The Road to Totalitarianism is Paved with Good Intentions

The first three times I read this, I was sure it was supposed to be ironic and sarcastic.  I am increasingly convinced that this was written for real

Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s ban on sugary drinks is good for you, New York, and for the rest of the country, too.

And here’s something else, a guaranteed wager: Winston Smith, the suffering protagonist in George Orwell’s “Nineteen Eight-Four,” would trade every aspect of the society dreamed up for him by the sadistic totalitarian government in place of a ban on sugary drinks in 16-ounce cups any day.

There I said it. I know the sentiment is unpopular. I know people will fear the ramifications of a ban on that black bubbling cola in their plastic Big Gulps because they believe it is the road to bigger restrictions on more of their choices. It won’t.

We are a nation of fatties. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, more than one-third of United States adults -- 35.7 percent -- are obese. And obesity is expensive.

Medical costs associated with obesity were estimated at $147 billion in 2008, the CDCnoted. And for people who are obese were $1,429 higher than those of normal weight. While sugary drinks like soda and fruit drinks are not the only culprit here, it is a fact that people are consuming these beverages at an alarming rate. Something needs to be done.

I am sure long-time Coyote Blog readers will not the Health Care Trojan Horse (TM) -- using the socialization of health care costs to justify coercive interventions in individual choices that used to be considered personal.

I have been studying HG Wells of late.  One thing I didn't know about him before is that for all his skepticism about the future in many of his books, and all his prescience about the worst impulses of man, he believed it was possible to create an ideal government that would a dictatorship of the elite, scientific, and enlightened.  Historians called that view "naive", and at the time it may have been. But to hold this sort of view today, as this author does, given history, is simply insane.  Power begets more power.  Coercion begets more coercion.

There really is a very simple test for this - simply imagine the coercive power you advocate in the hands of your worst political enemy.  Still happy with it?  I bet not.


  1. chrispy:

    The comments to the article are actually pretty heartening. They seem to be 100% against the author. I was pleasantly surprised by that.

  2. Ted Rado:

    The whole comcept of the American way is that the problems caused by individual liberty are more than offset by the benefits. We put up with each others' behavior so that we can in turn do what we please. At regular intervals, someone comes along with the argument that a strong government will avoid the mistakes and make all our (correct) decisions for us. Thus is born dictatorship. Often, this is born out of a screwed up world, such as happened in in Germany, Italy, Portugal, etc. after WW One. As our geniuses in DC demonstrate daily, the idea that the USG can do better than individual citizens is a joke.
    One outcome of our current screwed up government situation is the proliferation of groups that want to foist their views off on the rest of us. We have seen this movie many times before. As Warren points out, are we prepared to accept the other guy's dictatorship, or just our own? Best not to go down that path in the first place.
    Mayor Blumberg should take a long walk off a short pier or change his name to Benito or Adolph. I would think that the mayor of a large city has more pressing things to worry about than what beverages I drink. Lighten up, man!!

  3. Andrew_M_Garland:

    Mr. Figliola's first point: "Winston Smith would easily trade the sadistic totalitarian government of "1984" for a ban on sugary drinks in 16-ounce cups."

    That is a winning argument. Figliola: [in essence] The drink ban is not nearly as bad as torture and brainwashing, so what is your objection again?

    Now I understand why laws by Liberals/Progressives/Marxists are so awful. They must say to each other, "This law is not nearly as bad as torture and brainwashing", so what is the problem?

  4. MingoV:

    "According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC,
    more than one-third of United States adults -- 35.7 percent -- are

    It's easy to create a crisis when you are free to change definitions. Up until the 1980s that standard method for assessing weight was to use the Metropolitan Life weight and height tables. These tables used sex, height, body frame (small, medium, large), and age brackets to establish normal, underweight, overweight, and obese categories.

