New York Mayor Bill de … Blasio’s undeniable truism—that Gotham is really two cities—goes a long way toward explaining the nanny-state policies that de Blasio will likely continuewrites Benny Huang.
As a city councilman, de Blasio had a mixed voting record toward then-Mayor Bloomberg’s restrictions on salt, trans fats, smoking, baby formula, and whatever else he felt like regulating. Nonetheless, de Blasio has made no indication that he will repeal Bloomberg’s legacy and even thanked the outgoing mayor for his accomplishments in the field of “public health.”
In order to understand Bloomberg’s (and likely de Blasio’s) impulse to regulate other people’s bad habits, it’s necessary to understand that powerful people in New York City are mostly rich and feel entitled to make the rules for everyone else. Michael Bloomberg’s personal worth is estimated at about $31 billion, making him the tenth richest person in America. De Blasio is a mere multi-millionaire.
Rich, politically-influential New Yorkers have both the means and the motive to force reform upon their fellow citizens in skid row neighborhoods like East New York and the South Bronx. The affluent really believe that they like poor people despite the fact they are physically repulsed by their presence and thus never associate with them. In their own minds, however, they are staunch supporters of the less fortunate because they use tax dollars to secure indigent citizens’ political allegiance, something we used to call vote-buying in a more candid age.
It’s not poor people who make them cringe. It’s smokers and the obese.
But smoking is undoubtedly the [pastime] of the lower class. A 2010 study from the Center for Disease Control found that 28.9 percent of adults below the poverty line were smokers. The stigma attached to smoking increases the closer one gets to high society.
Bloomberg’s fanatical antismoking crusade has driven up the price of cigarettes and made it illegal to smoke nearly everywhere. Twenty Marlboros will cost you about $12.50 in New York today. Discount brands like Pyramid cost $10.50 per pack, the city-imposed minimum price.
It’s for your own good, the nanny-staters would say. But it isn’t the government’s business to make us stop smoking, or eat our vegetables, or go outside and play. In any case, while the added tax burden has driven some poor smokers to quit, it has also driven others (deeper) into the poor house. Smokers in New York who earn less than $30,000 per year are watching about a quarter of their income go up in smoke. Tobacco taxes are regressive taxes.
Bloomberg’s controversial Big Gulp ban is another example of rich people dictating lifestyle choices to poor people. No one in Bloomberg’s social circle would be caught dead with an oversized plastic cup of fizzy water and corn syrup. It’s just tacky. They prefer Perrier, or a fine Scotch before bed.
Rich New Yorkers recognized (correctly) that the city’s underclass suffers from a bit of a weight problem and resolved to fix it for them. What they really wanted to do was ban gluttony, which is the true scourge, though impossible to eliminate via legislation. So they began by banning sugary drinks larger than sixteen ounces.
Mayor Bloomberg knows exactly which demographic group needs to shed some pounds. As he explained on Face the Nation in March 2013, “It — being overweight is the first time it’s gone from a rich person’s disease to a poor person’s disease. We’ve just got to do something.”
By “do[ing] something” he means banning Big Gulps. When that doesn’t solve the obesity crisis, and it won’t, the city will move on to banning buffet restaurants, free drink refills, twinkies, ho-hos and whatever else the benevolent government thinks its citizens should not consume.
Take note, however, of which economic class Mayor Bloomberg thinks he is saving from themselves. In his mind he’s doing poor folks a favor when he assumes the role of portion police, but in reality he’s merely showing his prejudice that poor people are disgustingly fat and too stupid to understand why. He must believe that they need the government to ban their bad habits, one after another, until they’re eating organic arugula from Whole Foods.
New York’s failed expedition into governmental nannying is symptomatic of its class structure. Rich people’s scolding is really a form of snobbery masquerading as concern for poor people’s well-being. Rather than admit that the underclass repulses them, wealthy New Yorkers try to strip away their repulsive behavior by force of law. Expect the trend to continue through the de Blasio years.