A quick word in defense of the Nanny State

May 31, 2012

New York Mayor Michael (Don’t Call Me “Mike”) Bloomberg today announced regulations banning over-sized sugared drinks for sale in the city. Predictably many screamed about the terrors of government over-regulation and the ever-increasing Nanny State.

I generally share those sentiments, but have had something of a recent conversion.

Society shares all the costs of the poor choices that its members make, from those that want to ride motorcycles without helmets, to those that enjoy a Big Gulp or six. When the motorcyclist (inevitably) dumps his bike and ends up in the emergency room, his insurance company (if he has one) foots the bill–and passes those costs onto the rest of the insurance pool in the form of higher premiums. Those that eat and drink to excess those things that have been proven beyond question to advance diabetes and heart disease and other medical maladies are not the only ones paying the price for their decisions. We all are. What we have is a “free rider” problem. Those that indulge in risky behaviors pay only their insurance premiums while the rest of us face increased costs from their choices. It is the nature of insurance; to spread the risk over a large pool. Some people win and some people lose in the bargain. There’s a reason that life insurance companies want to know up-front if you’ve jumped out of a perfectly good plane. If you’re one of “those people” perhaps we shouldn’t be offering to insure your life. The same principle applies to health and health insurance.

Doesn’t it make sense at some elementary level to attempt to protect the balance of the pool from the poor choices of others? Sure there are lots of problems with what Mayor Bloomberg is trying to accomplish. The practicality of enforcement is low, especially when you consider things like fountain drinks and that there is no proposed limit on the amount of diet drinks you can purchase (buy one diet drink in a giant cup, but “just happen” to fill it up with the sugared drink and viola!).

The sense that we’re all “free” to do what we please is and has always been a fallacy. As Elizabeth Warren pointed out in another context, no one succeeds alone. We are all linked. We are all in one pool. Breathing the same air and drinking the same water. What we do inevitably effects others. Mayor Bloomberg is naive and maybe a bit crazy to try this, but if people aren’t willing to take care of themselves, perhaps the ultimate payer–the government, as a representative of those of us footing the bill–should.

Great Moments in Parenting #157

September 8, 2009
The Hard Stuff

The Hard Stuff

I walked into the suburban coffee shop chain this morning behind a mom with a little girl who was probably 4 and a little boy who was around 3.  The “coffee doctoring station” where the creams and sugars are located is just inside the door at this particular branch of the coffee colossus, and that was the kids’ first stop.  Each grabbed bags of raw sugar and followed mom into the line.

I wasn’t my typical antisocial commuter self this morning; I hadn’t synched my iPod with updated podcasts over the weekend, so I didn’t have my noise-reducing ear buds in, leaving me free to listen to the chatter among the caffeine junkies while they awaited their fixes.  Needless to say, no proposals to make the health care system work better or how to reorient the deployment of our troops in Afghanistan were overheard.  Neither were strategies to defeat the cover-2 defense or how Jimmy Clausen is now a Heisman contender for that matter.

I was alert enough to notice that Kid 1 and Kid 2 had opened their sugar packets and were licking their fingers, sticking them in the package and mainlining the stuff—not something you see every day, but having been given sugar tablets during my high school tennis days, I was familiar with the concept and the results of such experiments.

Mom was unfazed by the ingesting, except that she told her children, “You’re going to have to behave at the PTA meeting this morning.  That sugar is going to make you feel like you’ll want to bounce off the walls.”

She then orders a double espresso (presumably for herself) and two chocolate milks for the kids.

I wonder if a healthy lunch of Fruit Loops and popsicles was planned for after the meeting.

I think that the agenda for the next PTA meeting might include “Sedate Mrs. Starbuck’s children”.

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