Giving up a little liberty is something we agree to when we agree to live in a democratic society that is governed by laws.
The freedom to buy a really large soda, all in one cup, is something we stand to lose here. For most people, given their desire for health, that results in a net gain. For some people, yes, itâ€™s an absolute loss. Itâ€™s just not much of a loss.
Of course, what people fear is that this is just the beginning: today itâ€™s soda, tomorrow itâ€™s the guy standing behind you making you eat your broccoli, floss your teeth, and watch â€œPBS NewsHourâ€ every day. What this ignores is that successful paternalistic laws are done on the basis of a cost-benefit analysis: if itâ€™s too painful, itâ€™s not a good law. Making these analyses is something the government has the resources to do, just as now it sets automobile construction standards while considering both the need for affordability and the desire for safety.
Do we care so much about our health that we want to be forced to go to aerobics every day and give up all meat, sugar and salt? No. But in this case, itâ€™s some extra soda. Banning a law on the grounds that it might lead to worse laws would mean we could have no laws whatsoever.
In the old days we used to blame people for acting imprudently, and say that since their bad choices were their own fault, they deserved to suffer the consequences. Now we see that these errors arenâ€™t a function of bad character, but of our shared cognitive inheritance. The proper reaction is not blame, but an impulse to help one another.
Thatâ€™s what the government is supposed to do, help us get where we want to go. Itâ€™s not always worth it to intervene, but sometimes, where the costs are small and the benefit is large, it is. Thatâ€™s why we have prescriptions for medicine. And thatâ€™s why, as irritating as it may initially feel, the soda regulation is a good idea. Itâ€™s hard to give up the idea of ourselves as completely rational. We feel as if we lose some dignity. But thatâ€™s the way it is, and thereâ€™s no dignity in clinging to an illusion.
La Conly’s argument (in both her book and this editorial) really boils down to the claim (based on behaviorist social science, no less) that people are incompetent, make bad choices, and have difficulty recognizing their own best interests. Therefore, Conly says these other people over here, the ones who attended Princeton, who have important official titles and positions, know better what is good for everyone; and you ordinary people over there, you dimbulbs and dufi, should be willing to surrender (just a little) liberty here and some other liberty there, when those wiser and better, and more prestigiously and officially placed, than you decide that it is time to lay down the law and tell you what to do, for your own good.
Speaking philosophically, I went to Yale (which outranks Princeton all day long), so I get to point out to Professor Conly that in reality, the behaviorist social sciences prove that our Mandarins, politicians, and experts are just as fallibly human as everyone else, and are also subject to errors produced by biases toward short-term satisfaction and unrealistic optimism, particularly –in their case– optimism about their own capacities, objectivity, and motivations. Platonic Guardians tend to think that they are being disinterested and only trying to maximize everyone’s well being, while all the while they are busily gathering greater powers and control over the lives and fortunes of others to themselves. The best political philosophers are those, like Jefferson and Madison, who recognize the fact that no one enjoys the kind of superiority of perspective which entitles him or her to prescribe to someone else what he ought to do inside his own private sphere of liberty.
The Washington Times makes clear that Hizonner is not actually referring to cases of civil war or national emergency either. He means, in fact, whenever we (the bien pensant class of busybodies) are convinced that we know best what’s good for you.
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said on Sunday: Sometimes government does know best. And in those cases, Americans should just cede their rights.
â€œI do think there are certain times we should infringe on your freedom,â€ Mr. Bloomberg said, during an appearance on NBC. He made the statement during discussion of his soda ban â€” just shot down by the courts â€” and insistence that his fight to control sugary drink portion sizes in the city would go forth.
When the Mayor of New York provokes ridicule for his authoritarian overreach from representatives of the Confucian culture of Taiwan, it is clear that he has gone way too far. Happily, a New York State Supreme Court Judge agreed with the Taiwanese perspective yesterday, and blocked enforcement of Mayor Bloomberg’s soft drink edict.
