Ronda Storms is a state senator in Florida. She recently introduced a bill to prevent people in her state from using food stamps to buy unhealthy food like candy and soda. Here's a link to a piece in the NY Times about the bill. I wonder what folks reading this blog think about her proposal, especially those of you in my Philosophy and Public Issues class.
A tension that comes up often in ethical debates is between paternalism and autonomy. We want to protect other people from harm; but, at the same time, we want to let people have the freedom to do what they want to do. Obviously these goals can come into conflict. Consider laws having to do with wearing seat belts or laws requiring children to attend school. Such infringements on our freedom are often deemed justified--these seem like good laws to have. And this is true even if it means that people then don't have the freedom to refrain from using seat belts or going to school. But paternalism surely has its limits. Is this bill a case of paternalism running amok?
There may be rather strong philosophical arguments for extending things beyond food stamp reform. Foods that are very high in sugar and fat have severe negative health impacts and have very high costs to society (e.g., medical care costs, lower productivity at work, lower life expectancy, environmental deterioration, fewer people are able to serve effectively in the military, etc.)*. It might appear, then, that we ought to ban such products altogether. Surely many people would object to this sort of policy. But if we take paternalism seriously and we really care for members of society, then we've got fairly good reasons for banning such food or, at least, seriously rethinking our policies related to the food we eat.
Comments related to these issues are most welcome...
*These are all things that I've heard in debates about our food policy. You might be surprised to hear about worries regarding our ability to field an effective military, but this is something that's receiving a good deal of attention from the folks in Armed Forces recruiting in the U.S. This is a testament to how far-reaching the negative effects of our diet can be.