The City of Boston and Carney Hospital in Dorchester, Massachusetts are banning the sale of sugar-sweetened drinks at their facilities and events. This includes the much-loved Gatorade.
Mayor Thomas “Mumbles” Menino justified the ban by arguing: “I want to make this a healthier choice, the easier choice in people’s daily lives, whether it’s the schools, the work sites or other places in the community.” Hmmm….as someone on a national radio show that I stumbled onto while driving today nicely pointed out, Menino (and the Carney Hospital) isn’t exactly allowing people to make a choice in what they buy in those places since he’s banning the sale altogether. This isn’t the case of him making it easier to make that choice by offering healthy alternatives or placing those alternatives in more accessible or attractive places for consumers; he’s restricting the ability of people to make any choice of what they buy on city property. To defend Menino, people still can choose in the fullest sense — but he’s imposing some not unsubstantial costs on them (for example, it is a real pain to have to bring soda to a city dinner or local football game just to have a Coke with your rubber chicken or luke-warm hot dog).
Now people being generally rational actors who will go to great lengths to satisfy their preferences, my guess is that we’ll just see a lot more folks walking down the street from their city office to the convenience store to buy what they really want or planning ahead and bringing soda onto the premises (which will probably inspire the good mayor – riffing off of some of Mayor Bloomberg’s actions a few hours south – to think about banning the consumption of such evil products on city property). Or people will buy things they don’t actually prefer – so that will shrink total welfare.
But I guess that Mayor Menino – like all public servants – just knows what is best for us, and he’s going to do everything he can do (within the limits of political acceptability) to make us comply.