Mayor Bloomberg's NYC ban on selling super-size sugary sodas in certain venues has repeatedly been in the news lately, particularly after a NY Supreme Ct. judge imposed a judicial stay on the ban last week. Since the ban has raised issues of paternalism, obesity, the "nanny" state, agency creativity, over-regulation, poverty, and race, there has understandably a huge kerfluffle,with the New York Times, the Huffington Post, Rick Hills and Ethan Leib at Prawfs, Aaron Saiger at Concurring Opinions, and Mark Bittman all weighing in.
But what best explains the ban, the stay, and the furor, given the edict's limited reach? A very interesting new article entitled MICROPATERNALISM , written by David Adam Friedman, provides a fascinating and original theory to explain why:
In this Article, I have created a theory of “micropaternalism” to capture the essence of a unique regulatory dynamic. As I define it, micropaternalism
describes when policymakers paternalistically regulate a narrow area,
thereby provoking public debate about the underlying controversial
issues addressed by the regulation. The loss of autonomy, even in a
narrow zone, can instigate a broad-ranging discussion that ultimately
influences social norms.
For example, Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s attempt to limit the portion sizes of sugary drink servings in New York City started a legal fight and a loud social fight about public health and paternalism. The New York City Board of Health enacted a code that covered an extremely narrow piece of the obesity problem, but the public debate took place on a big stage. Discussions about obesity as a public health problem leapt from the policy sphere to the popular sphere. In the long run, the dialogue may have more of an impact on public attitudes and private behavior than the actual regulation—a regulation that may not even prove enforceable. By putting the issue before the public and raising awareness, the debate about overconsumption could potentially reset norms.
Best read and enjoyed with a Big Gulp.