That’s restaurant bad boy Anthony Bourdain (Kitchen Confidential), on Chicago’s foie gras ban. Bourdain told interviewer Baylen Linnekin that if America does turn into a Singapore-style nanny state, “I can only hope we’ll have food as good as they do.” Asked about fast food: “People should be teased and humiliated for eating at McDonald’s,” he says. “I don’t think we should legislate them out of business.” (“Anthony Bourdain, Just Like Me: Is the Kitchen Confidential author-turned-television star a libertarian?”, AFF DoubleThink, Oct. 29).
Once Hog Butcher for the World and City of the Big Shoulders, Chicago has suddenly emerged as a hothouse of fussily paternalistic legislation aimed at such things as foie gras, trans fats and smoking in cars. “What did they put in the Chicago water supply?” (Miriam Gottfried, Forbes, Oct. 30).
In Part One, I proposed the following heuristic regarding paternalism:
To summarize, although it is not a proper function of government to proscribe “bad” decision making, perhaps a few isolated, objectively defensible carve-outs can be allowed in which the government makes it just a little bit harder to make a bad decision. Perhaps. Stated differently, a paternalist exception that actually proves the libertarian rule should probably be embraced and not shunned.
But does this qualify as such an exception?
In a payday loan transaction, the lender makes a small advance (typically $100-$500) to its customer, agreeing to hold a personal check for the loan amount plus a fee until the customer’s next payday. … The borrower receives cash immediately. Fees charged can range from $15 to $30 on each $100 advanced, although the typical fee is at the lower end of that range.
The fee may seem modest when presented as a dollar amount, but when calculated as an annual percentage rate (APR), the cost is relatively high. A charge of $15 to borrow $100 for 14 days amounts to an APR of 391%. A survey by consumer advocates found APRs on 14-day payday loans ranging from 390% to 871%.
No fewer than five separate bills were introduced in this session of Congress to limit or even ban payday loans. No fewer than four federal financial regulatory agencies, including the Federal Reserve, have launched investigations of the practice. Not to mention the states.
Chicago’s silly anti-foie gras law is taking effect next week (see Jun. 8 and links therein), but a planned commerce-clause lawsuit against the ban (via Wallace, whose post has a lot of good links on similar bad laws and proposals) is even more silly. In 1995, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals upheld an even sillier nanny-state ordinance against spray paint sales that was also challenged on commerce clause grounds: “Just as the Constitution does not enact Mr. Herbert Spencer’s Social Statics, so it does not enact prescriptions from the pages of The Journal of Law & Economics—where, we may assume, an article will appear in due course adding this ordinance to the long list of laws whose costs exceed their benefits.” (Full disclosure: I was a clerk for the author of that opinion at that time.)
Chicago’s recently enacted ban on the delicacy (Apr. 27, May 4) has got Alderman Edward M. Burke thinking: now that we’ve started, why can’t the city ban less healthy frying oils and that sort of thing too? (Fran Spielman, “Alderman wants to limit fatty, fried fast food”, Chicago Sun-Times, Jun. 8).
More: In April, the Washington Post ran an op-ed by a cardiologist who averred:
Food calories are so pervasively and inexpensively available in our environment that they should be regarded as a pollutant. Just as an asthmatic can’t help but inhale pollutants in the air all around him, we Americans cannot help but ingest the calories present in the environment all around us.
(John G. Sotos, “A Modest — and Slimming! — Proposal”, Apr. 7). The Consumerist (Apr. 13) and Rogier van Bakel (Apr. 18) react with appropriate scorn. And a new report commissioned by the federal government proposes that the feds jawbone restaurants into reducing portion sizes (“FDA Report Urges Restaurants to Help Downsize America”, AP/Washington Post, Jun. 3). See also Radley Balko, Apr. 21.
The dozen or so restaurants in town that serve the expensive French delicacy will be subject to $250 to $500 fines if they continue to do so. California has banned the production, but not the serving, of the fattened goose liver. (Fran Spielman, “City council approves foie gras ban”, Chicago Sun-Times, Apr. 26 (via Bainbridge)).