Monday, July 28, 2008

All your stomachs are belong to us.

California's legislature banned trans fats in California restaurants. Gov. Schwarzenegger signed the bill. I have the libertarian animosity to this rights-violating action. What customers want doesn't matter, apparently. What restaurants want doesn't matter, apparently. That the two parties have managed to voluntarily co-exist until now doesn't matter, apparently.

This is paternalism at its ugliest. Customers are either the victim of malevolent businesses or too stupid to know better. Restaurants are that malevolent business. No other possibility exists there. They know trans fats are awful, AWFUL!, yet force them on customers anyway. Just evil.

That narrative is ridiculous. Customers are free to choose. As a vegan, personally, I'm well aware of how easy it is to not only ask about ingredients at any restaurant, but to also request substitutions. Restaurants, aka businesses, are interested in serving my needs to make money, not invested in shoving evil non-food down my throat whether I like it or not. This is just a lesson that any choice of narrative that relies on malevolent intent should be questioned often and diligently.

For contrast, Erik Marcus has a different opinion:

One parting thought: this was a campaign that no reasonable person could argue against. Thousands and thousands of lives will be saved, and the cost to industry is absolutely trivial. And yet the bastards behind the restaurant industry did everything possible to oppose this initiative.

I generally agree with Mr. Marcus' views, even where I often disagree on political solutions, but this is wrong. I suppose it's not for me to judge whether or not I'm a reasonable person, although I think I am. Mr. Marcus clearly disagrees. But I've explained briefly how a reasonable person can argue against a trans fat ban. And if it's not clear, I am arguing against a ban, not in favor of trans fats. The latter can be unhealthy without justifying the former.

I must also quibble with Mr. Marcus' projections. I do not necessarily disagree that "thousands and thousands" of lives will be saved. I doubt it, but I don't have evidence either way. For such a bold claim that is the basis for a denial of rights, I expect more than an expectation that I take it on faith. Show me the numbers, which will be only estimates. And once the ban is in effect, how long do we have to wait to see the change in life expectancy? How will we measure it? And if (when?) the projected benefits fail to appear, can we undo the ban?

The same applies to the assertion that the cost to industry is "absolutely trivial". I doubt that seriously, especially with all of the corresponding regulations already in place. (i.e. mandatory calorie/nutritional disclosure) There will be costs. What is the threshold for triviality? What about smaller businesses who don't have the buying power and monetary resources that larges businesses have? Is it a new maxim that a business may be large only when it makes it possible for the business to comply with new regulation?

These are reasonable questions that should be easy to answer if they're not based on misinformation and wishful thinking.


From Ban Trans Fats, I found several interesting links. First, the push for voluntary compliance seems to have a few converts:

After we launched the trans fat campaign by filing the Oreo case in 2003, we started reporting on restaurants and other eateries that had switched to trans fat-free oil. Now in 2007 it is impossible to keep with all of the tens or hundreds of thousands of restaurants making the switch. We will continue to report when major chains make the switch.

You will notice lower down this page some small and even single restaurant operations are mentioned. These were "early adopters." We are keeping them on this page because they took the lead before the big companies made their moves.

Second, Bans Trans Fats offers a link called What Not to Eat, where it lists six rules for determining what not to eat.

In sixty seconds with The Google, I found enough information to make responsible choices. But I might not make those responsible choices for myself. Therefore, a ban. Don't worry, though. The original lawsuit was not about adults. It says so right there on the website, with underlining and an acknowledgment that adults can make their own intelligent choices. Think nothing of this text from the Ban Trans Fats site:

Nope, nothing to see there, folks. It's for the children only.

**UPDATE (by Mark)** John Schwenkler points out that trans fat bans aren't the attacks on corporate America that many like to think, but are instead a means for large corporate interests to insulate themselves from competition from smaller businesses that are less capable of adjusting to new regulatory requirements.