New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced recently a plan to ban large sodas (16 oz. or more) from New York City’s restaurants, movie theaters, and street carts, in an effort to combat obesity. It has created a wide-spread backlash among businesses—rightly so—led by Coca-Cola and MacDonald’s. They Tweeted, respectively: “Unlike @MikeBloomberg, @CocaColaCo thinks #NewYorkers can make their own choices about what they drink. #NYC deserves better.” And: “@MikeBloomberg We trust our customers to make the choices that are best for them.”
Although Coke, MacDonald’s and NYC businesses stand to lose some money if they cannot sell large sodas, that is not the most fundamental issue here—being able to trade freely is. Government dictating to business what size soft drinks they can sell violates the individual rights of these companies. And once the principle of liberty has been compromised, the door is open to further erosion of freedom. If the government can ban sales of large sodas, it can also ban sales of foods and other products it does not deem healthy. And the next step is to dictate what products we must buy in order to stay healthy or lose weight.
Why can’t we tolerate any initiation of force by government on business, even when it seems to be for a good cause such as reducing obesity? Freedom from physical force, whether initiated by criminals or government, is essential for survival and flourishing of individuals and businesses. For counter examples, think of statist regimes (such as Syria, Cuba, Iran, North Korea) and the miserable existence of their citizens. It is freedom, including free competition—not government’s use of force—that makes it possible for business to thrive: to come up with new, innovative, cheaper products and maximize long-term profitability. It is freedom—not government’s use of force—that makes it possible for individuals to make choices that benefit their lives (and to be responsible for those choices that do not). Therefore business, and we as individuals, should protest vigorously when the government oversteps the boundaries of its only proper role: protection of the rights of individuals—including those of business.