“It’s like Salt in the Wound”

April 20, 2010

Reuters reports that the FDA is considering regulating the salt content of our food.  Three things strike me:

1—First of all, what is this, England?*  Shouldn’t a major restriction on both our and food companies’ liberty at least require a vote by Congress or some other politically accountable actor or body?

2—This is supposed to be a free country.  Even if it were being done by more democratic means, have we reached a point where we’re OK with bureaucrats (or politicians, if it were being done by more democratic means) hundreds of miles away telling us what to eat?  Imagine yourself as a Founding Father, such as Jefferson or Madison, or imagine yourself as a pioneer homesteading on the frontier:  Again, are you OK with some guy you’ve never met hundreds of miles away telling you what to do?  Didn’t we fight a Revolution about this?

3—Of course it’s for our own good, supposedly.  Americans have a “high sodium intake, which can lead to high blood pressure, kidney failure and strokes”.  But that’s liberty.  We can choose to do a lot of things that aren’t great for us.  I think a lot of television watching (by which presumably I mean both “a lot of the watching that people in fact do” and “watching a lot of television”, i.e. too much) is a waste of time, a waste of mind, and a waste of life.  Oh, no, the paternal federal government had better take away our television!  (Actually, what good is preventing kidney failure or strokes and extending my life if I’ll just waste it watching TV anyway?)

But I don’t think the government should do anything to restrict people’s television consumption.  That’s liberty.

It’s interesting that the Reuters article immediately frames the issue in terms of “failure”:  “Report said education campaigns have failed”.  “The Institute of Medicine said the move was needed because Americans get most of their sodium from processed and restaurant foods and merely telling them to eat less salt has not worked” (emphasis added).  But if this is the FDA’s framework for thinking about the matter, that means that the government’s leaving us a choice before was only a ruse:  It’s like someone who asks you to stop studying and go out for a drink with him, and you say No, but he keeps asking until you say Yes.  In theory, he’s giving you a choice, but in practice, he’s not at all, because one of the choices traps you in an infinitely repeating loop until you choose the other way.  (This is also like ostensibly giving a country a choice about adopting a certain constitution and ceding sovereignty to a creeping supra-national proto-state, but then making them do the referendum over and over again until they come back with the “right” answer.)

If you’re familiar with the BASIC or QBASIC programming language, it’s like this:


Are you alarmed about any of this?  Probably not.  Again, as Mark Steyn has pointed out in another context, if you’re willing to get used to the incremental changes as they come, nothing will ever be alarming to you:  That’s part of what incrementalism is.  Fortunately for you, one pro-regulation person interviewed for the Reuters article prudently advises, “I think slow and steady is the right way to go.”

—Update (April 21st, 2010): That’s a little bit creepy.  Reuters has already made that quote disappear from the article I was referring to (that must be what the otherwise unexplained “UPDATE 2” at the top of the article means), but the quote does still appear in a different Reuters article.


* See David Kopel’s extensively footnoted article “All the Way down the Slippery Slope: Gun Prohibition in England and Some Lessons for Civil Liberties in America”, in which we learn about an older gentleman who was nearly beaten to death by two men on the London subway.  Fortunately, at the last minute, he was able to draw his “swordstick”, a sword sheathed in an ordinary-looking cane or walking stick (at 3:55), and fend off his attackers.  For his brazen act of self-defense, this victim was tried and convicted of “carrying an offensive weapon”, although the court chose to suspend his sentence.

Although the man’s act of self-defense “was the only known instance of use of a swordstick in a ‘crime,'” an unelected cabinet minister “immediately outlawed possession of swordsticks,” to make sure that such an outrage would never happen again.

6 Responses to ““It’s like Salt in the Wound””

  1. Glenn Beck Says:

    Scott said the FDA has been meeting with food companies, which have already begun making plans to lower salt content.

    The companies themselves are lowering salt content, sans any regulations. So your argument regarding the “food companies’ liberty” makes no sense. They are using their liberty to reduce salt.

    Moreover, any regulation would not prevent any American from buying salt and putting it in their food. It would simply regulate what manufacturers do. Your arguments about freedom are nonsensical; salt will still be legal and available.

    • Sure, even if the federal government decreed that, say, commercially sold chocolate-chip cookies had to be completely salt-free, I would still be free to use a salt shaker to add an indeterminate amount of salt to the surface of each cookie, and I could pretend that that was the same as having the right amount of salt baked in—and if the federal government banned the sale of cookies entirely (for my own good, of course), I would still be free to bake my own; and if the federal government wholly outlawed the sale of guns, or of cars, I would still be free to smelt my own ore, try my hand at industrial engineering, and personally manufacture a gun or car for my own use—but all you’ve proven there is part of what I already said: There’s a continuum, from extreme liberty to complete tyranny, and you’ve successfully shown that America is not currently at the theoretical extreme tyranny end of the spectrum.

      In my original post, I was saying both (1) that in my opinion, America is going too far away from the liberty end, and (2) that because that change is being made gradually, you’re pretty comfortable with it. Far from showing that my arguments are nonsense, you are a case in point.

      As to your reassurance that, since “the FDA has been meeting with food companies”, those companies have already begun to reduce the salt content of their products “sans any regulations”, I’m not reassured. You might as well say that if the schoolyard bully “meets” with me and extorts my lunch money from me, but I give up the money before it actually comes to blows, then I’ve given it up “voluntarily”—just another choice, an equally valid use of my liberty, nothing to see here.

      Of course, your argument also ignores the fact that the whole article is about the prospect that the FDA will impose formal regulations (the title of the article is “U.S. FDA should regulate salt, panel says”), and the fact that the article presents the companies’ actions as lowering salt content gradually “so that they do not lose customers due to sudden changes in flavor”—i.e., when the FDA does impose regulations—i.e., the changes are being caused by the prospect of future regulation (the subtitle of the article is “Food companies already preparing for salt limits”).

  2. Smooth Says:

    Salt sucks.

  3. Glenn Beck Says:

    I am disappointed by your new moderation feature Chillingworth. Undue restrictions are not consonant with robust freedom of expression, which you purport to cherish.

    I feel as if my freedom has been curtailed.
    Remove this feature immediately before this blog loses all credibility.

  4. […] and force them to change the farming methods they’ve used for centuries.  In what is by now a familiar pattern, the government plans to start by pretending to offer friendly suggestions, “But if that does […]

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