Thursday, June 28, 2012

To Ban or Not to Ban

Photo by Sifu Renka, from flickr.
Mayor Bloomberg's recent edict banning the sale of large sized soft drinks once again brought up the question, what role should the government play is what foods we should eat. Baylen Linnekin, of Keep Food Legal, has an answer: none.
We want you to have the right to grow, raise, produce, buy, sell, cook, eat, and drink the food of your own choosing. We’re opposed to subsidies that skew those choices and bans that clear those choices off the board. People are not stupid. They can make their own choices and live with the consequences.
This doesn't mean, however, that he thinks that the government should have no role.
There is one area where Linnekin agrees some government regulation is appropriate: “I’m flatly opposed to the hunting of endangered species for food purposes,” he says. But even that comes with a caveat. “If you’re dying in the desert and it’s you or the endangered snake, then a person should be free to eat an endangered species.”
He discussed this with Nevin Martell over Sharks' Fin Soup. I suppose I mostly agree with him. The government shouldn't be involved in banning foods that are supposed to be unhealthy, their role in regulating drugs aside. Protecting endangered species, on the other hand, is pretty important, as are regulations protection the stock of food we can draw on for the future -- fishing and hunting regulations, that sort of thing. I'm not sure I'm completely with Mr. Linnekin when it comes to subsidies, though. Subsidizing some crops, like corn, in order to help farmers seems to have worked out poorly in practice. I'm not opposed in principle, however, to a subsidy designed to make healthy food cheaper, a sort of libertarian paternalism as it's called. It doesn't have the same flat interference with people's preferences that a ban does, it merely encourages those preferences to follow different, more vegetable shaped lines.

The interview with Mr. Linnekin was originally published in the Washington, DC City Paper.

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