Eight of the twelve most affluent counties in the United States are in the Washington, D.C. area, and high among them stands Howard County, Maryland (Columbia/Ellicott City), where the celebrations tomorrow will be a bit constrained:
Some find it a damper on the festivities to bring Howard County’s Fourth of July fireworks into compliance with County Executive Ken Ulman’s December 2012 edict sharply restricting the sale of sweet beverages and high-calorie snack food at county-sponsored events. Under the regulations, which are “the first and only of their kind in the state,” at least “50 percent of packaged food offered at county events must contain 200 calories or less per portion”; prepared food, such as funnel cakes and soft-serve ice cream, is not covered. [Baltimore Sun via Quinton Report] The rules exempt the county’s “Wine in the Woods” event, held each May.
Whether or not the policy mirrors the preferences of voters in Howard County (and who knows, it might), it serves the function of affluence signaling in the conspicuously prosperous county. One reason families pay a premium to move to a county like Howard is the implicit promise that their kids will grow up with plenty of worldly, educated, skinny role models and that the government is not going to be run in line with the wishes of poorer or lower-status residents. Message sent!
[adapted from my Free State Notes blog]
Lenore Skenazy’s incredibly funny talk last Thursday, with me commenting and moderating (and even at one point giving my impression of a 3-year-old losing a cookie), is now online. Several people have told me this was one of the most entertaining and illuminating Cato talks they’ve seen.
Lenore’s blog is Free-Range Kids and you can buy her book of the same name here. Some links on topics that came up in my remarks: Harvard researchers call for yanking obese kids out of their homes; authorities in Queensland, Australia, plan use of satellite data to spy out noncompliance with pool safety rules; courts reward helicopter parents in custody battles; charges dropped against mom who left toddler sleeping in car while she dropped coins in Salvation Army bucket; proposals to cut kids’ food into small bits and discontinue things like peanuts and marshmallows entirely; authorities snatch kids from homes after parents busted with small quantities of pot.
P.S. Direct video link here (h/t comments).
It’s best known as a marketing tactic in the technology business, but it works more widely too, notes Julie Gunlock in her new book From Cupcakes To Chemicals: How the Culture of Alarmism Makes Us Afraid of Everything and How To Fight Back (Independent Women’s Forum). From Angela Logomasini’s review:
In the world of politics, the tactic has also become a proven strategy for alarmists, such as the “food nannies, health, environmental, anti-chemical activists,” whose fear mongering leads politicians to the conclusion that “something must be done,” Mrs. Gunlock observes. Usually that something involves regulation that comes at the expense of consumer freedom.
“Even pictures of food [at schools] have to have the federal government’s stamp of approval.” [Scott Shackford, Reason]
P.S. Speaking of marketing and paternalism, here’s Ann Althouse on the latest horrible Mark Bittman column.
You can watch here (earlier). Related videos, including those of the other panelists, at the American Bar Association site.
Meanwhile, even former enthusiasts are beginning to give up on the “food desert” theory — opening a supermarket nearby does little to change unhealthy diet habits. So guess what’s next? Yep, calls for more and stronger intervention [Ann Althouse].
Stephanie Francis Ward at the ABA Journal covers the panel discussion I participated in yesterday on local paternalism at the ABA Midyear in Chicago. The other panelists were Prof. Sarah Conly of Bowdoin College, author of Against Autonomy: Justifying Coercive Paternalism, and Chicago Alderman George Cardenas, sponsor of a proposal to tax soft drink sales in the city. It was hosted by the ABA’s Government and Public Sector Lawyers Division and moderated by Hawaii land use lawyer Robert Thomas, who has much more at his Inverse Condemnation blog.
See you there? Quoting Hawaii lawyer Robert Thomas at the Inverse Condemnation blog:
Next Thursday, February 6, 2014, we’ll be in Chicago to moderate an American Bar Association discussion/debate on a topic that’s not our usual takings-eminent domain-land use stuff, but is still one of the hotter topics around. “They’ll Take My Big Gulp From My Cold Dead Hands” is an hour-and-a-half with three experts in “Public Health, the Police Power, and the Nanny State,” to quote our subtitle. (Yes, we realize that New York City’s ban actually exempted Big Gulps® but hey, it’s a catchy title.)
Joining me for the discussion:
*Walter Olson, Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute’s Center for Constitutional Studies. While his list of accomplishments is long, we lawyers love him best for his “Overlawyered” blog.
*Sarah Conly, Professor of Philosophy at Bowdoin College. Author of “Against Autonomy: Justifying Coercive Paternalism,” forthcoming from Cambridge University Press.
*Alderman George Cardenas, who represents the City of Chicago’s 12th Ward. Among other issue, Alderman Cardenas has proposed raising the smoking age to 21, and to tax sugary drinks.
Here’s the description of the program:
A moderated panel discussion of the issues raised by New York City’s attempt to regulate the portion size of sugary drinks, and similar measures around the country. Advocates from both sides of the issue will present their rationales, and legal scholars and media commentators will provide the larger picture. The panelists will be comparing various state and federal approaches with the common question: what limits on personal choice can be adopted in the name of public health, the environment, and the traditional police powers exercised by governments? How do these measures work with a federal system where local regulation may conflict with state and federal laws, or at the very least may conflict — at least philosophically — with subsidies to sugar and corn producers, and protective tariffs?
It’s sponsored by the ABA’s State and Local Government Law section, and CLE credit will be provided.
