Maybe Some Businesses Do Need a Nanny

I’m going to take a contrarian position from the Twittersphere in its reaction to news that New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg (who, I tend to agree, is an annoying nudge who has overstayed his welcome) intends to ban supersizes of sugary softdrinks from certain purveyors:

NEW YORK, May 30 (Reuters) – New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg plans to propose a far-reaching municipal ban on sales of large-size sugary beverages by restaurants, mobile food carts, movie theaters and delis, his administration said on Wednesday.

A document outlining the proposal said it was aimed at fighting an epidemic of obesity, citing public health statistics showing that 58 percent of New York City adults and nearly 40 percent of city public school students are obese or overweight.

The proposal defines sugary drinks as beverages that are “sweetened with sugar or another caloric sweetener that contain more than 25 calories per 8 fluid ounces and contains less than 51 percent milk or milk substitute by volume as an ingredient.”

It would impact drinks sold in containers larger than 16 ounces, but would not impact the sale of diet soda or dairy-based drinks.

This measure would not directly affect me. I don’t drink soda very often, in fact, less and less as I get older. Nor do my wife and daughter. Perhaps that explains why I didn’t react to this Bloombergian diktat on other people’s health as I have reacted to his previous ones.

On the other hand, I stopped smoking several years ago, and I still object to regressive excise taxes on cigarettes that have raised the price of a pack in New York City to the price of what a carton used to be back in the day.  Politicians who are gutless about raising taxes on commuters or billionaires have no qualms at all about sticking it to lowly, politically unconnected nicotine addicts. I’m also not pleased with the policy of placing explicit photos of the consequences of cigarette smoking in all New York bodegas, drugstores and newsstand counters. They’re yet another indignity and assault on the senses all New Yorkers, whether they smoke or not, have to inure themselves to. Thanks a lot, Mayor Mike!

I tend to be pro-consumer, and I tend to object when Bloomberg or other politicians think they can decide for us what we can and can’t consume. But I also object to private vendors who give consumers no choice or, worse, stupid choices.

In particular, I have no sympathy for the movie concessions vendors who decided for us sometime in the last 15 or 20 years that movie-goers didn’t want or need soft-drinks in containers smaller than 32 ounces each. When I ask for a small drink, am I really asking for two 16 oz. bottles poured into one cup?  If you want a “small” milk, do you reach for a quart?  Is 600+ calories a “small” amount of calories?

This stupid choice the theaters have been offering us is not based on what we need or want but on sophisticated marketing strategies designed to make people think nothing (or at least not too much) about paying $5 for a “small” soda. And they’re not offering that food for our nourishment or enjoyment. They’re offering it because they don’t have to share those profits with the movie companies and they want as large a take as possible. (Business apologists claim price gouging at the concession stands is for the greater good of lower ticket prices at the box office–which will come as a surprise to New Yorkers who are now paying $13.50 for prime time movie-going).  In plain English, they’re greedy. I don’t want to see theaters go out of business, but I have no sympathy for them if they try to stay alive with concessions that contribute to killing their customers.

I don’t know if limiting the size of containers you can purchase from a grocery store is a good idea–at all. Buying soda, if that’s what you want to do, in a gallon rather than a six-pack certainly seems more economical and less wasteful. But I have no problem ordering the purveyors of supersized single-servings of sugary sodas to knock it off unless they offer a choice that won’t speed the onset of diabetes 2 in their customers.

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One thought on “Maybe Some Businesses Do Need a Nanny

  1. All things being equal, I would rather have a free market. But when companies do things that purposely harm the public, it’s ok with me for the government to step in.

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