GULP!

By Emanuel Derman
June 4, 2012

I am impaled on the horns of a dilemma.

I dislike:

  • Mayor Bloomberg telling me I can’t smoke a cigar in Central Park
  • Nudge stuff.
  • Nanny states.

I think everyone should be treated as equally (as though he or she were) grown-up.

And yet …

I find myself liking the fact that they are going to outlaw 640z sodas in NYC.

I hate seeing people drink those things. I wish I knew how to find a principled yet nuanced way of both defending my right to stupidly smoke and simultaneously preventing people from drinking 64oz sodas, trashcan-size movie popcorns, Carnegie Deli sandwiches, lousy-restaurant-size bowls of pasta, 30 oz. steaks and all the other gross disgusting unnecessarily large things that often pass for food here. This isn’t pure snobbery; some of these things, especially the steaks and pasta, sell in classy restaurants too.

I struggle to find a fine enough sieve to separate these things, but if there is one, I think it has to do with limiting the rights of corporations. I’d like to defend individuals’ rights to harm themselves, but not defend corporations’ rights to profit by persuading people to do harmful stuff.

The big difference between people and corporations is that people don’t have a purpose (or if they do we don’t know what it is), and corporations do. Therefore corporations should have greater constraints imposed on them than on people.

It’s not a perfect world. Corporations selling harmful stuff is the thesis. Bloomberg is the antithesis, not the synthesis. Maybe that’s OK.

Inconsistent? Very likely.

7 comments

We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/

It isn’t a ban on 64 oz. drinks, it’s a ban on 16 oz. drinks. I’d say that’s a mighty difference.

Posted by jmh530 | Report as abusive

I think all these dilemmas have no perfectly logical resolution. For example, I had a dilemma when I was volunteering for the local chess club: we provided marked up candy and other total junk at children’s tournaments and of course, this was one of the major ways we have to keep the club operational and pay the bills. On the one hand, the parents of the kids were enabled to support the club, and the kids were happy, but I was unhappy about encouraging unhealthy eating habits. My personal “solution”: I “nudged” by advocating for the sale of fruit. We experimented with buying more fruit (in addition to the donuts and soda and candy and such), I prominently displayed it in front in a basket, and some kids actually chose the fruit over the candy as a result. There was one scene in which a boy wanted a banana, but his mother scowled at the high price (relative to the candy), but she couldn’t very well just look us in the eye and tell him it was too expensive and to get candy instead, so he got his banana.

Posted by FranklinChen | Report as abusive

I am pretty much for higher tax rate than banning a product.

If someone wants to eat unhealthy or even poisonous food, he has every right to do so as long as he falls into society’s definition of adult and sane. besides, such banning laws have proved futile even if they are enforceable.

but if an obese guy and I are on the same health insurance plan, technically I am paying for his medical costs. If he sits in a subway train no one can sit on the seat next to him because he is too fat. same thing on an airplane, it is not most comfortable to sit next to an obese person.

and lots of other ways that a society has to pay for its obese or unhealthy citizens. doesn’t it make sense that such people pay more taxes back to society?

Posted by runnerup | Report as abusive

“Inconsistent. Very likely.”

Not at all. This is just a case where members of the Pig-Out Club need to be sent to Pigou Club:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pigou_Club

The negative externality here is the health insurance ‘dumping’, as ‘runnerup’ already noted.

Posted by SethTS | Report as abusive

Don’t mean to be completely off topic, but how about releasing that novella Time Decay has a five dollar (or more if you choose) download on Amazon?

I figured it would have been out by now…

Posted by chrissarda | Report as abusive

Good memory! I am going to start working on it one of these days again, and I like the idea of Amazon publishing

Consistency is not the greatest virtue of course but yeah, inconsistent. How about saying people are not created by the state rather than that they have no purpose, which seems too far-reaching? Corporations are created by the state (and by people, it must be admitted.) Render unto Caesar and all that.

Posted by RobSteele | Report as abusive