Chipping Away At Liberty

This morning’s Scotsman ran a story likely to ruffle a few kilts. A research team from the United Kingdom’s Medical Research Council (MRC) — like the Institute of Medicine here in the U.S., only more British — has recommended that government use its power to forbid fast-food restaurants and “chip shops” from being opened in low-income communities “in an attempt to combat obesity.” Neville Rigby of the financial-conflicts-a-go-go International Obesity Task Force told the paper that fast-food companies “are not going to try to open up in richer areas who would not use their services” but instead build where they are wanted most. How sinister: businesses attempting to match supply with demand! But the MRC isn’t only above the Thames, it’s behind the times. The New York City Council has already entertained a similar ban, cynically promoting the idea that the economically disadvantaged are just too dumb to make their own food choices, especially when the food is tasty and affordable. The micro-managing insanity picking up steam in the Anglosphere inspired a thoughtful column by Jonah Goldberg, who fears that “the natural pastures of daily liberty have become circumscribed by dull-witted but well-meaning bureaucrats slapping down the paving stones of good intentions on the road to hell.” Goldberg does not assert that regulatory foolishness like restaurant zoning or even New York’s new trans fat ban will lead to more overt tyranny. Instead, he suggests, such a willingness to regulate away the tiniest details of life is a symptom of subtle social decay:

The rule of thumb for a free society should be that it infringes liberties rarely, but when it does so it is for important reasons. Today, that thumb has been cast down, Caesar-like, pointing in the opposite direction. We have democratized the small assaults on freedom so that everyone must endure them, while we caterwaul about the tyranny of any real inconvenience that might fall “disproportionately” on the few. We ban using trans fats for millions but flinch at the idea that some kid might have to endure the Pledge of Allegiance or a moment of silence in school if it conflicts with his conscience.

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