    That method was too complex for government public health workers and epidemiologists, so they adopted the body mass index (BMI) that was NEVER intended to be used for classifying thinness or obesity. It was designed to help clinicians and clinical pharmacologists calculate drug dosages. However, public health types established BMI ranges for underweight, normal, overweight, and obese. The ranges sucked: muscular people were categorized as overweight, fat people with little muscle mass (common among elderly) were categorized as normal, and some overweight people were classified as obese.

    Not content with that fiasco, in the late 1990s the government modified the BMI ranges. The CDC adopted those ranges a few years later, and voila! The prevalence of obesity jumped by over 10%. Michael Jordan was categorized as obese. Most athletes were categorized as overweight. But, the goal of worsening our obesity "epidemic" was achieved. The CDC can focus on obesity instead of on the continuing problems of sexually transmitted diseases, communicable disease spread in hospitals and nursing homes, increasingly common multi-drug resistant microorganisms, etc.

  5. gregnullet:

    The author sounds like some chunky guy trying to psych himself into losing 30 lbs. So I read his article because I need to lose 20. But found no guidance. His economic argument about the $147 billion is rebutted by the economic value of the agriculture and food service industries. Speaking strictly economically, it's better to lose a few from the herd than to cut back on sales. They spend their income just the same - on wheelchairs and oxygen tanks instead of bicycles and park passes - so who cares.
    He talks about giving people better choices, but they've had those all along. And the analogy to cigarettes is just silly. I don't care if you smoke as long as you're downwind. Watching you eat a quart of ice cream doesn't bother me. It's kind of amusing.

    And that's the real point. They're trying to make it a moral issue. Pfft.

  6. Rick Caird:

    On Coyoteblog, yes. But, I am quite certain the comments at the NYT would be running the other way.

  7. wintercow20:

    I love the Trojan Horse, because it requires totalitarians to admit that what they are doing is not actually scientific. I am pretty sure that if people become obese enough, they will die early enough in life so that aggregate "social" health care costs from people being really obese are lower than if they were healthier. The same goes for smoking. Ask someone about this and ask why, according to the theory that "we all pay for their health" we should not perhaps subsidize sodas and cigarettes and the answer will be, "because it's bad for THEM" and implied is that "I just don't like it." No science there.

    You'll see folks try to rescue themselves by appealing to some macro insight about obese people being less productive. And of course once we walk down that path, that opens the door to force Coyote back to Exxon and to quit his life as a Park Manager because we would have "higher productivity" with him in that professsion. We'd be forced to take fewer vacations. We'd ban most people from studying the Humanities on someone else's dime. And so it goes. If you have a claim on my productivity, I shouldn't even be permitted to comment on Coyote's site, for I could be turning some of my kitchen utensils into steel lumps for export (using backyard suburban Rochester wind to power the operation of course).

  8. Not Sure:

    "There really is a very simple test for this - simply imagine the coercive power you advocate in the hands of your worst political enemy. Still happy with it? I bet not."
    The problem with this test is that for the people who want to run your life (and everyone else's) who would answer "No, I'm not happy with it", the solution is never to limit the power of the government to dictate how people live. The solution for these people runs more along the lines of finding a way to insure that only their guys are ever in a position to dictate those decisions.

  9. SamWah:

    Much like Not Sure, I believe these people are convinced that they can hang on to this power.

  10. Gil:

    I believe the BMI test is a guide not a hard and fast test. Hence is someone has little muscle mass and is classed as obese after a BMI calculation then they're in trouble and may need to undergo further testing. On the other hand, how many muscle heads who are "obese" via the BMI test aren't "juicing"?

  11. Settin it str8:

    This is the problem with a one size fits all. LeBron James. 6'8", 250. Per BMI "guidelines", he is overweight with a score of 27.5. Obese is 30 or higher. However, if he was 165, he's on the low end of "normal". 6'8", 165??? Total hogwash.

  12. Daublin:

    There's a parallel to the laws around marijuana. A lot of the momentum against marijuana came from a culture war on Latinos. As best as I can tell, much of the momentum for laws on sugary drinks has to do with a culture war on "fatties".

    That is, nobody wants such laws for themselves. They want to punish other people.

