Matt Lewis

The subway to serfdom

Matt K. Lewis Senior Contributor

New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg’s effort to regulate soda size has garnered a lot of attention — and mockery. But as the Wall Street Journal’s Holman W. Jenkins, Jr., observes, it’s quite serious — if for no other reason than that even silly government involvement begets more government involvement:

[W]e’re still a long way from tyranny in America. The right to smoke in a bar; the right to snarf a transfat-soaked french fry; the right to lug a 32 oz. tub of Grape Nehi into the movie theater—these are not precious rights. But it’s also true that nobody thought of taking them away until the government itself became responsible for our runaway health-care spending.

The natural tendency of government is to seek more control. Ironically, it is often the case that the crises the government scrambles to fix were at least partly created by government in the first place.

Health care insurance is the prime example. World War II-era wage controls led to employer-based health care (government then complicated by problem by skewing the tax code and making this practice tax-deductible). There were unintended consequences: Employer-based health care created a disconnect between the doctor-patient relationship (because health care was now paid by a third-party, patients had no incentive to manage costs.) A lack of incentive to manage costs, of course, led to inflated health care costs. And inflated health care costs necessitated ObamaCare.

(Anyone who thinks the notion government might mandate broccoli consumption is absurd should re-read that last paragraph.)

The bottom line?

Conservatives should — rightfully, I might add — mock Bloomberg’s proposal. It is paternalism at its worst and a patently unnecessary expansion of government into the private sphere. If someone wishes to ingest massive amounts of calories for little nutritional value, that’s their business. If our problem is that fat people cost the government a lot of money, the answer isn’t to force people to diet, it’s to reexamine how our health care system went off the rails in the first place.