Publisher's note: This post, by Brian Balfour, was originally published in the Bad Bill of the Week section of Civitas's online edition.
There's an old saying that says "you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink." The phrase is used to emphasize the fact that simply making something easy to do does not guarantee anybody will do it.
In a similar vein, if you make healthy vegetables and fruit more readily available, will people really buy them?
In a bipartisan effort, some NC legislators are willing to bet $1 million of your tax dollars on it.
Senate Bill 296
, Healthy Food Small Retailer/Corner Store Act
, has two primary sponsors (Don Davis, D-Wayne and Louis Pate, R-Pitt) and twelve co-sponsors from both parties. The bill would allocate up to $1 million of taxpayer money to create the "Healthy Food Small Retailer Fund."
Money from the fund would be allocated to local governments to enable them to provide equipment and assistance to small food retailers to carry "nutrient-dense foods." The retailers must be located in what is classified as a "food desert," essentially low-income areas with a lack of grocery stores.
In short, the money would be used to supply the small stores with refrigeration equipment, shelving and "technical assistance" in return for their agreement to sell healthy foods. Also, in exchange retailers must agree to accept SNAP and WIC benefits, and make a commitment to sell the foods for a pre-determined length of time.
The stated goal is to get more low-income people eating healthy foods, and the bill hints that a lack of availability is a primary reason that they lack fresh fruits and vegetables as part of their diet. The bill also cites research showing that low-income areas have a decent supply of small food retailers in spite of a shortage of grocery stores, hence the focus on the small corner stores.
This bill is classic nanny state in action: introducing government force and interference to try and get people to do what is "good for them."
Aside from the obvious objections of using government force to collect taxes only to hand that money over to select businesses, this bill raises several questions:
- If the stores in food deserts thought their customers wanted to buy more fruits and vegetables, wouldn't they already sell them?
- Corner stores have very limited amount of shelf space, so why would they use some of that space to try and sell items customers likely don't want anyway while crowding out space for more popular products?
- What happens if these stores struggle to sell their inventory and much of it spoils? Will the government fund bail them out?
- Stores must commit to sell the healthy foods for a set period of time, but what if they lose money on the fruits and vegetables? Will they be forced to continue to carry these products until the end of their commitment, thus losing more money?
Unfortunately, when government socializes medical care expenses in a society, the health of one person becomes the financial concern of all. This collectivized concern then is used as a pretext to justify government intervention in virtually all of our personal choices, including the food we eat.
Government intervention inevitably leads to more intervention.
A better alternative is to roll back the initial interventions, instead of imposing more and more such restrictions on society.
Senate Bill 296
represents an increase in the nanny state. It also uses taxpayer dollars to subsidize equipment for politically-designated food retailers to sell foods that the political class thinks you should be eating. For these reasons, the Healthy Food Small Retailer/Corner Store Act
is the week's Bad Bill of the Week.