Will Coffee Speakeasies Pepper Manhattan?


UPDATE: The Wall Street Journal is reporting that New York State Judge Milton Tingling has ruled that the ban is arbitrary and capricious and prevented it from going into effect. The original post is below.

Tomorrow, New York City will ban the sale of so-called “sugary beverages” in restaurants and similar establishments throughout the five boroughs. Mayor Michael Bloomberg says “we [the city] aren’t banning anything,” but that will be small comfort to establishments facing $200 per-violation fines and customers who want to buy beverages.

And those whose beverage of choice is not soda may be surprised that they too are in Bloomberg’s crosshairs. Although some coffee chains claim that the milk in their beverages creates a latte loophole, others are taking fewer risks. Consumers who thought that Bloomberg was aiming at other people may be in for a rude shock, before turning their closet-apartments into espresso-easies.

We have noted before the wisdom of author C.S. Lewis’s sentiment that “a tyranny exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive” — for “those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.” Now Marion Nestle has proved that wisdom again in a New York Daily News op-ed. She writes:

If we want Americans to be healthy, we are going to have to take actions like this – and many more – and do so soon. It’s long past time to tax sugar soda, crack down further on what gets sold in our schools, tackle abusive marketing practices, demand a redesign of labels – and extend the soda cap, no matter how controversial it may seem.

We noted that Bloomberg’s logic could easily be extended to the size of pizzas, the permissible amount of cream cheese on a bagel, or the size of a hamburger. It wasn’t supposed to be a handbook, but then again these activists are often beyond parody — who would think that a professor would put out a self-aggrandizing press release apparently bragging that he pushed his students to lobby for Bloomberg-style policies? (One did, although he later walked back halfway, saying that any latent libertarians could argue for different policies.)

So, what will come of this experiment in a new beverage prohibition? We suspect it will go as well as the last one. As the arbitrariness of the rules, the inconvenience of consumer compliance, and the liberality of loopholes begin to grate, the calls for repeal — already supported by a majority of New Yorkers — will grow louder. We don’t think Marion Nestle will like the results of those cries—after all, if American democracy can repeal a Constitutional beverage prohibition, it’s far less hard to repeal one crammed down by bureaucrats.

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