  13. Joshua Vanderberg:

    Exactly, when creating a totalitarian state, you'd better eviscerate the opposition (either politically or in actuality) and amend your constitution to make sure that only your party, or dictator, has access to the reins of power.

  14. obloodyhell:

    Yeah, sure it ends with that.

    Jacksonville City/County (same thing) Commission considers telling people how to tie up their dogs:

  15. obloodyhell:

    }}} The CDC can focus on obesity instead of on the continuing problems of sexually transmitted diseases, communicable disease spread in hospitals and nursing homes, increasingly common multi-drug resistant microorganisms, etc.

    Or... HORROR OF HORRORS!! ... not focus on doing ANYTHING, thus saving money.

  16. obloodyhell:

    }}} Mayor Blumberg should take a long walk off a short pier or change his name to Benito or Adolph.

    Herr Diktator Bloomberg needs to eat a lead salad to solve his problems. >:-/

  17. obloodyhell:

    Except it's a crap shoot as to who it is has the reins after the game of musical power plays is over and done.

    Since the winner is, almost tautologically, usually the most unscrupulous, unprincipled son of a bitch playing the game -- it's pretty much ALWAYS a very bad game to allow the government to play.

  18. HenryBowman419:

    H.G. Wells was a devout Socialist, so it comes as no surprise that he would favor top-down rule. Democracy, after all, is quite messy: it's much cleaner to permit the smart and learned folks to run things.

  19. Gil:

    I repeat: how many can naturally add huge amounts of muscle mass? Chances they're taking something and their overloading their body so it's not surprising such men drop dead in their forties and fifties.

  20. Orion Henderson:

    I am a bit of meat head and my BM I is 26.3. "Overweight". You would describe me as muscular and I am waaayy to cheap to juice. I know lots of people who are similar to me. You absolutely do not need to juice to have enough muscle mass to be overweight according to BMI. Carry on./

  21. marque2:

    I wonder how much of the pot story is just myth. The story I heard, is that Pot was made illegal because people thought smoking pot would lead white women to mate with black men from Jazz clubs.

    Now it is a Latino thing? What do Latinos have to do with pot? Anyway most of the pot heads I have ever seen are lily white.

    In the 1980's the black community was all in arms about Crack and fought to get really serious laws against it. Then a few years later, the same leaders were upset that so many black people were in jail for crack violations that seemed disproportionately strong when compared to other drugs - and of course that turned into other drugs "White people use." That falls in the can't win territory. There is some truth about the other people, but this shows that folks will do it to themselves as well.

  22. nehemiah:

    “If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself. A dependence on the people is, no doubt, the primary control on the government; but experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions.” James Madison

    I think he and Jefferson would be surprised we kept it together as long as we did.

  23. mesaeconoguy:

    Modern leftists are totalitarian neofascists.

  24. bigmaq1980:

    As with all things the government puts in place, it grows beyond its original intent and becomes a permanent force against the governed. Give an inch, they take a mile.

    With Bloombutt, there consistently appears to be the attitude that he is the smart guy and everyone else is stupid. Therefore, he needs to enact laws to make others do what he thinks is good for essence, a form of benevolent paternal dictatorship.

    This is the same guy who got the laws changed so he could run a third term, because he was needed "for the crisis". Wonder if he would have thought highly of Giuliani had he done something similar after 9/11?

    He is one bad apple!

  25. Harry:

    The progressive conceit is to assume experts, especially with big computers, can manage every problem. I should add that usually the solutions they propose invariably involve cosmic amounts of other people's money.

  26. norse:

    Well, obesity *is* a real problem. And I am certain that if we used the templates for the enormously successful wars on drugs and terror, we could win this major battle in no time. Deport fatties to Guantanamo, seize their assets, use drones to hunt them down and blow the pack leaders into bits. America will be a very different place.

    On a related note: Why the hell is everyone so hell-bent on regulating other peoples lives for them? I mean, there's this freedom thing I heard about, sounded kind of interesting, if somewhat utopic.