Graver: The Four Loko precedent

Earlier this week, as I was checking my Facebook, I noticed a startling number of distressed status updates coming from many of my high school friends. At first, I was confused by the ambiguous cries of despair, but with a little further investigation, I discovered the cause of the widespread anguish — Four Loko was banned in New York. Now illegal in five states, with legislation pending in others (including Connecticut), Four Loko is rapidly being legislated out of existence. Love it or hate it, the beverage and its equivalents are on the fast track towards extinction.

This is far from an isolated incident, and Four Loko is just the most recent casualty of an ever-expanding reach of government. In New York City, Mayor Bloomberg has banned trans-fats and waged a “war on salt.” In Washington, D.C., there is a sin tax on soda and candy. In select cities of California, toys are not allowed in happy meals. Again and again, across this country, government is telling us what we can or can’t put into our bodies.

Consumption, not abortion or gay marriage, is the defining social issue of our generation. From forbidding us from drinking Four Loko to requiring us to purchase a domestic service (health care), government is incrementally seizing a self-perpetuated mandate of individual social planning. Our generation has a crucial and necessary opportunity to stand in the way of this trend and yell, “Stop.”

The expansion of government’s scope into private individual conduct needs to be evaluated in the framework of both principle and practice. With regards to the latter, government regulation and prohibition is counterproductive to its desired social ends. Despite the best efforts of the state, cultural mores and human impulses cannot be legislated out of the national psyche. Prohibition of alcohol in the early 20th century augmented the problem and drove it underground, proliferating both crime and instability. History is repeating itself in our daft war on drugs as well as our prohibition of the world’s oldest profession — the conduct remains, but it inherits criminal and dangerous elements.

The demand for behavior-enabling agents, be it for an evening companion or to get blackout drunk, remains regardless of government interference. Regulations and interdictions do not eliminate suppliers, but rather fuel the necessity to innovate in the free market. For example, our parents’ generation wouldn’t have thought to mix cough syrup and alcohol to get a better buzz — but just hike the drinking age up to 21 and increase various regulations, and now we find it in punch bowls across America. It is not that their generation was more prone to Amish tendencies (judging from “Animal House”), but that human desires exist and as long as they are there, we will conceive of ways to accommodate them.

Moreover, not only is government’s regulation of private conduct inefficient, but it goes far beyond the state’s acceptable role. Private conduct, which has no direct effect on public well-being, should fall outside of government. Granted, through the justice system, we have given government the mandate to deem what is right and what is wrong. However, the context of that power must be established. The dichotomy of appropriate behavior in a society must be judged in its relation to civil order. Government should not be the arbiter of morality.

Having pitched the complete governmental withdrawal from private conduct and relevant products before, I’ve noticed that one objection continually arises: removing government from protecting the ill-informed, young or poverty-stricken from making bad decisions will lead to their widespread, and inevitable, demise. However, prohibition (whose faults prevent it, as I noted earlier, from solving anything) and education are two very different concepts. I have no problem with the state taking it upon itself, be it in the classroom or through public advertising, to educate our populace on the facets of good health.

Nevertheless, I say this with a caveat, emphasizing the line between punitive and proper messages. We should educate about the dangers of excess, but not selectively target certain industries for some product’s intrinsic evil. This picking and choosing is inconsistent, and therefore unfair: we slap grotesque pictures of cancer on cigarette boxes but leave other products, like Happy Meals or Twinkies, alone (why no picture of a diabetic’s removed foot?) for subjective reasons. The potential of abuse by the few should not negate the freedom of the many. There is a noble goal in striving to encourage informed decisions, but we must fundamentally preserve the freedom to make those decisions.

Our generation can discover a middle ground by embracing social libertarianism. In fact, the left more often echoes this view of government than the right — either calling for government to keep off a woman’s body or to remain out of the marriage question. An acceptance of social libertarianism is a belief not only in the inherent reason of the individual, but a rejection of governmentally coerced conduct. There is a valid discussion to be had about the extent of government’s influence on behavior through varying forms of education, but choice must ultimately be preserved. Whether the issue is gay marriage or controlled substances, liberty cannot exist without sovereignty being preserved at the individual level.

Harry Graver is a freshman in Davenport College.

Comments

  • RexMottram08

    Odd: the same ideology that bans Happy Meals and Cigarettes cannot stop horrors like Partial-Birth Abortion…

  • Standards

    RexMottramo8, never failing to bring abortion into every single discussion. It’s like you have abortion Tourette’s.

  • River Tam

    > RexMottramo8, never failing to bring abortion into every single discussion. It’s like you have abortion Tourette’s.

    It’s almost like he thinks that abortion is murder or something.

    (seriously, if you thought that something was the moral equivalent of murder, wouldn’t you bring it up a whole lot when it was being done millions of times every year?)

  • RexMottram08

    Standards,

    I enjoyed your insightful and worthwhile comment!

  • Standards

    You mean if I was myopic and couldn’t think critically about an issue, would I bring it up a lot? Why, I guess I probably.

