The Tyranny of "Doing Something"

Let no one say that New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is not "doing something."

Mayor Bloomberg is upset that so many people in New York City are so very fat. Perhaps this worsens overcrowding. Perhaps it puts a strain on infrastructure. Perhaps it degrades the city's proudly-held reputation for pointless rudeness and conversational instability — after all, thin rude people are edgy, but fat rude people border on comic. I should know, it's my schtick.

At any rate, for whatever reason, Mayor Bloomberg is convinced that he must Do Something — that Something Must Be Done. Specifically, he wants to dictate the size of non-diet soft drinks that a variety of of businesses can sell. The justification is self-evident — if Bloomberg did not tell businesses what they can sell, and therefore tell people indirectly what they can drink, he would not be Doing Something:

“Obesity is a nationwide problem, and all over the United States, public health officials are wringing their hands saying, ‘Oh, this is terrible,’ ” Mr. Bloomberg said in an interview on Wednesday in the Governor’s Room at City Hall.

“New York City is not about wringing your hands; it’s about doing something,” he said. “I think that’s what the public wants the mayor to do.”

Fair-minded people might point out that New York City seems to be simultaneously wringing its hands and Doing Something, but that's neither here nor there.

The important point is that Bloomberg has recognized and proclaimed not only that it's imperative to Do Something, and that Doing Something is its own justification, but that dissent is ridiculous. Concerns about business and individual autonomy? Suspicion that obesity, while threatening to health, is also a media flavor-of-the-decade, served Claim-Jumper style with fulsomely large portions of fear, hysteria, and calculation? Speculation about where this will all end? Ridiculous — worthy only of scorn:

The mayor, who said he occasionally drank a diet soda “on a hot day,” contested the idea that the plan would limit consumers’ choices, saying the option to buy more soda would always be available.

“Your argument, I guess, could be that it’s a little less convenient to have to carry two 16-ounce drinks to your seat in the movie theater rather than one 32 ounce,” Mr. Bloomberg said in a sarcastic tone. “I don’t think you can make the case that we’re taking things away.”

The Something that Bloomberg wants to Do will encounter only pockets of resistance. Americans are backing themselves into justifications for regulation of their personal decisions. When I have to pay the piper myself for my nasty cheeseburger habit, only the most perverse nannies want to regulate it. But when I've convinced myself that I should have the right to draw upon the public fisc when I drop, loudly and heavily, of a massive beef-induced coronary, and that my fellow citizens should pay to send me to a rehabilitation camp run by a deeply repentant Mayor McCheese, then everyone starts to come around to the idea that maybe they have a say in what I stuff in my mouth. That's my own damn fault. TANSTAAFL. The price of government subsidy is not merely monetary.

Meanwhile, I'm off to hit Google Images to see if Gracie Mansion has a lawn. If it does, I call upon all good Americans to Do Something — by chugging a Big Gulp of Mountain Dew and lining up to take a long, insolent piss on NYC Nanny Bloomberg's lawn.

Last 5 posts by Ken White


  1. says

    I'll buy a 32 ounce soda to the first man who…



    The rest of that sentence is #funny_actionable

  2. says

    One of my favorite examples of the Equivocation Fallacy is known as the "Politician's Syllogism":

    We must do something to stop this problem!
    My proposal is something.
    Therefore we must enact my proposal!

    The difference is I used it when I was TAing logic courses to try and demonstrate bad thinking. For Mayor Bloomberg, it's basically a three-line job description.

  3. says

    As well as the 'We Must Do Something!' assumption, equally interesting is the 'Every Problem Is The Government's Responsibility To Fix' assumption, which seems to be getting a red-hot workout in the Bloomberg Administration.

  4. nlp says

    I wouldn't be surprised if he put limits on how much butter people can buy at one time. And then it's going to be one thing after another, chip chip chip. And he's just encouraging people who want to sue potato chip makers.

    Massachusetts just tried to ban bake sales, and the health department got a good idea what life was like when all those crazy people wanted a revolution. They finally backed off and said each school board had the right to make their own decision on the matter.

  5. StrangeOne says

    "I think that's what the public wants the mayor to do"

    I hate this crap. Clearly the public wants to buy sodas in the quantity and volumes it currently does or else this "problem" wouldn't exist in the first place.

    No, a handful of bureaucrats and busy-bodies want to "do something" as Ken accurately put it. It doesn't help anyone; most people probably find it annoying. It raises prices of common goods.

