So, over in this thread, Bone is making the argument - originally concerning the soft drink ban but later expanded - that Michael Bloomberg is authoritarian in his political operations.
Well and good. I’m not sure I’d go for the argument, but I can see one being made.
But it got me thinking about externalities. Those things and behaviors that we have and participate in that entail a cost on the body politic. Should those things - and there’s a lot of them - be tightly regulated.
Sure, on the subject of soda and other high-calorie, low nutrition foods, there’s a strong argument to be made that they contribute to Americans having a high obesity rate and all the health issues that entails such as higher risk of diabetes, heart attacks and so forth. I’ve always believed that the health risks are the responsibility of the consumer. That health risk does not create a need, in me at least, for tighter regulation.
But what about the indirect externalities? Higher rates of illness leads to higher health care costs for the nation overall, including on Medicare and Medicaid and disability payments. Those are paid for out of the public coffers by taxes - or deficits and therefore higher interest rates - and therefore cost those not involved in the consumption decision.
So on an entire plethora of issues, is tighter regulation or taxation justified when a person or other entity is costing the wider society in some way?
Would the health effects of fast food be justification for a special tax on it to pay for the added societal healthcare costs?
Or pollution? Should more polluting vehicles be subject to added taxation to deal with clean up costs?
I’m sure there are many, many other examples we could come up with.
In addition, what about the disincentive such provides? Smoking, has, according to this 2015 article in TWP, dropped by more than half over the last 50 years and almost 20% in the ten years between 2005 and 2015. A part of that is clearly the anti-smoking information campaign about the health effects, surely. But I wouldn’t be surprised if a large part of it is affordability. Back in the 80s when I was a kid my friends would by packs of cigarettes for less than a dollar. These days the average cost is $6.16 per pack.
So where’s the line? I find I think about this as being one with that old saying, “You’re right to swing your fist ends at my nose.” One gets to do what one wants, providing there’s no negative impact on others.
But where does this line get drawn? Cigarettes? Big Macs? Pollution? Noise? Out of control kids? I’m sure there are as many lines as there are readers of this post.
But isn’t a big part of government’s job the balancing of freedoms vs costs (both monetary and otherwise)?