Michael Bloomberg, chief nanny of New York, while defending his plan to regulate the amount of salt restaurant chefs will henceforth be allowed to put in their dishes:
If we know there’s asbestos in a school room what do you expect us to do? Say it’s not our business? I don’t think so.
This is an absurd analogy and not just because of the substantial difference in harmfulness between salt and asbestos. (If it was just that, I’d merely call Bloomberg’s analogy far fetched.) There are more fundamental reasons why his analogy breaks down.
1. Choice. Salt imparts taste to food. Life’s choices are about weighing costs and benefits, in this case weighing the cost of increased risk of high blood pressure versus the benefit of a possibly tastier meal. Ditto with other unhealthy lifestyle choices: smoking, spending all day playing video-games or riding a motorbike. It’s a freedom issue, one of individual choice. On the other hand, not many people in this age knowingly choose to live in a house with lethal asbestos in the roof.
2. Fraud. Assuming that the asbestos is typically present without the consent or knowledge of whoever owns or lives in the building, it is a case of fraud and a lethal one at that. On the other hand, the food you buy: well you get what you wanted and ordered. Presumably you know perfectly well that it contains a fair amount of salt. There is no fraud of any kind. (And if a lot of people are unknowingly ordering food with high amounts of salt, well, that would at best call for some kind of salt-quantity-disclosure law.)
3. Age. A school room is populated by students, who are mostly not of legal age and in some cases very young. Restaurants are populated by a lot of adults who, presumably, should be able to eat very salty food if they want to.
Finally, if some person knowingly goes ahead and builds asbestos into the roof of his house, I think — notwithstanding Bloomberg’s protests — it is not the government’s business to stop him, but merely to make sure he makes this information available to all other occupants, tenants and any guests who come to the building, and does not have any children living there.