    All it really does is demonstrate the absolute uselessness of a number of people in high ranking government positions.

  6. TomB says

    When I heard of Bloomie's first inane crusade (salt? msg? guns? who can keep track?), I was reminded of the C. S. Lewis quote:

    "Of all tyrannies, a tyranny exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end, for they do so with the approval of their own conscience."

    As the Great Giver of Links is apt to say:


  7. ShelbyC says

    The Donut Day article says they have a "Department of Health and Mental Hygiene". Wow.

  8. Joe says

    It's a bit akin to the whole we need to reduce greenhouse gases so let's conduct some insanely expensive study on how much methane cow farts add to atmosphere because if it's too much then – – – – – -I don't know I never did hear a proposal on what the "experts" proposed to do to "fix" the problem. I propose that actually eating cow is the perfect solution.

    The reality is cows fart and I really don't care how much they fart or what it does to the atmosphere. I simply cannot pretend tofu = cow no matter how hard I try and no matter how much tofu is supposed to be better for me. Now give me my fucking hamburger already.

  9. LJ Taylor says

    “Your argument, I guess, could be that it’s a little less convenient to have to carry two 16-ounce drinks to your seat in the movie theater rather than one 32 ounce,” Mr. Bloomberg said in a sarcastic tone. “I don’t think you can make the case that we’re taking things away.”

    I just love the Orwellian language of Libertarian Paternalism…

  10. says

    I'm all for doing what can be done to curb the obesity problem we have, but I'm not behind this ban. I don't think it would. Besides, I'm not interesting in micromanaging people's diets. I'm happy if they are made aware of what they are eating.

    That said, I think this is more a ploy to bring attention to an issue than to actually put any policy into action.

  11. says

    As one who previously consumed 400-500 fl.oz. of Dr. Pepper-and has the Type 2 diabetes to prove it-I will fight over this one.

    How ironic, Bloomberg finds a 4th, 9th and 14th Amendment right of a woman to kill her child (pretty adverse to the child's health I'd rather think) but not to throw a Quick Trip "Big 52 of Mt. Dew.

    How about we pry the fat little bastard's hands off the joy stick and get 'em on the track for about 45 minutes every school day and we'll lick obesity without depriving anyone of any soda pop.

  12. fozzy says

    "FWIW, Bloomberg famously boasts about how he doesn't waste taxpayer money by living at Gracie Mansion."

    Shocker! Bloomberg is lying. There's a rule that only family members can stay at Gracie, even for one night. Bloomberg's girlfriend can't stay overnight. That's why he doesn't live in the official residence.

    IIRC Giuliani was divorced and didn't live there for the same reason.

  13. says

    Great article, Ken. Ironic that the city with the view of the Statue of Liberty offers its residents perhaps the lease liberty in the country. Except for, of course, "freedom to live off the government," supported by some of the highest taxes in the world. I'm proud to be one of the 1.6 million who left NY over the last decade, and taxes are #1 on my list of why.

  14. Insane says

    @joe "let's conduct some insanely expensive study on how much methane cow farts add to atmosphere"

    Studying cow farts? Not important, more important is the little discussed problem of cowboy farts. The research that has been funded shows it's a problem. And after all, the heating of our planet is MAN made, not cow made.

    Just like Mayor Bloomburg finds obesity is caused by soda, not by sugary foods, such as Donuts which he supports whole hog.

    You know, if someone wants to be fat, that's their choice. This idea that fat people have no right to make choices about their life is ludicrous. And this insane concept that the reason medical insurance is so damn expensive is because of fat people is so F*d up. The only thing I can figure is the progessives are extremely gullible.

  15. Rob says

    I think we should start calling Bloomy "Dr. Cocteau". The two are starting to look more alike every day.

    Libertarian Paternalism

    That's a contradiction in terms. It's like saying "Authoritarian Anarchist". They are mutually contradictory.

  16. Christopher says

    But when I've convinced myself that I should have the right to draw upon the public fisc when I drop, loudly and heavily, of a massive beef-induced coronary, and that my fellow citizens should pay to send me to a rehabilitation camp run by a deeply repentant Mayor McCheese, then everyone starts to come around to the idea that maybe they have a say in what I stuff in my mouth. That's my own damn fault. TANSTAAFL. The price of government subsidy is not merely monetary.

