Government, Freedom, and Ice Cream

It has been said, “You can’t buy happiness, but you can buy ice cream.” Yet Voltaire stated, “Ice-cream is exquisite – what a pity it isn’t illegal.” There is some point to that. If something tastes exceptionally good, could people be driven to overeat? Should someone step in to protect the eater? That may sound silly when it comes to ice cream, but what about things like tobacco? Does it not make sense to limit damaging products? As John Stossel said in his book, No, They Can’t, it’s tempting to believe that “Government should outlaw life’s bigger risks.” Is it not the government’s responsibility to make sure companies run tests and keep items up to standard? It makes sense! The government can study a food’s nutritional value, do statistical research, and enforce product standards – who could be better equipped to decide what we should eat?

Take tobacco for an example.  Dr. Lawrence Deyton alleged, “Consumption of tobacco in this country [United States of America] is the leading preventable cause of disease and death.” So Congress passed the Tobacco Control Act in 2009, which “mandated the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to regulate the manufacturing, marketing, and distribution of tobacco products.” According to the FDA website, the Center for Tobacco Products (created to help enforce the act), “is committed to educating the public – especially young people – about the harms of tobacco products”. Another proposed way to help keep tobacco consumption at a minimum is higher taxation, particularly on cigarettes.  It sounds great, right? Higher prices, more awareness of the danger of tobacco – that’s all we need!

Have you ever glanced at a cigarette pack in Chile, South America? If so, you have surely been struck by the hideous warnings (particularly the pictures of damaged lungs) the government requires on the packaging. Who would smoke after seeing that? Not to mention the fact that 78% of a pack of cigarette’s price is taxes! Here’s a country that has it right – leading the pack on tobacco regulation! Amazingly, 40.6% of Chileans 15 years old and above smoke, making it – by Chilean statistics – the country with the worst record in both North and South America! The packaging has just not worked, but worse, taxes and resultant increased prices have “directly impacted illicit trade making it more attractive,” says the EuroMonitor International.

Surely government rules in other areas more than make up for the failure of tobacco regulation! How about the USDA’s (United States Department of Agriculture) Organic trademark? The National Organic Program (NOP) makes sure companies are certified before labeling their products as organic –particularly before using the USDA Organic seal. Is this effective? According to HealthForce, “pesticides and other poisons are allowed on and in Organic products under many circumstances!” The USDA also reports that, “the NOP regulations do not establish GMO tolerance levels”.  So the amount of Genetically Modified Organisms allowed in an organic product is essentially up in the air. Worse, brokers who buy feed from certified farmers – and then sell under an Organic label – do not need to be certified! The FDA Law Blog concludes that, “there is no guarantee that organic feed is not commingled with non-organic feed or contaminated. This causes uncertainty about the ‘organic integrity’ of the system.” Fortunately for us, the NOP plans to tackle that problem soon.

The USDA brags that “organic certification benefits farms and businesses”! Certainly, it benefits big businesses that can now use the word organic with comparatively little paperwork. But the USDA takeover left many small farmers with a disagreeable choice – stop labeling their products organic or spend their time getting through red tape. So these farmers banded together and created their own “Certified Naturally Grown” label. Surely, even if the government does not do an amazing job, it’s better than voluntary groups! Surprise! A GMO awareness website states that “resulting products meet and in some cases exceed the USDA standards”. Not only does government fail in many areas, the private sector does as well or better.

As we have seen, government regulations do not produce the intended results.  In fact, there are often many unintended and undesirable consequences – like increase of black market cigarette trade in Chile due to high taxes. And when there’s an option between government and private business, private consistently does better. Plainly, government regulation is not the solution to our problems. But there’s an even more important point – should it be government’s job to keep you healthy, or should you have the choice to eat what you please? It may be tempting to think that, “Government should outlaw life’s bigger risks,” but – as John Stossel quickly points out – virtually everything important we do is risky. Driving a vehicle, starting a company, trying out an extreme sport – if government tries to keep us from taking risks, where will it stop? It’s true that overeating is dangerous for your health, but as Stossel insisted in his book No, They Can’t, “The scientific question should not overshadow the more fundamental issue at stake – something more important than health: freedom.” The question is not, should individuals eat ice cream, but, should government step in and regulate? No – the individual has a right to make a choice! Should government limit damaging products? No – consumers will be the ones who pay if their risk takes a downturn. Should government make sure companies run tests and keep items up to standard? No, companies will set their own standards – a low standard or dishonest company will quickly be driven out of business. Above all, is it the government’s job to keep people healthy? The answer is no! It’s an individual’s job to decide what he will eat – and how much health factors into that is up to him. You should have the freedom to eat as much ice cream as you please.

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