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where should city government draw the line?

Jeanne Boyarsky
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Given that all the posts in this forum are about religion, I feel the need to diversify and talk about politics.

I live in New York City and our Mayor (Bloomberg) has introduced a number of controversial laws.

1) Post calorie counts on menus of chain restaurants. (I hear this one is under consideration on a national level.) - This one doesn't bother me. You tune them out after a while.
2) Banning smoking practically everyone. - THis one I appreciate as second hand smoke bothers me a lot.
3) Banning restaurants and some stores from selling non-diet soda over a certain number of ounces. - I don't drink soda, but I really don't like this. For one thing, it implies that diet soda is perfectly fine. (Prevention magazine lists some reasons diet soda is bad for you. Plus, not all artificial sweeteners are healthy.) And there are many unhealthy things you can still buy. Like the giant cup of whatever 7-11 calls it; still empty calories. It bothers me that the government is making a statement about the health value of one food. (Cigarettes are different because second hand smoke harms others. If you want to drink soda, I don't breathe it in.)
4) Mandatory recycling - we've recycled for a long time now, but more materials got added recently. - I think this is good, mostly. Fining people who don't recycle does get people to recycle. The problem is that private houses leave the garbage bag in a small pail on the curb and then go to work. Others have hours to throw things in the pail. And if "things" are recyclable items, the homeowner gets a fine.
5) Future - food scrap recycling. This one is going to be interesting.

So what do you think? How involved should a city be in the lives of its residents?


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Bear Bibeault
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I have absolutely zero problem with laws that protect people from harm from other people's stupidity. Public smoking is a perfect example. If someone wants to poison their body, that's one thing. Subjecting others to the poison is another.

When it comes to protecting people from their own stupidity, I think that slope is much more slippery and "the line" is much grayer.

We have lots of such laws: seat belt laws, helmet laws, and so on. Some might argue that all such laws should be gone, but I don't think I agree. I'm old enough to remember when there were no seat belt laws, and -- guess what? -- no one wore seat belts. Without seat belt laws, I don't think their use would have become as second nature as it is today.

The sugary drink type laws I have a problem with as I think they are over that nebulous line between making people do something that they should be doing anyways, and restricting personal choices.

The difficulty comes in determining where that murky line is drawn.


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Jeanne Boyarsky
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Really - there weren't always seat belt laws?!

Although I guess someone will say that about bike helmet laws. Right now, the law where I live is that only children under 16 are required to wear helmets. (And when I was under 16, that wasn't the law.) Which means with the new Citibike share program, most people aren't wearing helmets. While riding on the "safe" streets of NYC. Unfortunately, I think it's only a matter of time before someone dies who would have "merely" been severely injured wearing a helmet. (I'm not saying this to be a doomsayer - it's a big city - there are a lot of bikes and accidents.) And yes, I know many European cities do the biking without helmets thing.

I don't consider helmets or seatbelts to be an individual stupidity thing. If someone is driving and a biker winds up right in front of them, it doesn't matter who causes the accident. The biker is in trouble. And for the driver - who had no say in whether the biker had a helmet on - faces possibly killing someone unnecessarily. And lets's not assume the biker is innocent. I've been almost hit as a pedestrian by a biker going the wrong way on a one way street. This being NYC, he yelled at me for not looking both ways. Granted, I did learn that I need to look both ways on a one way street for fools going the wrong way. But that's not the point.
Paul Clapham
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Jeanne Boyarsky wrote:Really - there weren't always seat belt laws?!


No, there weren't. (Yeah, I guess you're being ironic.) I remember when they first came in, and I remember the amazing reasons I heard why wearing seat belts was a bad thing.

"If I wear a seatbelt then I wouldn't be thrown out of the car in an accident, and then I might be trapped in a burning car."

"Seatbelts mess up my clothes."
Ulf Dittmer
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I think Bear sums it up well. I would add two points:

#1) I don't think cities are the best level at which to address these issues. It's confusing when people move, and leads to a hodge-podge of different regulations. It's also harder to gain efficiencies of scale, e.g. for garbage recollection systems or companies.

#2) Where it gets murky when considering what people should be allowed to do to themselves is when there are costs to society beyond those inflicted on themselves. I think insurances can play a bigger role in this. While an insurance generally means a pooling of different risks, it's already the case that not everybody pays the same premiums for the same policies. E.g., if you're 20 you can expect to pay more for car insurance than if you're 30 (provided you have a good driving record). If you're insuring a house on the FL coast you can expect to pay more than if you were living on the CT coast. While it's difficult to charge premiums for risky (and possibly non-verifiable) behavior, insurances can try to promote "good" behavior. Of course, to stay with the example of smoking, while smokers generally incur higher health costs, on average they also die younger (but that "benefit" materializes in lower payouts from the retirement system, not the health system). But an earlier death also means they pay premiums for fewer years. So it gets tricky to calculate.


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Jesper de Jong
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Jeanne Boyarsky wrote:Really - there weren't always seat belt laws?!

When highways were a new thing, in the 1950's or so, there weren't very many rules at all. There was no speed limit, for example. I saw a documentary months ago about the first highways being built in Britain. People were just driving as fast as the car could go. No speed limits, no seatbelts.

Many highways in Germany still don't have speed limits. You shouldn't be surprised if you're flying 160 km/h (100 mph) in the left lane and you see some big fat Mercedes, BMW or Porsche approaching at high speed in your back mirror, flashing lights to suggest you'd better move over.


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Bear Bibeault
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Yes, my first experience with German highways was rather enlightening (as in frightening).
fred rosenberger
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Jesper de Jong wrote:Many highways in Germany still don't have speed limits. You shouldn't be surprised if you're flying 160 km/h (100 mph) in the left lane and you see some big fat Mercedes, BMW or Porsche approaching at high speed in your back mirror, flashing lights to suggest you'd better move over.

My understanding (and please correct me if I'm wrong) is that driving is done with a different philosophy over there, at least on the autobahn. People aren't eating, putting on makeup, shaving, drinking coffee, texting, or really much of anything else...they are DRIVING.

I think if I were going 100mph, I'd be too scared to do to much of anything else either.

The biggest problem (from what I've heard) is the idiot tourists who are doing what they aren't supposed to - like driving at 90mph in the left lane.


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