(CBS News) New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg shrugged off criticism of his controversial public health initiatives, saying that "if government's purpose isn't to improve the health and longevity of its citizens, I don't know what its purpose is." [emphasis added.]
Bloomberg most recently put forth a plan to ban the sale of sugary drinks larger than 16 ounces from the city's eateries, street carts and stadiums. The proposal has been sharply criticized, in some cases by beverage and fast food companies as a case of government overreach.
He's also been criticized for previous efforts to, among other things, ban smoking in public places and the use of trans-fats in restaurant foods. Some have gone so far as to mock has as being like a "nanny."
But on "CBS This Morning," Bloomberg fired back, saying, "We're not here to tell anybody what to do. But we certainly have an obligation to tell them what's the best science and best medicine says is in their interest.
In this startlingly incoherent outburst, Bloomberg betrays the liberal nanny-state mentality in as direct a way as one could wish. And it is incoherent. He wants to ban large drinks, pop corn, milk shakes and what all else while assuring us that "we're not here to tell anybody what to do." He blatantly contradicts himself. Does the man think before he speaks?
But the deeper problem is that he has no notion of the legitimate functions of government. Apparently he has never heard of limited government. Border control is a legitimate constitutionally grounded function of government. One reason the borders must be controlled is to impede the spread of contagious diseases. So government does have some role to play in the health and longevity of citizens. Defense of the country against foreign aggressors is also a legitimate function of government and it too bears upon health and longevity: it is hard to live a long and healthy life when bombs are raining down.
Beyond this, it is up to the individual to live in ways that insure health and longevity if those are values for him. But they might not be. Some value intensity of life over longevity of life. Rod Serling, for example, lived an extremely intense and productive life. Born in 1925, he died in 1975 at age 50. His Type A behavior and four-pack a day cigarette habit did him in, but was also quite possibly a necessary condition of his productivity. That was his free choice. No government has the right to dictate that one value longevity over intensity.
A government big enough and powerful enough to provide one with ‘free’ health care will be in an excellent position to demand ‘appropriate’ behavior from its citizens – and to enforce its demand. Suppose you enjoy risky sports such as motorcycling, hang gliding, mountain climbing and the like. Or perhaps you just like to drink or smoke or eat red meat. A government that pays for the treatment
of your injuries and ailments can easily decide, on economic grounds alone, to forbid such activites under the bogus justification, ‘for your own good.’
But even if the government does not outlaw motorcycling, say, they can put a severe dent in your liberty to enjoy such a sport, say, by demanding that a 30% sales tax be slapped on all motorcycle purchases, or by outlawing bikes whose engines exceed a certain displacement, say 250 cc. In the same way that governments levy arbitrary punitive taxes on tobacco products, they can do the same for anything they deem risky or unhealthy.
The situation is analogous to living with one’s parents. It is entirely appropriate for parents to say to a child: ‘As long as you live under our roof, eat at our table, and we pay the bills, then you must abide by our rules. When you are on your own, you may do as you please.’ The difference, of course, is that it is
relatively easy to move out on one’s own, but difficult to forsake one’s homeland.
The nub of the issue is liberty. Do you value it or not?
Does Bloomberg even see the issue?