Nannies or Nincompoops?

Matt makes the reasonable point that there is good reason for the nanny-state to look after children, so there’s nothing wrong in principle with the federal government getting involved in regulating the eating habits of public school kids. Right. But who believes that the federal government will regulate in the interests of children and not agribusiness? According to Kathryn Mulvey at Corporate Accountability International, not exactly a band of right-wing lunatics, the food pyramid released by the FDA is basically a corporate scam.

Of course, Mulvey believes that a virtuous government agency could somehow free itself from corporate influence. I find that pretty unlikely. By centralizing decision-making over school meals, we create a fat target for lobbyists. Decentralizing these decisions is far from perfect, but it strengthens the hand of local actors, including parents, who can bring pressure to bear on school administrators. Granted, many of these decisions are made at the level of states and overlarge school districts, which are subject to many of the same pressures as the federal governmnt. But if anything that is a case for further decentralization.

The reason federal intervention in setting school lunch menus is a form of “nanny-state foolishness” is less that the state has no business telling elementary school kids what to eat (here I part company with Cato) but rather that the so-called nanny-state can’t be trusted to be as good a nanny as parents or local educators. Note that federalizing standards has tended to mean lowering quality standards, particularly when it comes to food.

I never cease to be amazed by how eager people who’ve been on the receiving end of government incompetence are to give government more power and authority over their lives, and I say this as a fan of soft paternalism.