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]
In a 4-2 decision, New York’s highest court agreed with two lower courts that New York City’s attempted ban on sugary drink portions over 16 ounces exceeded the powers of the city’s Department of Health. [Bloomberg News coverage]
That’s exactly in line with what I wrote at earlier stages of the case. At the time, some national commentators did not seem to have checked out the actual reasoning of Judge Milton Tingling’s decision, which rested squarely on a distinctive 1987 New York precedent called Boreali v. Axelrod which had struck down the state health department’s attempt to regulate smoking in public places as beyond its properly delegated authority. The soda case was (as they say) on all fours with Boreali, and although the Court of Appeals could have overturned Boreali, as some academics urged, or found grounds to dodge its effect, as the two dissenters did, the court instead chose to apply the precedent as it stood. That confirms that the Bloomberg-appointed Board of Health, in its eagerness to assert powers not rightly its own, had casually broken the law.
One of the two dissenters was Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman, the latest of many indications that he is inclined to pull the Court of Appeals away from many of the positions and habits that have given it a centrist reputation among state courts.
“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.
I’m back from a speaking swing through Nebraska. At the University of Nebraska College of Law in Lincoln, I spoke about food and drink paternalism as exemplified by Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s initiatives in New York, with Prof. Steven Willborn providing a counterpoint from a more liberal perspective. At Creighton University Law School in Omaha, I spoke (as I often do) on the ideological state of the law schools, drawing on my 2011 book Schools for Misrule, with commentary from Profs. Ralph Whitten and Sara Stadler.
Both events were well attended but I was especially pleased at the strong turnout for the talk in Lincoln on food and the nanny state, a new speech I hadn’t tried out before on a general audience. Here’s a description:
The public is increasingly in revolt against “nanny state” interventions, from Mayor Bloomberg’s attempt to limit soda sizes in New York, to efforts to ban Happy Meals in San Francisco. Some thinkers dismiss concern about paternalism as merely trivial and personal, not on a par with issues acknowledged as “serious” such as police abuse, free speech, surveillance, and the proper functioning of the legal system. Left unchecked, however, the project of paternalism quickly generates very serious problems in each of those other areas: it gives police and enforcers great arbitrary power, hands a special government megaphone to some speakers while stifling others, funnels uncomfortably personal information into government hands, and fuels abusive litigation. No matter what you think of potato chips, if your interests are in liberty and good government, you should be paying attention.
I’m next scheduled to speak on the food police Sept. 23 at a Heritage Foundation panel discussion with Baylen Linnekin, Nita Ghei, and J. Justin Wilson, hosted by Daren Bakst. Details here. More on my fall speaking schedule here.
The new four-judge decision is unanimous, which means every judge to consider the matter has now agreed that the NYC Department of Health overstepped its legal powers. And they’re right, as I explain here at Cato. Earlier here, here, here, etc.
One person who presumably had not expected today’s result is Emily Bazelon at Slate, who has claimed that Judge Milton Tingling’s trial-court decision was somehow a venture into conservative activism. None of the New York appellate judges heard from today give evidence of sharing that view.
“The U.S. FDA announced a plan to investigate and potentially regulate caffeine.” [James Hamblin, The Atlantic; Baylen Linnekin, Reason]
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.
Given the bossiness of the legislature in Annapolis these days, I had to check the calendar on this one. [Anita Park, Greater Greater Washington, April 1]
P.S. And from The Onion, where every day is April 1: “Mississippi Bans Soft Drinks Smaller Than 20 Ounces.”
Yet more: Didn’t Ilya Shapiro predict this? “Supreme Court upholds same-sex marriage as a tax” [Tax Foundation]
“This amendment would prohibit federal regulation of the size and quantity of food and beverages,” the Texas senator’s office explained of his budget proposal, which was not adopted by the Democratic majority. [Joel Gehrke, Washington Examiner]