    And Rex, I enjoy how you find it appropriate to criticize me for worthwhile comments when you find abortion a reasonable extension of an article about failed alcohol policy.

    And let’s be clear: under no metric where murder is considered wrong (speaking strictly from the point of view of the victim) does abortion or partial birth abortion apply. And if you’d like to make the (tenuous) argument that it is, I welcome you to. But I hope you don’t expect anyone to take you seriously when you speak as if it is self-evident truth that abortions are horrors that any sensible legislature would recognize on par with banning four lokos.

  • River Tam

    > You mean if I was myopic and couldn’t think critically about an issue, would I bring it up a lot? Why, I guess I probably.

    You accidentally the rest of the sentence.

    > But I hope you don’t expect anyone to take you seriously when you speak as if it is self-evident truth that abortions are horrors that any sensible legislature would recognize on par with banning four lokos.

    If we’re going to play the “self-evident” test, I’d wager that more Americans want to ban abortion rather than Four Loko right now. I know – it’s crazy.

    Step outside the Yale bubble.

  • Mikelawyr2

    Hey, River Tam?

    You don’t really think abortion is murder. Because if you did, and you saw it going on, right now, by the millions, a true holocaust right in your midst, as you claim it is, you’d do more than just bitch on a Yale Daily News website.

    As violent as those Eric Rudolphs are, at least they’re acting consistently with their beliefs. You, on the other hand, don’t really believe that a pinhead-sized thingie is entitled to the same reverence, the same set of precious human rights, as you are. Otherwise, you’d stop talking and do something besides send a check now and then. No, you really don’t believe a little thingie is a baby. They’re flicking those fetuses away right now on Whitney Avenue, and you’re not doing a thing. But no — you’re not a shameless, spineless collaborator. You’re just a hypocrite, because you’re drawing the same line as any pro-choice person would, maybe at a different place, but you’re drawing a line, you’re differentiating, between a human being and a thingie.

  • Standards

    I didn’t accidentally anything, champ. If I blank then would I blank? Why (used as an exclamation!) I guess, probably. I would have been more careful with that last comma if I had known it was so critical to your reading comprehension.

    And considering that more of the American public believes in psychics than evolution, call me un-swayed. If you’re going to appeal to popular opinion favoring poorly thought out ideas, then you’ve convinced me that your idea is self-evident when no critical thinking is applied. Kudos.

  • RexMottram08

    Standards,

    I didn’t hijack the thread. It is a reasonable observation that a reasonable person can make: it is an odd ideology that spends so much hot air banning a little combo of caffeine and alcohol when there are children being killed in the womb…

  • River Tam

    > You don’t really think abortion is murder. Because if you did, and you saw it going on, right now, by the millions, a true holocaust right in your midst, as you claim it is, you’d do more than just bitch on a Yale Daily News website.

    Did I say I did? I was defending RexMottram08’s actions (ie: always talking about abortion) as being consistent with his beliefs. Do you think a genocide is going on in Darfur? Are you strapping a gun to your back and going over there to stop it? No? Didn’t think so.

    > As violent as those Eric Rudolphs are, at least they’re acting consistently with their beliefs.

    On the other hand, John Roberts and Antonin Scalia are far more effective methods of preventing abortion than bombing the Olympics.

  • RexMottram08

    Oh RiverTam!

    Have some passion! Go fly some planes into buildings! That’s the peaceful way to defend principles!

  • Standards

    Rex,

    You didn’t hijack the thread? You made it about abortion for no reason.

    And children being killed in the womb? There you go using unjustified and hyperbolic rhetoric.

    They are not children. They are not people. It is not murder. Stop acting as if it is.

  • River Tam

    > They are not children. They are not people.

    Chilling.

  • The Anti-Yale

    The fact is that no one KNOWS when life begins (not the Pope; not Sarah Palin; not Antonin Scalia) , and therefore it is impossible to say that removing a zygote from a uterine wall in NOT MURDER, a point I have been making at and around Yale for 35 years. (see link below)

    http://sexandabortion.blogspot.com

  • Standards

    The issue is not whether a fetus is alive. The issue is whether or not it is a person.

    Terminating life is not murder. To claim as such is a fundamental mistake in basic reasoning (last I checked plants are life but no one claims that the liberals should stop addressing four lokos and attend to the horrific practice of late-term lawn care)

    Murder is not wrong because you are terminating life, it is because you are terminating a person.

    So PK, it is not impossible to say removing a zygote from a uterine wall is not murder, because it fits no criterion that murder fits.

  • penny_lane

    As far as preventing those of low SES from making poor health choices goes, my favorite proposed method is to prevent the use of food stamps to buy soda. I definitely don’t mind the idea of the government regulating how private citizens can spend generously given tax-payer money.

    I go back and forth on the sin tax question. While I resent that I should have to pay extra on the rare occasion I actually want a soda just so I can pay for the excesses of others, it DOES make sense to tax products the consumption/use of which has demonstrable cost to society (e.g., alcohol playing a role in most violent crime, obesity/smoking related illnesses contributing to high health care costs) in order to help defray those costs.

