Sure, it's fun to mock the arbitrary nature of the mayor's proposed rules. For instance, the regulations would ban coffee with sugar above 16 ounces but allow a sugary cappuccino or latte of any size so long as it's 51 percent milk. The rules don't allow consumers to purchase a Big Gulp, but they permit them to have as many free refills as they want.
Bloomberg almost seemed to engage in self-parody when he mused on Twitter this week, "Is purchasing two 16 oz sodas too much of an inconvenience to help reverse a national health catastrophe?"
More telling, Bloomberg highlighted a comment from a supporter of the ban, who wrote, "Anyone who pays taxes and thus bears the health care costs of obesity should support this."
In a free society, individuals are able to take risks and make decisions detrimental to their own well-being -- be it smoking, drinking, excessive eating or anything else -- because they'll bear the ultimate costs of their decisions. But when government assumes a greater role in the health care system, suddenly there's a societal cost to individual risks. This provides an opening for those who believe in a paternalistic role for government to make their regulations seem pragmatic. Bloomberg used the "health care costs to taxpayers" argument during his previous drives to ban smoking in bars and restaurants and to outlaw the use of trans fats.
In 2010, government at all levels was responsible for 49 percent of health care spending in the United States. Once Obamacare is fully implemented, overall government spending on health care will soar, giving elected officials even greater justification to limit individuals' choices about what they eat or drink.
Already, Michelle Obama has made the war on obesity her major cause as first lady. And the health care law includes numerous food regulations. Buried on Page 1,209, for instance, Obamacare details that "the Secretary [of health and human services] shall establish by regulation standards for determining and disclosing the nutrient content for standard menu items that come in different flavors, varieties, or combinations, but which are listed as a single menu item, such as soft drinks, ice cream, pizza, doughnuts, or children's combination meals. ... "
More detailed information on the contents of your kid's Happy Meal may seem harmless now, but if Obamacare goes into effect and the government becomes desperate for ways to control health care costs, it's inevitable that lawmakers will go much further. Perhaps they will mandate exercise, or require Americans to maintain a certain waist size. Sound unrealistic? In 2008, Japan, which has a government-run health care system, passed a law requiring waist sizes no greater than 33 1/2 inches for men and 35 1/2 inches for women.
This is not to dismiss the problem of obesity. But the way to combat it is not through government fiat. The solution is market-based reforms that will naturally incentivize healthier behavior.
Right now, because most medical coverage is tied to Americans' employment, insurance companies don't have much interest in their customers' long-term health. Given how frequently Americans change jobs, insurers make the logical calculation that any given beneficiary is likely to end up on some other employers' policy within a few years.
If, however, lawmakers changed the quirk in the tax code that perpetuates the employer-based insurance system, individuals would be able to own their own health insurance policies. Suddenly, insurers would have more interest in their beneficiaries' long-term health, because they might have them as clients for decades. Insurers could offer discounts to those who are trimmer, don't smoke and so on, just as car insurers offer incentives for safer driving.
So, laugh at nanny Bloomberg all you want. But recognize that the best way to limit his power is to promote market-based health reforms.
Philip Klein is senior editorial writer for The Examiner. He can be reached at email@example.com.