I had just landed in the Big Apple this weekend when I saw a commercial on an airport television that caught my eye.
There on the screen was Michael Bloomberg, the mayor of New York City, clad in spandex work-out clothes, running on a treadmill in the private gym at Gracie Mansion, the mayor’s residence. An attractive similarly dressed blonde was running on a treadmill next to Bloomberg, shouting encouragement.
“An hour workout with a personal trainer — $750,” said the announcer in a pleasant voice.
The scene suddenly switched to Mayor Bloomberg having dinner with a table of smartly dressed friends at a trendy sidewalk café. They were all laughing and enjoying an expensive bottle of red wine with their thick-cut steaks and grilled Brussels sprouts.
The announcer again interjected: “Dinner in the Village with rich friends — $1,250.”
The final shot in the advertisement was the press conference where the mayor announced his plan to ban the sale of large-sized sodas and sugar-based drinks in New York City. Bloomberg was there in his custom-tailored suit and Italian silk tie glaring judgmentally at drink cups from city businesses.
The announcer concluded: “Telling people in New York City how to spend their money on personal diet choices — priceless.”
Bloomberg could never get elected in the South. If the government ever banned sweet tea, there would be a second move for secession from the Union.
There is no question that obesity is a major health problem in America. And I’m not saying that in a self-righteous way: One only need look at the photo that accompanies this column to realize that I could stand to lose a dozen pounds — okay, maybe more. If you want to point out in the comments section that I’m overweight, get in line behind my wife and doctor.
However, one cannot argue that the health issues associated with extra weight aren’t well-documented. And we don’t need to read a Congressional Budget Office study to grasp the fact that there are costs associated with treating these weight-related health problems.
In fact, assuming I stay on my current personal weight-gain course for another decade or more (when I’m old enough to qualify for Medicare), people reading this column can look forward to paying my tab for health troubles ranging from diabetes and heart disease to gout and cancer.
It’s hard to argue with the libertarians who support the right of individuals to choose to screw up their own health. On the other hand, anyone who claims to be a fiscal conservative should be wary when those same people want the taxpayers to pay for the bad consequences of those same choices.
In other words, don’t scream about the “nanny state” and then ask Mary Poppins to pony up her tax dollars to pay for your tobacco-induced iron lung.
Still, the solution is not government regulation of the Big Gulp industry. If you get too much past the bad behavior defined by the far-end mores of the social contract (murder, burglary, suburban yard-grooming and the like), you’ll find that governments are ill-equipped to change the daily conduct of their citizens. A War on Slurpees will be about as effective as the War on Pot.
Change in personal conduct regarding smoking has occurred via education and the free market. One would be hard-pressed to find an office building where smoking is allowed. Factory floors are mostly free from cigarette butts. And, there are plenty of smoke-free restaurants and bars.
But societal eating habits certainly aren’t going to change as a result of some rich guy commanding how his common subjects must eat.
While I’m in New York City, I intend to meet with Mayor Bloomberg to propose new legislation. I think the city should give away free smokes and biggie-size sodas to anyone who wants them, but cut all funding for the care of smoking and obesity-related health diseases.
I’m no numbers guy, but I think it’ll be cheaper.
Rick Robinson is the author of political thrillers which can be purchased on Amazon and at book stores everywhere. His latest novel, Manifest Destiny, has won seven writing awards, including Best Fiction at the Paris Book Festival.