Richard Fernandez likens the economic destruction being produced by the current delusional and ever over-reaching Welfare State policies of the international elite to the waste of human lives produced in WWI by the diplomatic and strategic incompetence of an earlier elite, predicting that Obama, Bloomberg, Jerry Brown, and their European equivalents are going to wind up not long down the road just as popular as Germany’s Wilhelm II and Russia’s Nicholas II were in 1918.
A whole generation is finished. Like their counterparts a hundred years ago, the European young are being sent to their professional death in millions. The carnage at both ends of the age spectrum â€” with the old being killed off and the youngâ€™s professional lives essentially buried â€” is a sign that the welfare state, the future on offer to â€œJuliaâ€ and Sandra Fluke, is now an empty box.
The guys who voted for Hope and Change voted for nothing. The cupboard is bare. Everything that is left in the dying system is being spent to provide a luxurious lifestyle for people like Sir David Nicholson.
Itâ€™s broke. Bust. Finished. Itâ€™s not true, as Mayor Bloomberg confidently says that government, unlike ordinary people, doesnâ€™t have to pay their debts.
â€œWe are spending money we donâ€™t have,â€ Mr. Bloomberg explained. â€œItâ€™s not like your household. In your household, people are saying, â€˜Oh, you canâ€™t spend money you donâ€™t have.â€™ That is true for your household because nobody is going to lend you an infinite amount of money. When it comes to the United States federal government, people do seem willing to lend us an infinite amount of money. â€¦ Our debt is so big and so many people own it that itâ€™s preposterous to think that they would stop selling us more. Itâ€™s the old story: If you owe the bank $50,000, you got a problem. If you owe the bank $50 million, they got a problem. And thatâ€™s a problem for the lenders. They canâ€™t stop lending us more money.â€
Itâ€™s not true any more than it was true that machine gun bullets wouldnâ€™t kill you at the Somme if you went over the top kicking a soccer ball, as some did. …
Bloomberg canâ€™t believe theyâ€™ll stop; because thatâ€™s the way its always been in the past? The establishment genuinely thinks the music will keep playing. And they wonâ€™t believe it will stop until it actually does.
The current elite has abused, as very few elites have abused in the past, the power of trust. Theyâ€™ve taken legitimacy built by generations of competence and used it to paper over mediocrity and madness. The trust they had to squander was immense; and they squandered it.
When the crash happens the disillusionment will be tremendous. It wonâ€™t be the kind of disillusion that loses elections or topples a government. It will the kind of disgust that pulls down a civilization.
Mark Steyn scathingly reviews the recent performances of two chief executives.
In political terms, Hurricane Sandy and the Benghazi consulate debacle exemplify at home and abroad the fundamental unseriousness of the United States in the Obama era. In the days after Sandy hit, Barack Obama was generally agreed to have performed well. He had himself photographed in the White House Situation Room, nodding thoughtfully to bureaucrats (“John Brennan, Assistant to the President for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism; Tony Blinken, National Security Advisor to the Vice President; David Agnew, Director for Intergovernmental Affairs”) and Tweeted it to his 3.2 million followers. He appeared in New Jersey wearing a bomber jacket rather than a suit to demonstrate that when the going gets tough the tough get out a monogrammed Air Force One bomber jacket. He announced that he’d instructed his officials to answer all calls within 15 minutes because in America “we leave nobody behind.” By doing all this, the president “shows” he “cares” â€“ which is true in the sense that in Benghazi he was willing to leave the entire consulate staff behind, and nobody had their calls answered within seven hours, because presumably he didn’t care. …
Last week, Nanny Bloomberg, Mayor of New York, rivaled his own personal best for worst mayoral performance since that snowstorm a couple of years back. This is a man who spends his days micromanaging the amount of soda New Yorkers are allowed to have in their beverage containers rather than, say, the amount of ocean New Yorkers are allowed to have in their subway system â€“ just as, in the previous crisis, the municipal titan who can regulate the salt out of your cheeseburger proved utterly incapable of regulating any salt on to Sixth Avenue. Imagine if this preening buffoon had expended as much executive energy on flood protection for the electrical grid and transit system as he does on approved quantities of carbonated beverages. But that’s leadership 21st-century style: When the going gets tough, the tough ban trans fats.
