At a "Harvard Thinks Big" confab earlier this year, evolutionary biologist Daniel Lieberman offered his own bright idea for tackling the nation's obesity epidemic. Merely medicating it won't do, he said, and education is well-meaning but ineffective. His answer? "Coercion. … We should start telling corporations what to do." But not just corporations. He also advocated — "to hearty applause," the Harvard Gazette noted — "requiring people to exercise."
Lieberman's idea sounds radical. For now. But in fact, he is (pardon the term) only slightly ahead of the curve. Yale's Kelly Brownell has long advocated taxes on Twinkies, soda and other high-sugar snacks. That idea has gained support from New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, along with the mayors of Philadelphia and Baltimore, and state lawmakers in numerous states. The New York Times' Mark Bittman likens foods with added sugar to tobacco, and asks, "How do we regulate the consumption of dangerous foods? … We need the government on our side. It must acknowledge the dangers caused by the most unhealthy aspects of our diet and figure out how to help us cope with them." Bittman's colleague, Frank Bruni, agrees. In a column lamenting America's spreading waistline, he concludes that "we need to rethink and remake our environment much more thoroughly."
Government is not reason; it is not eloquent; it is force. Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master.