New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg recently proposed a ban on sales of sugary drinks over 16 oz., prompting an astonishing outpouring of strong pundit feelings on the subject of “paternalism” in government policy. (Honestly, I saw more genuine anger over this than I have seen over torture, food-stamp cuts, climate denial … it does not speak well of the political elite, frankly.)

I’m not all that interested in soda policy as such. I agree with many others that taxing soda would make more sense than banning specific sizes. I am, however, interested in the deeper issues at stake in this discussion.

The clearest articulation of the anti-paternalistic case, the one that gets at the fundamentals, comes by way of one of my favorite writers, Will Wilkinson:

[I]deas about the human good are variable, controversial, and ever-changing. Indeed, the fact of pluralism — the diversity of conceptions of the good and the right — is much the original impetus of liberalism. The liberal idea was that, in the interests of civil peace and the benefits thereof, the state should remove itself as much as possible from controversies over religion and morality and allow each individual conscience sovereignty over each individual life.