Former New York City mayor and known "public health advocate" Michael Bloomberg is composing a task force that will promote lifestyle regulations across the globe. Bloomberg Philanthropies announced that a task force of 14 will make precise proposals to regulate people's personal behavior. This includes, amongst others, the Norwegian Minister of Health, the Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, or Tabaré Vázquez, who is the president of Uruguay.
"Eighty percent of NCD deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries, straining health care systems, contributing to poverty and posing a major barrier to development," says the group in a press release. The goal: advocating for more stringent tax policies on unhealthy behavior, including tobacco, alcohol, and sugary drinks.
However, not only are these tax measures infringing on people's personal liberty, they are also questionable in terms of their effectiveness. This 2013 review of 19 studies found only two that found a significant and substantial reduction in drinking rates in response to alcohol price rises — "and even these two showed mixed results." On tobacco, price increases have shown some effect, but here the consequence lies in a rise in black market cigarette sales.
Sugary drinks have visibly been a great concern of Michael Bloomberg during his time as mayor, when he passed the Sugary Drinks Portion Cap Rule (which was later repealed by the New York Court of Appeals), which decreased the allowed size of soda containers. Last year, Bloomberg spent $5 million on backing the Cook County tax on sweetened beverages.
A similar tax has been introduced in France in 2007, and the new government under President Emmanuel Macron has just recently increased it. In an earlier move, the French parliament had also passed a law that banned free refills of soft drinks in restaurants. The big crackdown on obesity however seems to be absent: between 1997 and 2009, the obesity level rose from 8.5 to 14.5 percent. In 2016, Le Monde reports that a number of obese people has risen to over 15.5 percent, with 25.3 percent of women and 41 percent of men being generally overweight. Meanwhile, the fact that the average French person drinks over 40 liters of wine per year is likely to be less of a talking point, given that this would affect local industry, meaning voters.
Bloomberg's attempt to improve public health may well be a noble one, but his inability to recognize that lifestyle regulations have adverse consequences shows that it is even more of a dogma than a policy prescription. In order to claim that the government needs to do more to reduce people's consumption of alcohol, sugar, or cigarettes, you need to believe that they are not responsible consumers, which most of them are. If we were all massively irresponsible in our use of alcohol, then the consequences would be unbearable. The opposite is the case: a great majority of people know that all of these products are harmful if misused, which is why they chose to consume in moderation.
Public policy is also something we should only use in moderation. Making broad laws for individual cases, instead of helping people who struggle with addiction or obesity on a case-by-case basis, that is in effect an addiction on its own. Michael Bloomberg is addicted to state paternalism. It's time we look for a cure for that as well.
Bill Wirtz is a political commentator currently based in Belgium. His articles have been published by Newsweek, The American Conservative, the Washington Examiner, Le Monde, and Le Figaro. He is a Young Voices Advocate, a regular contributor for the Foundation for Economic Education, and works as a Policy Analyst for the Consumer Choice Center. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.
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