Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Government Bans: Phthalates and Popeye's

It's been my experience that human beings tend to shy away from particular, nuanced arguments that focus on nit-picky details and rather embrace a more broad, overarching view of reality which favors black or white comparisons rather than intricately explored shades of gray. That being said, let's pick some nits.

Southern L.A. apparently has too many fast food restaurants. So, the City Council plans to vote on Tuesday to enact a one year moratorium on new fast-food restaurants in an area of Southern L.A. dominated by fast-food restaurants. In a seemingly unrelated move Congress is working to ban the use of Phthalates, a common toxin used to make plastics more flexible. So, what possible relation can there be between Phthalates and fast food restaurants in Southern L.A.?

Both of these situations utilize a top-down approach to governing; a government body enacting its judgment on the population. One government body is set to ban the creation of more fast-food restaurants while another government body is set to ban Phthalates. So why do these two situations feel different? Why does placing Phthalates and Popeye's Chicken and Biscuits on the same status feel odd?

Part of the conversation is a discussion of government oversight versus personal responsibility with regard to toxins and Popeye's. Think of where personal responsibility seems more sensible within your own world view. Does it make sense to ban the creation of new fast food restaurants, to attempt to compell people to consume less fast food? Is it more or less sensible to ban the use of Phthalates? If consumers can identify unhealthy foods could not they also identify unhealthy Phthalates? Are individual consumers more equipped to assess foods or toxins? Does the government have a responsibility towards consumers with regard to foods and toxins or does that responsibility shift depending upon the particular conversation?

I can appreciate the consistency in these situations. Fast food is not healthy, Phthalates are not healthy, so government steps in to attempt to modify the situation. But what of that act of banning and control? Do we accept the notion that the government may ban that which it deems unhealthy and beneficial for the population or is there a role for individuals to make their own decisions? Ought we allow customers to eat Popeye's every day if they want to? Ought we allow customers to buy their children toys which contain Phthalates? What are the similarities and differences in these situations and in what way do those impact our views of the particular situations?

Interesting to me is what this says about the free market. If we have to actively prevent the free market from over-saturating an area with unhealthy foods AND we have to actively prevent the free market from poisoning babies...whence the "good" in the free market?

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