Monday, September 17, 2007

Fast Food and Big Brother

In a "letter to the editor" Don Watkins of The Ayn Rand Institute wrote about a proposed two-year moratorium in South L.A. that would restrict fast-food eateries with a form of "health zoning". Don speaks critically of this sort of proposed legislation, stating that "government has no business dictating where and what people eat, or what their waistlines should be. Those are decisions that properly belong to individuals. The L.A. City Council should reject this disgraceful ban."

I think that Don is right on. Conscientious limitations on the role of government seems to be a lost art these days. To some people it seems entirely obvious that government intervention should be the solution to health issues pertaining fast food. Well, for the record, I don't see it that way. I just don't envision government as the paternal or maternal force who is so wrapped up in the life of its citizenry that it needs to cut in and say: "no you can't have any cookies until you've finished your meal". As they try to legislate a good diet not only will they NOT succeed in protecting the health of people in L.A., but they will do that large pile of nothing for a rather hefty fee.

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Blogger Nick Steffen said...

Then again, to play the devil's advocate, the government already does do such things, protecting people from injecting themselves with quite unhealthy substances. I would tend to agree that the government's reach is already quite overdone. But as other attacks on personal health are deemed "government regulation" worthy, why not this gem too?

3:42 PM  
Blogger Mark said...


You are right. The fast food thing is in line with past/present practices of the government. If that is OK, then it is truly a case of: why not? If there are problems with it, then perhaps the parties affected ought to speak up on this issue.

Little issues like this won't stem the tide..a major philosophical shift would be necessary. But these little matters do become significant in several ways. For one, they become precidents.

The matter of injecting "unhealthy substances" is another matter where we ask the question: Is the government's role to protect individuals from themselves? If it is, then certainly laws against all unhealthy substances may be in order (assuming they actually work in protecting people, that is..). If, on the other hand, if protecting an individual from themselves is not the role of the government at all, then there is no reason to prohibit injecting "unhealthy substances" in cases where there is no risk to the safety of others.

I think there are strong pragmatically and philosophically-oriented reasons why government should generally not be involved in prohibition and limit its involvement in regulation. That is the principle, there could be a few different ways to apply it.

I do not like my fellow citizens buying unhealthy food nor do I like them injecting strange and unhealthy potions into their veins, but when it comes down to it, I'm not convinced government should be in the business of protecting its citizens from health risks in regard to informed/individual/private/voluntary consumption.

I'm not totally settled on this issue, and I still find it a bit unsettling.

But ultimately, in the case of the fast food, we have companies that are carrying out business in a lawful way. They are fairly acquiring property and fairly conducting business. Their customers are voluntarily seeking out their place of business, finding their terms of commerce acceptable, and voluntarily purchasing food items. And their wares is totally legal. There is, in my mind, no conceivable reason why these establishments should be discriminated against if they can hold their own in a particular commercially-zoned area.

6:47 PM  

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