Four U.S. Senators are hectoring the Golden Globe Awards over stars’ televised use of e-cigarettes. “We ask the Hollywood Foreign Press Association and NBC Universal to take actions to ensure that future broadcasts of the Golden Globes do not intentionally feature images of e-cigarettes,” wrote the humorless bossyboots in question, Sens. Dick Durbin (Ill.), Edward Markey (Mass.), Richard Blumenthal (Conn.) and Sherrod Brown (Ohio), all Democrats. [Reuters] More: Sally Satel (“It didn’t seem as though it really proved to be a gateway to anything.”)
Speaking of glamor, don’t miss Virginia Postrel’s appearance at Cato next Wednesday to discuss her book The Power of Glamour: Persuasion, Longing, and Individual Aspiration. You can register here.
Christopher Snowdon on Britain’s hypertrophy of public health [Spiked Online]:
…["Public health"] once meant vaccinations, sanitation and education. It was ‘public’ only in the sense that it protected people from contagious diseases carried by others. Today, it means protecting people from themselves. The word ‘epidemic’ has also been divorced from its meaning – an outbreak of infectious disease – and is instead used to describe endemic behaviour such as drinking, or non-contagious diseases such as cancer, or physical conditions such as obesity which are neither diseases nor activities. This switch from literal meanings to poetic metaphors helps to maintain the conceit that governments have the same rights and responsibility to police the habits of its citizens as they do to ensure that drinking water is uncontaminated. …
Once again, all it took was a change in terminology. A ‘binge-drinker’ had traditionally been someone who went on a session lasting several days. Now it means anyone who consumes more than three drinks in an evening. … Today, if you are gripped by an urge to eradicate some bad habit or other, you no longer have to make a nuisance of yourself knocking door-to-door or waving a placard in some dismal town square. You can instead find yourself a job in the vast network of publicly funded health groups and transform yourself from crank to ‘advocate’. … Although ‘public health’ is still popularly viewed as a wing of the medical profession, its enormous funding and prestige has attracted countless individuals whose lack of medical qualifications is compensated by their thirst for social change.
“Sin” taxes? “Fines for living in a way that displeases a purse-lipped elite.” For persons who are going to live well into old age in any event, the question is not so much “preventing” one eventual cause of death as swapping one for another, perhaps more troublesome cause. And always, always the moralizing:
It can scarcely be coincidence that the main targets of the public-health movement are the same vices of sloth, gluttony, smoking and drinking that have preoccupied moralists, evangelists and puritans since time immemorial. HL Mencken long ago described public health as ‘the corruption of medicine by morality’.
Whole thing here.
“The vices of the rich and great are mistaken for error; and those of the poor and lowly, for crimes.” (attributed to the Countess of Blessington) The main scientific reason (if it can be called that) cited by the Food and Drug Administration seems to be that adding menthol makes smoking more enjoyable to many users, leading to readier “initiation of the smoking habit.” [Atlantic Wire] In addition, the World Trade Organization ruled last year that it was an arbitrary trade restriction for the United States to have banned clove-flavored cigarettes of the sort formerly imported from Indonesia, as Congress did in the Tobacco Control Act of 2009, without also banning menthol-flavored cigarettes. [Jakarta Post]
More: Get ready for a huge boost to the already-thriving cigarette-smuggling business should the plan go through [ACSH] And from Arthur Caplan at Time: “Antismoking Advocates Have Misused Science.”
Aside from the important employment law implications linked last week in this space, the American Medical Association’s decision to reclassify obesity as a disease has implications for Medicaid and private reimbursement of therapy (“now coverage policy must catch up to that consensus,” exulted an officer of the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery) and more pervasively for nanny-state initiatives: “Already, Harold Goldstein, executive director of the California Center for Public Health Advocacy, has cited the AMA declaration to boost his group’s efforts to ban junk food and tax soft drinks.” [Mike Tanner] (& welcome Joe Palazzolo, WSJ Law Blog readers)
“Photographs of infants are to be banned from baby formula packaging under new European Parliament rules.” [Irish Times via Stuttaford]
“Plans to ban the pint glass from pubs throughout the Highlands of Scotland have sparked outrage. The traditional vessel is already outlawed in nightclubs in the Highlands, which are forced to serve all drinks – including champagne, cocktails and the finest malt whiskies – in plastic containers after 9pm because of police fears over potential injury.” The Highland Licensing Board is now proposing to extend the scheme further, against objections from pub owners as well as critics of the Nanny State generally. [Telegraph]
Anthony Randazzo at Reason reviews Mark White’s new book The Manipulation of Choice: Ethics and Libertarian Paternalism. And in today’s Wall Street Journal, Donald Boudreaux reviews Cass Sunstein’s new book on regulation and paternalism, Simpler. Related here.
Per the Los Angeles Times: “New research [on which more -- W.O.] shows that prompting beverage makers to sell sodas in smaller packages and bundle them as a single unit actually encourages consumers to buy more soda — and gulp down more calories — than they would have consumed without the ban.”
I’ve done a new Cato podcast with interviewer Caleb Brown discussing Cass Sunstein’s attempts (channeling the behavioral economics literature) to distinguish a softer, less threatening “paternalism of means” from a bossy, intrusive “paternalism of ends.” I don’t think the distinction really works in practice, but as usual with Sunstein’s work, it’s at least worth hearing out. I go on to recommend the work of Joshua Wright and Douglas Ginsburg challenging the new behavioral economics, and suggest that while the scholars of the behavioral economics school do make some headway in showing that private choice is fallible and mistake-ridden, they are less successful at showing that trained experts can improve on these choices without touching off new unintended consequences.