    Banning, however, is not the way to go (with either Four Loko *or* abortion). Banning simply forces the action underground, rather than eliminating it. Kids are just going to drive to MA to stock up on Four Loko and drink it in secret; women who want abortions are going to try to use coat hangers or dangerously high doses of medications with abortifacient side-effects. Education and warning labels, as the author suggests, are the way to go–one thing I do always find funny is that those who most want to ban abortion often tend to be those who oppose teaching teenagers how to use contraceptives.

  • The Anti-Yale

    Hello Standards,

    I believe I have raised a different issue, albeit under the rubric of “religious ethics”: see http://sexandabortion.blogspot.com

    PK

  • River Tam

    > (last I checked plants are life but no one claims that the liberals should stop addressing four lokos and attend to the horrific practice of late-term lawn care)

    Plants are not human life. The claim (or at least one of the possible pro-Life positions) is that *all human life* is worthy of personhood.

    To confuse “life” with “human life” is a fundamental mistake in basic reasoning, as you like to say.

  • The Anti-Yale

    “hijack the thread”? What kind of OCD language is that?

    A mixed thread gives texture , body and interest to the weave.

  • Undergrad

    In our debates about lowering the drinking age, banning Four Loko, etc., one thing always seems to be missing: the car (not surprising considering very few Yalies have one). In these cases, the government regulations aren’t purely about imposing puritanical moral standards on the people, but about protecting people from the disastrous consequences of OTHER people’s actions–DUI in particular. (Mixing caffeine with alcohol makes people more likely to think they’re able to drive when they really aren’t.) Even if making things illegal doesn’t completely eliminate the problem–if people smuggle Four Loko from MA, for example–the new difficulty serves as a deterrent for more people than as an enticement, and this ban will probably save lives, both on and off the road. And mixing caffeine and alcohol is not a “natural human instinct”–it’s taking two external substances into your body in a dangerous combination.

  • morsel

    Moving away form the moral / ethical concerns out of the ‘should the government allow / control X’ debate, a driver of these recent extensions of government reach appears to be economic. Say what you will about morality and abortion, the fact of the matter is that you the American taxpayer do not pay for the women who undergoes such a procedure to the same extent you do someone who is severely diabetic and needs to be rushed to the hospital so that his or her foot can be amputated.

    In the former case, it is the woman or (at least if she is a Yalie) her non-government sponsored health plan that pays for the procedure and it is offered by, among other places, non-profits such as Planned Parenthood. But in the latter case, should the person be unable to pay for his or her emergency procedure — either the balance left over after the insurer paid its share, or in the case that the person does not have insurance, the entire bill, it is you, as a fellow participant in this country’s healthcare system, who pay.

    You pay because for each person who either is not insured or who otherwise cannot pay for some or all of his or her emergency care, the hospital accounts for the shortfall for raising the costs for those who can pay, be that person or entity a private individual, for-profit insurer, or government. As hospitals’ costs rise, so too do those of all who purchase insurance, medical care, or who pay taxes. The result is that more people drop out of the system, increasing the proportion of those who delay medical care until they are in an emergency situation and need to get taken to the hospital, where it is the law that the hospital treat the imperiled individual. So costs rise even more, further perpetuating the vicious (and here extremely simplified) healthcare cost cycle

    A tax on sugary sodas and a ban on trans fat is one way to account for the costs to society when someone purchases those products as well as to dissuade, in the case of the taxes, people from purchasing them (just like the large taxes on cigarettes).

    It’s not perfect. However while it might be better to only tax people with body fat percentage over XX who purchase sugary soda or eat fatty foods, when that happens, pigs will fly.

    Ultimately the government, This raises costs for the consumer a number of private insurers who face larger hospital bills, for the government, who faces increased pressure to

  • RexMottram08

    Luckily, we know how this story ends…

    with millions dead in the gulags…

  • LouieLouie

    “The fact is that no one KNOWS when life begins (not the Pope; not Sarah Palin; not Antonin Scalia) ”

    This is the main point. No one KNOWS today and no one will know in the future. The point is that it is a woman’s choice as to what she decides for her own body. Each woman will decide whether or not they believe it is a living thing or not; not some stupid Superior Court judge who watches pornography and sexual harrasses women he works with. If it cannot live outside the womb, it is not yet a human being. If it can be stored in the freezer, it is not yet a human being. If only we could put fully formed humans in the freezer and thaw them out when we need them just as we do with embryos.

  • RexMottram08

    LouieLouie,

    You must have avoided science textbooks growing up… the beginning of life is a settled matter. Now, various schools of thought place different levels of significance on that beginning, but we know that life begins with conception…

  • River Tam

    > You must have avoided science textbooks growing up… the beginning of life is a settled matter. Now, various schools of thought place different levels of significance on that beginning, but we know that life begins with conception…

    Right – the question is not where “life” begins, but where “personhood” begins.