By now, everyone is likely familiar with Michael Bloomberg’s attempt to ban super-sized soft drinks in New York. Banning is all the rage in government these days. A simple Google search for “government bans” turns up more than 91.5 million results. Everything is banned: shark fins, guns, light bulbs, even the word “citizen”. It seems like there’s nothing the government won’t ban.
This is what makes recent legislation passed by the good people at the North Carolina General Assembly and recently signed by Governor Pat McCrory all the more interesting. The Commonsense Consumption Act (or Big Gulp Bill, as it’s more commonly known) prohibits local governments from limiting soft drink sizes and prohibits consumers from suing food and beverage makers, distributors, or advertisers for the obesity that results from over-indulgence in their products. It is, in effect, a ban on bans.
While most of the commentary surrounding the new law has focused on its relationship to the New York City ban, this misses the most important aspect of the law. It is an important reversal in the way that the state government views its relationship with the people. Most people have grown accustomed to the government telling them what they cannot do. However, this law exudes a more classical American sensibility in telling the government what it cannot do. This is a refreshing trend and one that will rehabilitate the relationship between the government and the citizen. This law recognizes that government attempts to micro-manage the lives of the citizenry are both futile and offensive to the right of self-determination. Particularly given the slew of recent scandals, a move towards empowering the citizenry rather than nameless, faceless bureaucrats will help restore the public’s confidence in their system of government after its botched attempts to direct everything from health care to energy consumption.
You will rarely hear a politician say that the people should not be free to make their own choices (in this case whether to drink a child-sized soda or not). However, politicians frequently argue that people should not be allowed to fail and should, in effect, be protected from themselves.
They do not trust the people to make their own decisions (though, they apparently trust the people to make the decision to re-elect them every few years). However, this does nothing but handicap people’s ability to succeed. In Batman Begins, Bruce Wayne’s father asks his son, “Why do we fall?” He then answers his own question, “So we can learn to get back up.” Government policy, like this law, should reflect this attitude.
North Carolina’s ban on bans is a shining example of that oft-quoted phrase, “The government that governs least, governs best.” Banning bans is not something that should be controversial because it recognizes the free agency of the individual. This law recognizes the proper ordering of the relationship between government and citizen and ought to be a template for future legislation.