When it comes to defending your rights, you can’t beat the real thing. Objecting to a ham-handed regulation may save you from it in the short term . But in the long run, the security of your rights depends on the acceptance of rights as moral principles—not just the rejection of a particular rule.

The Coca-Cola Co. therefore deserves some credit for a principled response to New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s efforts to restrict soda sizes . It tweeted :

Unlike @MikeBloomberg, @CocaColaCo thinks #NewYorkers can make their own choices about what they drink. #NYC deserves better.

It is, however, a bit unclear what the company means by “can” make. Does it mean that New Yorkers have the ability to make wise choices about soda? That, as a Coca-Cola Co. statement argues , they have enough nutrition data to make informed choices? Or that they are entitled to make their own choices, wise or otherwise? 

That last is the moral point that needs affirming in response to paternalistic regulations: People have a right to make their own choices. Because human life is a process of thinking, choosing and acting to sustain and enjoy one’s existence, too much control is far more poisonous than too much soda.

Likewise, while it’s good to see McDonald’s objecting, its tweet gets the moral issue wrong:

.@MikeBloomberg We trust our customers to make the choices that are best for them.

It isn’t a restaurant’s place to trust or not trust its customers with their own health, or to trust them to weigh their health against their other values wisely. Nor is it a city government’s place. You have a right to make those judgments: it’s your health, and the other values are yours too.

This distinction is important, not only because of the spiritual significance of accepting that one’s life is one’s own, but because if the question is whether McDonald’s customers make good health decisions, the answer in many cases may be no. And Bloomberg may be able to prove it. If you want to protect fast-food restaurants’ freedom to sell, and their customers’ freedom to buy, large cups of soda, you need to stand firm on the principle of liberty—as applied in this case, that making your own decisions about soda is so important that even the decision it would be best for you to make can’t actually be the best decision for you unless you exercise your own judgment and make it.

A hat-tip to Ari Armstrong of The Objective Standard, who posted in praise of Coca-Cola and McDonald’s .


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