Taxing and Banning: The Only Clear Strategies Our Leaders Seem to Have

04/19/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

In these troubled times it seems the one thing that we can be sure of is that bureaucrats and politicians (unfortunately increasingly interchangeable these days) who are bereft of any clear strategies for tackling the big issues of our day are keen to go after the small pleasures of life and hit us where it hurts.

Departing London this past Sunday, leading as headline news was the suggestion by the UK Government's Chief Medical Officer that the price of alcohol should be increased significantly, in some case doubling. Of course, we are told this is purely because of the health problems of "binge drinking" . However, It does seem odd that in a world where the big competing political visions have disintegrated, one of the few things leaders seem to be able to take a tough stand on is interfering increasingly in our everyday lives.

We all know about the smoking bans that have become the rage in various major cities (and in various states in the US there are "smoking zones" and some bans even in cars!)

In addition to this of course has been the banning of trans fats in New York restaurants and I reported some time ago on Huffington Post that I believe the consistent intervention in what we do in our private time is far unhealthier than anything we may eat or drink. Others disagreed of course, as I note some unsavory attitudes to ordinary people in another Huffington Post series of readers comments.

Alas, as with all of these banning tendencies, once started, the dynamic seems to be to continue. Thus we find ourselves in the strange world of managing citizens' few pleasures and the continual obsession with food has led to the bizarre promotion of the idea by a doctor at British Medical Association conference in Scotland that chocolates be taxed by 20%.

Increasingly, these actions reflect a disdain for ordinary people and the outrageous notion that we should be treated like children and have the most private parts of our lives managed. Whether one believes obesity is a problem or not the idea that we as responsible adults can make our own minds up is increasingly being eroded.

So too we have witnessed Governor Paterson's attempt to
promote tax on sodas and indeed Mayor Bloomberg, not sufficiently happy with the bans on smoking and trans fats, to target salt in our food.

Of course there are many discussions to have about food -- why so many people in the world don't have enough, or how perhaps the world could have the inspiring example of America where food is plentiful, an incredible achievement considering only a few generations ago the only debate about food was not whether it was fast, slow, real or not but just how to get enough of it.

As we can see that strategies for dealing with real problems in the world, such as economic recession, war and other big issues are far more difficult, we should beware of the expanding encroaching of our personal lives. Whether it is alcohol or chocolate, carbonated sodas or salt, the debate about food and our behavior in many ways gets to the heart of our current historical moment. Where those in power believe they have the Moral Authority, somewhat akin to the old Temperance Movement, to declare from high above over the contemptuous masses.

That is very unsavory -- and a much bigger health hazard than anything else currently.