Dustin Rowles at Pajiba sets up the libertarian vs. public health debate over at his blog and his commenters dig into how libertarianism can guide public health policy.
Should the government really spend taxpayer dollars to restrict, direct, guide, or coddle us in this deeply personal arena? Can’t we make our own choices and live with the consequences/reap the benefits? And why can’t I just have some damn trans fat in NYC if I want to?
Paddydog puts it best:
First of all public health is, by definition, invasive and to any Libertarian, over-reaching. Public health is about putting the overall health of the general public above the rights of the individual.
That’s why we have mandated vaccinations, fluoridated water, and if there were to be a smallpox outbreak, quarantine. In the health ethics world, there’s a concept called “equipoise” which basically dictates how one acts when the balance tips from benefit to risk. To me, once the balance is more heavily on the risk side, then the government should weigh in and control those who are putting the rest of us at risk: in particular the non-vaccination lobby. You have a right to live according to your own principles only so far as those principles and actions do not endanger others.
It’s straightforward why one’s smoking endangers others. But trans fats? High fructose corn syrup? To the extent that we’re all paying higher insurance premiums, lowering the quality of life for our friends and family as they ferry us to and from ever more doctor’s appointments, help us inject our insulin, and worry that they’ll lose us at some sadly early age – because of purely preventable causes – our behavior endangers the well-being of others.
Banning some commodity is a latch-ditch resource for those items that cause nothing but damage, but we can hardly avoid without legal recourse. I’m not sure trans fats are included in that category. But then again, would just knowing about them really help us avoid them?
I will stick to my Libertarian guns and say, no, it’s not the government’s right to outlaw those “foods.” If we’re going that way, just outlaw red meat, alcohol, contact sports and sex — they’re all bad for you too.
What the government SHOULD do is to ensure an honest assessment of the nutritional information provided to people. There are many fast food and national restaurant franchises who do not provide nutritional info anywhere. And those that do, hide the truth in layers and data or by switching serving sizes.
You provide people with the information. You warn them against their error. Then you let them make up their minds.