    If I'm understanding you correctly, I find this to be a really interesting argument.

    Basically, my thinking is that if you eat a lot of damn cheeseburgers and have a coronary, the Emergency room should treat you even if you're a homeless person who can't afford the care and even if you're likely to then go right back to a terribly unhealthy diet. This is because of your inherent worth as a human being. Basically, it's one of those things you get as a free gift for being human and living in a prosperous country.

    Your argument, as I read it, is that people see subsidies as essentially investments. If you have a bad diet, and show no evidence of correcting this, then paying for your healthcare is a bad investment. That money is better channeled into things that will more efficiently serve the public good. In this view, you're more like a bridge. No government agency should build a bridge just because bridges are neat; a bridge needs to ease traffic congestion or generate toll revenues or somehow give some sort of return on investment. In the same way, government can't invest in you unless you have a good chance of becoming a productive citizen who will somehow return that investment.

    Of course, that's not universal; you can pretty easily make that argument about health care in America today, but you'd be quickly vilified if you said "Social Security should be abolished, because really, old people don't do anything and they're probably going to die soon either way."

  17. tweell says

    It makes perfect sense for Bloomberg to go after soda instead of donuts. If he banned donuts, the city union workers would tar and feather Hizzoner, with the police leading the way.

    I'm not sure that taking on Pepsi and Coke is a better strategy, but they're less likely to go the GBH (Grievous Bodily Harm) route.

  18. demize! says

    Yes it has a beautiful lawn but he doesn't reside there. He has his own townhouse on E. 79th. st. That is in the maybe four days a week he isn't in, or traveling to, his castle in Bermuda. WE go from a thug Fascist like Guiliani to a nasal authoritarian twit like Bloomberg. This is why I'm an anarchist.

  19. the other rob says

    The pathos of the whole anti-obesity thing is that there's a fair argument that it's (at least in part) a government created problem in the first place, by way of corn subsidies that lead to foodstuffs being full of HFCS because it's cheap.

    Of course, agricultural subsidies are a federal, rather than an NYC matter, but that hasn't stopped Bloomberg in the past (see guns).

  20. marco73 says

    I thank God every day that I live in the enlightened South, where I can wander into any convenience store in sight and purchase a Ginormous Gulp of delicious, sugary soda. It's good to live in fly-over country.

  21. perlhaqr says

    Christopher: Not quite. It's not "you are a bad investment" as much as "you are costing me unnecessary money".

    Imagine you had somehow managed to get a law passed that says you get to use my credit card when you fill your tank with gasoline. I would have a strong incentive at that point to make you buy a Vespa that gets 85 mpg, rather than a Rolls Royce that gets 4 mpg, irrespective of whether you could afford the Rolls, and irrespective of the fact that the Rolls is much nicer to get around in. (I imagine, it's not like I've ever had one.)

  22. says

    Not to let the corn rent-seekers off the hook, but cane price supports drive up the price customers pay for cane sugar, making HFCS more price-competitive.

  23. says

    If you would like to have a discussion about the obesity epidemic, how's about we start with those who I think are the ones actually responsible? Here is an abriged list:

    1.) The government, who for most of my life published the "guide to healthy eating" that included the FOOD PYRAMID – eat 12 to 15 servings of processed grains per day, they said. Eat sparingly of meats and fats, they said. Never mind that those 12 to 15 servings of processed grains go straight to sugar in your blood stream in about nothing flat, triggering insulin production, triggering the sequestering of those sugars into fat cells, triggering fatness… whereas the proteins in meats and fats take a lot longer to break down into sugar and don't overload your system like processed grains do… huh…

    2.) The "worst case first" thinkers who will actually prosecute people who allow their kids to run, climb, and even fall down and scrape a knee because of "teh pedophiles!!!one!!!11!!!" and the constant fear that our little darlings may scrap a knee or break a bone (of which i did both, multiple times, and seem to be fine). Never mind that the stats show that kidnappings by strangers are nearly unheard of, and that kids can go to the park without parents needing to be in constant fear.

    3.) The government/corn/anti-cane sugar lobby who subsidize HFCS (fructose, not sucrose) that absorbs into the body differently and may not be the most healthy thing in the world.

