The Soda Ban and Sociology

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3 Responses

  1. tony says:

    The premise that social forces underlie the growth in American obesity does not lead to the conclusion that it is the job of the state to intervene and prohibit consumption. The argument is a non sequitur. Remember, very similar logic was use to curtail alcohol consumption during prohibition. Drunkenness and male desertion is caused by social forces. Ergo, we must take steps to outlaw people from drinking it. Non sequitur. Banning beverages must rely on other assumptions.

    Here is the problem: obesity is a multi-faceted proble. A soda ban will surely have some impact on calories consumed, but it is not a sufficient fix. Uf we really are serious about addressing obesity, we will also need to mandate exercise, stamp out fast food restaurants, and forbid street vendors from selling ice cream too. Is the state willing to take those steps? If such legislation was capable of reducing obesity, would the ends justify the means? Political philosophy in the liberal tradition pushes back and says that even if we could mastermind a set of interventions that mitigated prevailing social forces by eliminating individual behavior, it would be unethical.

    In conclusion, it is possible to have a “sociological imagination”, but also to determine that the state–as a social institution–should have limited jurisdiction over personal behavior. Recognizing that social forces are at work does not provide a prescriptive policy agenda.

    • jeffdowd says:

      Thanks for your thoughtful comment. I’ll try to respond to each of your points. So, in no particular order –here goes.

      1.I agree that Prohibition was largely a failure. While it initially led to a decrease in consumption, eventually alcohol use rebounded. In my post, I conceded that a policy intended to curb consumption and change a behavior might fail. This is not my main point, however. I consider the efficacy of a proposal a testable proposition. The costs of testing a cup-size ban, I think you would agree, are far lower than Prohibition. I cannot imagine this ban would enable a crime syndicate.

      2.I think you are misreading my larger point – which is perhaps my fault. But, I did not say that since social forces underlie obesity the government must intervene. In fact, I am disputing that very construction of the problem. Government cannot help but intervene in those social forces. Basic government functions like zoning laws, highway construction, mass transit, agricultural policies etc. affect those social forces. Even if government were to abandon all of these functions and reduce itself to the hypothetical “nightwatchman state” the social environment still matters. In other words, power does not revert to personal choices. My argument is against the false dichotomy between personal freedom and government dictates.

      3.Obesity as you mentioned is a multi-faceted problem. But altering the social environment is not the elimination of individual behavior (or choices). Let’s take the school day as an example. Right now, physical education time is being cut and, in many places the school day is being increased. The time spent in sedentary activity is increasing for the nation’s youth. We could mandate an increase in physical education but doing so does not take away individual choices because how students spent their school day wasn’t their decision in the first place.

      4.When I go to a movie theater or a baseball stadium the current cup choices are not my personal decision now. Only by ignoring the existing social environment could I believe that changing the cup sizes was an assault on my personal freedom.

      5.The food environment in the United States has radically changed in the last 50 years. Those changes were primarily the result of decisions by government and business not the individuals. That basic point is what I believe is missing when someone claims a new regulation curtails freedom and choice.

      6.Finally, changing the food environment is what caused the obesity crisis. While we can certainly disagree about how we should change it now, that environment must change in order to reverse the current trends.

  1. 24th June 2012

    […] with outrage on the part of the Great Satan otherwise known as “the food industry”. According to them hinting to people that maybe 16 oz. of liquid sugar might be enough for one meal by requiring that […]

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