Do we really need government rules protecting us from pizza? The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) thinks we do. Beginning on May 5th, pizza restaurants (among others) will be required to display per slice calorie ranges on their menus. The 100-page rule effectively requires pizzerias to count the number pepperonis on each slice of pizza in order to provide an accurate calorie-count to their patrons. Restaurants will need to hire mathematicians to do the calculations as patrons pick topping combinations for their pies. Sir, was that twenty pepperonis on your pizza, or twenty-one?
Cupcakes are apparently also dangerous enough to warrant a prohibitory rule from the federal government. School districts have banned them from bake sales because of children’s health concerns. Generations of school kids who funded field trips and sports teams hawking Mom’s chocolate chip cookies now have to sell granola bars and orange slices instead. Why? Federal regulations require snacks children eat at school meet calorie, fat, and sodium requirements, among other things. Although these regulations might not make peddling a tray of illegal fudge a crime (at least not yet,) violating these rules have severe consequences, as two high schools in Utah discovered. In 2012, the federal government fined one school $16,000 for selling carbonated beverages near the lunchroom, and another $20,000 for selling diet carbonated drinks, lifesavers, and cough drops during lunch in a hallway vending machine near where kids eat. The schools said they would pay the fines by taking funds away from other parts of their budgets.
This micromanagement and rule-making also leaks into local governments.
For example, in my city of Hermosa Beach, California, the city council once attempted to institute a rule to prevent shark attacks in the Pacific Ocean.
On July 5, 2014 a great white shark bit a swimmer in a nearby city while swimming near that city’s pier. A fisherman who had fished from the pier “for decades” hooked the shark and was reeling it in when the line crossed the path of the unfortunate swimmer. The 7-foot predator did what sharks sometimes do and took a nibble at something that looked like it might be lunch.
Two days later the neighboring city’s council responded to the attack by instituting a two-month moratorium on fishing from its pier. City officials said they would take the time “to consult with the state Coastal Commission and other regulatory agencies to evaluate impacts to public safety from allowing fishing from the pier.” Please read that last sentence again.
Not wanting to create a safe-haven for hungry sharks who would swim over from the neighboring city like college students leaving a dry county on the weekend, the Hermosa Beach City Council followed suit and attempted to institute a ban on fishing from the city pier.
That’s when the lawyers stepped in. They advised the city council that California state law allowed fishing from the city pier.
The city’s five elected officials evaluated their alternatives. It was too difficult to ban people from swimming in the Pacific, and it was the fishermen, not the swimmers, who were the culpable party.
Ask yourself, is there any risk too small or inconsequential to consider when it comes to the public’s safety? Right. The Hermosa Beach City Council didn’t think so either.
Lightning. Hippopotamuses. Autoerotic asphyxiation. Falling out of bed. Bathtubs. Hotdogs. Jellyfish. Vending machines. A strange list, but all of these have one thing in common; each kills more people annually than sharks do. The conservation group Oceana (oceana.org) charts shark incidents in the United States. Between 2006 and 2010, Oceana counted only 14 shark attacks in California. Two were fatal. This information begs the question: Where is the city council on these other deadly hazards? Do they have any idea how many people in Hermosa Beach have beds, bathtubs, and regularly eat hot dogs? Hopefully regulations to protect the public from these hazards are forthcoming. (Will an adult advisory precede the section of the municipal code that bans death by one’s own hand?)
But back to the sharks. Unable to regulate the unfriendly carnivores directly, the city council decided to do the next best thing and throw the book at fishermen who littered the city pier with what they called “blood and guts.” By the city council’s logic, the bloody detritus fishermen threw back into the Pacific attracted the sharks who also liked to nip at unsuspecting swimmers. By the city council’s reasoning, the sharks circled under the city pier waiting for “blood and guts” like the family schnauzer waiting underneath the dining room table for scraps. No fishermen, no “blood and guts.” No “blood and guts” on the pier, no sharks. No sharks, no bitten swimmers.
The solution to the problem, when approached with this particular brand of logic that seems to inhere solely in elected officials and government bureaucrats, was both obvious and simple.
And patently ridiculous. Although no more ridiculous than forcing pizzerias to count pepperonis or rules to keep school kids from eating cupcakes.
This is what our government does. Our tax dollars fund bureaucracies – at all levels of government – that protect us from the hazards of cupcakes, shark attacks in the Pacific Ocean, and require we count pepperonis. This is the administrative state at its worst.