    4.) The people, for becoming lazy and dependent on government to feed them, and for buying processed "food in a box" instead of actually taking the extra 20 minutes a day to cook something using ingedients rather than heating up a box in the microwave. Seriously, start looking at the salt content in a jar of spaghetti sauce, and then realize that making your own very good tasting sphaghetti sauce is retardedly easy and takes no time flat.

    The best way to avoid obesity, in my opinion, is to stop eating processed grain items (go whole grain and brown rice) and to sit down with your family and eat a damn home cooked meal every night, and make the "meal in a box" or eating out a special occasion rather than the norm.

  24. Dan Weber says

    Can you give us an easy spaghetti sauce recipe? I'm sure I could google one but you seem to be ready to offer some.

  25. Blaze Miskulin says

    I'm still wondering why the Restaurant Association (or whatever it's called in NYC) don't "Do Something". My suggestions would be two-fold.

    1) Use some of their lobbying money to print up little stickers and flags-on-toothpicks to give to all the restaurants, food stands, and food trucks. They would say "Bloomberg says you can't eat this". Let the people know exactly what is getting banned.

    2) Print up "Wanted" posters that say "NYC's LEAST Wanted", and show photos of Bloomberg and all the city council. Post them at every restaurant, and then (here's the kicker) deny service to everyone on that list. Let's see how long they hold up when they can't eat in any restaurant in the city.

  26. ruralcounsel says

    It seems Bloomberg's national political ambition has decided to commit suicide; he comes across as positively unhinged. The nation is not merely laughing at him, we're simultaneously reaching for a large rock and saying "nice doggie".

    I guess it says something about the world of politics and the minds that inhabit it that he could even imagine that he's done something positive, either for the people in NYC or his career. If he ever does get to a national stage again, he'll be sputtering and straining to justify this foolishness.

  27. Xenocles says

    @Dan Weber-

    Here's what works for me. (Easy is subjective.) Amounts are approximate, use spices to taste.

    Phase 1:
    1/4 cup EV olive oil
    1 large onion, diced
    3-4 cloves of garlic, minced
    1 Tbsp. oregano
    2 Tbsp. basil
    1 Tbsp. parsley
    1 Tbsp. rosemary
    1 Tbsp. crushed red pepper (optional)
    3-4 anchovy filets (the ones I use are packed in oil and salt)
    1/2 cup red wine

    Part II:

    1 pound ground meat (any mixture of veal, beef, or pork will do – or all of one, or whatever. I prefer pastured animals.)
    2 qt. tomato puree
    1/2 cup red wine
    Salt to taste
    EVOO to taste

    Part I:
    1. Heat the olive oil on medium in a large dutch oven or pot
    2. Add all of the part one ingredients except for the wine, stir occasionally until the onions are translucent.
    3. Add the wine and stir. Let it simmer until it reduces to significantly less liquid than you stated with.

    Part II.
    1. Add the meat and brown. (Just let it sit in the pot until some of the outside is nice and brown. You are not trying to cook through here, just trying to add some flavor.)
    2 Add the tomato and wine. Put the lid on most of the way and bring to boil. You will want to turn the heat way up for this.
    3. Once boiling, turn the heat back to med-high and let simmer for a while. The goal is to remove a good amount of water as it stews the meat. You could dispense with the cover, but the tomato puree will spatter all over your stove and kitchen. Just leave the lid cracked to let the steam escape.
    4. After about an hour and a half, add salt and EVOO to taste. Go heavy on the oil, it's good for you.
    5. If you like it by now, serve it. Letting it sit on the stove for hours on low heat won't hurt it, just check in to make sure the thickness is still good. If you reduce it too much, you can add water without hurting the sauce very much.

  28. Xenocles says

    *Adendum: My darling wife has informed me that the measuring device I used for the spices is actually a teaspoon, not a tablespoon. Please substitute as appropriate.

  29. C. S. P. Schofield says

    IF, and I repeat IF there is an 'obesity epidemic' that has not been caused by a shift in the definition of obesity (something I have read arguments about), then it is probably simply the end of the silly 'stick people are beautiful' fashion we've been suffering through since the 1950's. If 'the children' are all little butterballs (something I doubt, but hey), maybe it has something to do with the way all childhood actvities are now either banned entirely, hobbled with stupid safety equipment (the advent of bicycle helmets has had no statistical effect on bicycle injuries, did you know that?), or accompanied by buttinski adult fascilitators. The poor kids are probably lucky no goddamned interfering adult has started a supervised Grand Theft Auto league.