The Death of Personal Responsibility

As children, our parents decide nearly everything for us; what we eat, where we go to school, where we live, etc. This is rather necessary as children are, usually, incapable of making responsible decisions for themselves. Children do not get to pick what to eat because they will eat candy three meals a day. Children don’t decide where they go to school because they would probably opt for nowhere. Children don’t decide where they live because they don’t possess the resources or knowledge to choose a place to live. Yes, as children we need our parents to make these important decisions for us because we cannot.

This doesn’t last forever, though. We are, eventually, supposed to grow up and become those adults that our parents were; making the important decisions ourselves, and sometimes for other, smaller people. We are not meant to have decisions made for us forever.

That is why I am baffled by policies like the failed New York soda ban, which forbade the sale of soda in containers greater than 16 ounces, or the new Soda Tax in Philadelphia, which tacks on an additional cost of 1.5 cents per ounce to sugar added and artificially sweetened soft drinks. The aim of these policies is to add disincentives to drinking soda.

Policies in Action

Two individuals, one healthy and one not, enter a grocery store. The healthy individual sees a two liter of soda and thinks “While that might taste good, it is bad for my health. I care about my health, so I won’t buy it”. The unhealthy individual sees the two liter and thinks “That tastes good” so he or she buys it with no regard for their well being. The aim of the soda ban is to prevent people like the second individual from buying excessive amount of soda, and the aim of the soda tax is to make the price of soda so high that he or she will choose to pass up on the soda for economic reasons. Both of these policies seek to absolve the individual of making responsible decisions by making those decisions for them.

Let’s run the two individual exercise again. The healthy individual is at the convenience store buying gas, sees the cigarettes behind the cashier, and thinks “While those cigarettes do give me a nice buzz, they are bad for my health. I care about my health, so I won’t buy it”. The unhealthy individual sees the cigarettes and thinks “Those give me a nice buzz” so he or she buys it with no regard for their well being. Cigarettes are taxed at both the state and federal level with an intention, akin to that of the Philadelphia soda tax, to reduce the number of cigarette smokers by making cigarettes cost too much to be worth the purchase.

Obesity has become a huge problem in the United States, and policies like the New York soda ban an the Philadelphia soda tax are designed to help combat this problem by reducing the number of soda drinkers. So, just like a mother who sees her child gaining weight removes soda from the child’s diet, the government has noted our populace is too fat and tries to remove soda from ours. The government thinks that too many people are smoking as well, and actively tries to remove this bad habit from our lives. The intention of such policies may be noble, but they are an egregious overstep of government mandate.

Personal Responsibility Cannot be Mandated

All things aren’t made equal. Making sure that individuals have equal economic opportunity, and cannot be denied employment based on their race, gender, sexual orientation, etc. these are reasonable endeavors. Making sure that individuals are in equal levels of health, by deciding what they can and cannot eat, this is a decision that a mother makes for her child, not a government for its people.

Despite what progressives would like you to think, even with a completely equal and level playing field there will still be winners and losers. If the price of soda doubled obese people would still drink it. If you had to register to buy chocolate people would still buy it. Taxes on cigarettes are upwards of 4% in New York. Have any of you ever taken a stroll in New York? For those that haven’t I am about to reveal an unbelievable truth… people still smoke!

The idea that banning or creating disincentives for unhealthy food will fix obesity is as misguided as the idea that banning fire arms will stop gun violence (another logically inconsistent idea many progressives hold dear), or that taxing cigarettes will eliminate smoking. These policies without a doubt have some effect on the issue, but they don’t eliminate it because being healthy is a personal decision; one the government cannot make for you.

It’s Not the Government’s Job to Make Responsible Decisions for People

The government is not meant to make decisions for people; it is meant to protect life, liberty, and property. You cannot replace responsible decision making in individuals with government decision making, to try to do so is an assault on the liberty this country was founded on. You are free to make your own decisions, good are bad, and you alone bear the consequence. If people choose to live an unhealthy lifestyle, so be it. Our government was never meant to prevent people from being fat, nor was it meant to prevent people from smoking.

Imagine I am a citizen in Philadelphia. I have eaten healthy this entire week and I decide to treat myself with a soda, why is my economic liberty threatened in order to dissuade other individuals from making poor decisions? My decision making is responsible, so why am I punished for others who can’t do the same?  There is already a punishment for drinking too much soda,  obesity. Why add an economic punishment as well, especially when that punishment applies to people who are being healthy? It’s a small tax, but a tax nonetheless, and that extra money I pay to the government is money that I could have spent elsewhere on things that I deem important.

It does not matter that soda is not necessary for my diet, or healthy, if I choose to drink soda that is my personal decision and the government should not be involved. Fast food is undoubtedly a major cause of obesity, should we implement a tax on McDonald’s? A tax on foods high in trans fat? A tax on candy? Even if all of these were implemented people will still eat McDonald’s, they will steal eat foods high in trans fat, and they will still eat candy.  This is because government cannot be a substitute for responsible decision making. The only thing that these taxes truly accomplish is an assault on economic liberty.

Being told what you can and cannot eat is for children. Are we children, or are we adults?

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