What message does the soda ban send?

Let’s talk about Bloomberg being Bloomberg a bit more.  First off, here’s an excellent article from Will Wilkinson:

Most of Will’s post is spent rebutting this claim from Timothy Noah in support of the ban:

The truth is that there’s nothing inherently wrong with paternalistic government or, in the harsher, feminized shorthand of its detractors, the “nanny state.” Parents and nannies can be good or bad. No adult likes to be told how to live his life, but most of us benefit from baby authoritarianism far more than we’d like to admit.


What about when the nanny state instructs us to behave in accordance with its views of morality? I disagree with conservative aspirations to install the nanny state in my bedroom, but I wouldn’t necessarily begrudge the state its power to play moral cop elsewhere. I approve of the government prohibition against the selling of organs, and I would never want the government to stop discouraging illicit drug use and prostitution (though I might quibble with its methods). These prohibitions all constitute the government helping to define the nation’s collective values, which is entirely legitimate.

Notice that Noah’s making two separate arguments here.  First, he’s claiming that state paternalism is sometimes a net benefit (at least on the individual level).  I’m willing to believe that this is true — seatbelt laws are the first things that come to mind — although my idea of what constitutes “net benefit” is probably much narrower than his.

Second, and much more problematically, Noah claims that it’s “entirely legitimate” for the government to help “define the nation’s collective values”, and that somehow bans on organ markets; drugs associated with poor, non-white, and especially poor and non-white people; and frank (rather than implicit) prostitution are legitimate while bans on (say) sodomy — as long as it’s not paid for with money — are not.  This is pretty clearly a signalling argument, which Will points out:

I take it that Mr Noah disagrees with conservative moral paternalism not because it is paternalistic, but because it is based on a false picture of moral welfare, and is therefore unlikely actually to do us good. Having noted this disagreement, Mr Noah should have paused. If there is widespread disagreement about the human good, about what counts as a benefit or a harm, then paternalistic policies, even when they work as intended, inevitably restrict the liberty of some citizens in the service of conceptions of the good they reject. How is a paternalistic measure justified to us if we reasonably reject the idea of welfare on which it is based? If Mr Noah wants to say, “Well, that’s okay, because it does make you better off according to the true theory of the good”, we’ll want to know by what authority his conception of the good, and not ours, is established as the public standard for justified coercion. “Because I’m right and you’re wrong” is a vacuous, universal reply. It is, in so many words, what Torquemada might have said.

Noah disagrees with conservative moral paternalism because it is conservative, and therefore belongs to the other team.  If he backed sodomy laws, Noah would signal conservatism — which is pretty much exactly the opposite of what he intends.  Meanwhile, organ-market paternalism is more or less agreed upon to be a good thing by people with more imagination than knowledge, as well as by bioethicists and other horrifyingly evil folk, so they merely signal altruism.  “I care so much about you that I’m willing to have a cop shoot your puppy to prevent you from doing yourself harm!”

So, now we have to figure out what message the high-cap soda ban sends.  Is it a partisan message?  Is it an altruistic one?  Or is it something else?

I submit that the high-cap soda ban signals elitism.  Note that milk-based drinks, like the ones you’d pay five bucks for at Starbucks, are exempt from the ban.  So too, for that matter, are two-litre bottles of Coke from the grocery store (or two-litre Super Ultra Mega Gulp fountain drinks from the corner store, which is regulated as a grocery store).  Furthermore, sixteen ounces is an American pint, which is about what you’d get if you ordered a Coke in a sit-down restaurant or bar.  The establishments that’re hit hardest by the ban are fast food restaurants and food trucks — places that serve large portions of cheap calories — which’re establishments that *sniff* those people tend to visit.

Timothy Noah, then, is signalling his distaste for poor fatties.


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