Back in Benghazi, the president who looks so cool in a bomber jacket declined to answer his beleaguered diplomats’ calls for help â€“ even though he had aircraft and Special Forces in the region. Too bad. He’s all jacket and no bombers. This, too, is an example of America’s uniquely profligate impotence. When something goes screwy at a ramshackle consulate halfway round the globe, very few governments have the technological capacity to watch it unfold in real time. Even fewer have deployable military assets only a couple of hours away. What is the point of unmanned drones, of military bases around the planet, of elite Special Forces trained to the peak of perfection if the president and the vast bloated federal bureaucracy cannot rouse themselves to action? What is the point of outspending Russia, Britain, France, China, Germany and every middle-rank military power combined if, when it matters, America cannot urge into the air one plane with a couple of dozen commandoes? In Iraq, al-Qaida is running training camps in the western desert. In Afghanistan, the Taliban are all but certain to return most of the country to its pre-9/11 glories. But in Washington the head of the world’s biggest “counterterrorism” bureaucracy briefs the president on flood damage and downed trees.
I don’t know whether Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan can fix things, but I do know that Barack Obama and Joe Biden won’t even try â€“ and that therefore a vote for Obama is a vote for the certainty of national collapse.
Daniel E. Lieberman, Professor of Human Evolutionary Biology, Harvard University
It was not for nothing that the late William F. Buckley, Jr. declared: “I would rather be governed by the first two thousand people in the Boston telephone directory than by the two thousand people on the faculty of Harvard University.”
Daniel E. Lieberman, a Harvard-educated Anthropologist who has managed to segue smoothly from his native social science to teaching Evolutionary Biology, won recent top marks in Scientism, the inappropriate and hubristic application of scientific theories to political and moral issues, when in a New York Time’s editorial last week, he informed readers that Evolution was voting in favor of Mayor Bloomberg’s soft drink ban specifically and government coercion in general.
Lessons from evolutionary biology support the mayorâ€™s plan: when it comes to limiting sugar in our food, some kinds of coercive action are not only necessary but also consistent with how we used to live. …
Since sugar is a basic form of energy in food, a sweet tooth was adaptive in ancient times, when food was limited. However, excessive sugar in the bloodstream is toxic, so our bodies also evolved to rapidly convert digested sugar in the bloodstream into fat. Our hunter-gatherer ancestors needed plenty of fat â€” more than other primates â€” to be active during periods of food scarcity and still pay for large, expensive brains and costly reproductive strategies (hunter-gatherer mothers could pump out babies twice as fast as their chimpanzee cousins).
Simply put, humans evolved to crave sugar, store it and then use it. For millions of years, our cravings and digestive systems were exquisitely balanced because sugar was rare. Apart from honey, most of the foods our hunter-gatherer ancestors ate were no sweeter than a carrot. The invention of farming made starchy foods more abundant, but it wasnâ€™t until very recently that technology made pure sugar bountiful.
The food industry has made a fortune because we retain Stone Age bodies that crave sugar but live in a Space Age world in which sugar is cheap and plentiful. …
We humans did not evolve to eat healthily and go to the gym; until recently, we didnâ€™t have to make such choices. But we did evolve to cooperate to help one another survive and thrive. Circumstances have changed, but we still need one anotherâ€™s help as much as we ever did. For this reason, we need government on our side, not on the side of those who wish to make money by stoking our cravings and profiting from them. [Emphasis added] We have evolved to need coercion.
