally). But that isn’t my issue either. However, the libertarian case does come into play.

What I think is the real problem is that really poorly thought-through proscriptions like this do nothing about obesity. What they do instead is to make a formidable coalition of foes to future regulations based around public health concerns.

Here are a few things I would have had to ask in discussions cooking up this regulation (some of these may have answers, but they are definitely not in the headline articles):

1) What about restaurants that offer free refills? Must they stop people from refilling?

2) What about convenience stores that sell two-liter bottles right alongside formerly large cups? Those are still presumably allowed.

3) What about not-unhealthy drinks like unsweetened iced tea, sugar free drinks, etc.? Must stores not have any large cups or if they have large cups for healthier drinks, must they inspect the contents of each customer’s large cup?

4) What about people who come in with their own large cups? Is refilling these proscribed or just providing new ones in the store?

In a nutshell, this ban will not even deter a very mildly determined New Yorker from drinking a giant cup of soda. What it is doing though, is creating a new coalition of those with real libertarian leanings, those who love soda, virtually all store owners and a ton of others who just think the government is being a big pain in the ass with this. Levying a tax on suppliers of these types of products is arguably a much easier and more global way to do something like this and that is a big fight to pick. Advertising bans would be a less regular-person annoying way to go as well. Making things a hassle for regular folks out in the street is just really dumb policy.

The net result will surely be some functional patchwork of loopholes if the ban is implemented and, most importantly, a much more organized and experienced group of people ready to fight against better designed and more important public health-related regulation going forward. In fact, there is now a group, “Keep Food Legal” whose head wrote the Reason piece, ready to go for future attempts to regulate unhealthy foods and drinks.

And that, my friends, is not the type of activism this country needs more of.



About theunlikelyeconomist

theunlikelyeconomist is in the midst of the long slog to attain a PhD in economics.
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