Professor Lieberman neglects to explain how Evolution effectively draws the line between acceptable, desirable, and morally justifiable forms of state coercion, including taxes, regulations, and special paternalistic supervision of children, and even more effective and draconian measures, for instance, the Khmer Rouge marching the overweight urban inhabitants of Cambodia back into the country at machine gun point, aimed at “restoring a natural part of our environment. ”
He doesn’t offer any general principled account of why Evolution supports this and doesn’t support that precisely because he hasn’t got one. Professor Lieberman simply assumes that Evolution and Science (and Progress and the God of History) is embodied in the world by the consensus of people like himself, by the current opinions of the educated elite community of fashion.
One can find the scientific way of deciding things simply by reading the editorial pages of the Times.
All this, of course, is rubbish. The opinions and theories of Evolutionary Biology (let alone Anthropology) are anything but set in stone. Someone may discover next week the intense Neolithic cultivation of sugar beets in the Fertile Crescent. Medicine may decide that obesity is really caused by a particular gene, and that the specifics of diet play only a small role.
In the 1950s, Evolution would have decreed that you must drink milk to cure ulcers produced by the unnatural stress of modern capitalist life. Our latest information contends that bacteria are to blame and milk-drinking doesn’t do a thing.
More importantly, though, mere scientific facts are incapable of addressing philosophical questions of individual rights and the proper role and limits of the powers of government. Those issues have nothing to do with imaginary dietary teleologies and have to be debated on an entirely different level.
Scientism, the presumptuous attempt to misapply scientific theories or data in contexts in which they cannot possibly be determinative, is actually, I would argue, decisive evidence of bad education and intellectual incompetence.
It has been recognized for many decades now, certainly back to the 1960s or 1970s when Bill Buckley offered his famous apothegm concerning the faculty of Harvard, that there exists a tremendous and thoroughly alarming disconnect between our establishment intelligentsia and wisdom and common sense. Professor Lieberman is simply the most recent in a long series of wise fools.
James Lileks loses his temper about Mayor Bloomberg’s latest exercise in Nanny Governance.
A culture that redefines food choices as moral issues will demonize the people who donâ€™t share the tastes of the priest class. A culture that elevates eating to some holistic act of ethical self-definition – localvore, low-carbon-impact food, fair trade, artisanal cheese – will find the casual carefree choices of the less-enlightened as an affront to their belief system. Leave it to Americans to invent a Puritan strain of Epicurianism.
There is some sort of paradox about the fact that you cannot have significant cultural resources without the critical mass of humanity provided by a great urban metropolis, but to live in a city with access to concerts, opera, and theater, you have to submit to living under the rule of crooks and nincompoops.
It turns out that the recent silly custom of public officials play acting weather divination on February 2nd with the assistance of large cthonic rodents frequently results in the politician’s fingers paying a price for manhandling the marmot. And who would be a more deserving recipient of negative scuirid reaction than New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg?
This pompous twerp, Bloomberg, who I think has come to embody the particular stupidity of the American ruling class, because itâ€™s a very parochial kind of stupidity. Presuming to lecture his knuckle-dragging, moronic constituents on how they donâ€™t apparently understand the United States Constitution? Itâ€™s nothing to do with that. There are all kinds of things that are Constitutional and are legal, but are not necessarily appropriate.
A lot of people think heâ€™s going to be a one-term president. The interesting thing is whether heâ€™s going to be a one-termer, as you say, by choice, like a James K. Polk. In other words, he figures heâ€™s going to do what he needs to do in four years, and then heâ€™s going to move on. And I said sometime last year, I think, that what I found odd about him is that heâ€™s the first American president I can think of who gives the impression that the job is too small for him. …
And heâ€™s just kind of killing time in it until something more commensurate with his abilities comes along. And given that his entire view of the world, as John Bolton likes to say, heâ€™s the post-American president for a post-American world, the idea that he would be focused on reelection in the way a conventional politician such as Bill Clinton is, I think is not really part of his thinking. I think heâ€™s much rather utterly transform the United States, and then swan off after a couple of years, and go be a secretary-general of the United Nations with enhanced powers, or whatever racket has been cooked up for him in those years.