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Free Market Heroes, Vol. 2: Rick Berman

When it comes to your life and government regulation, the government has two rules.  The first: Government is never wrong.  The second: Should there be an exception to the first rule, government was at least trying to do the right thing, so it is still right.  

Even after growing up, going to college and becoming a functional part of society as an adult, the government looms over us like an overbearing and extremely protective parent.  Firearms are dangerous, so the government tells us we must put trigger-locks on all of our guns.  Certain light bulbs are good for saving money, so government requires by law us to use compact fluorescent lights. And, my absolute favorite, cigarette smoke is unhealthy, so government goes ahead and gets rid of smoking at private businesses so that I don't have to make the choice of whether to go to a smoking or nonsmoking bar. 

Thanks, Government! I couldn't have done it without you.

After all, our government officials are great role models for the citizenry.  I could learn a thing or two about nutrition from Sen. Ted Kennedy (or, for that matter, substance abuse), or, how about a lecture on family-values from Sen. David Vitter?  And, let's not forget the life-lesson of always telling the truth from the Bush administration.

Let's face it—if government is supposed to be a role model for how to live life, we're destined for either an early death or a long stint in rehab.

With so many of its own problems, why is it then that government feels so compelled to tell us how to live our own lives?

If there is one issue that is the perfect paradigm of choice versus government authoritarianism, it is in the regulation of our diets and food choices.  From keeping sweets out of the classroom, to banning fast food restaurants in the neighborhood (one wonders if business can get around this by serving food very, very slowly?), government has taken it upon itself to regulate the very food we pick up and put into our mouths. As if it weren't obvious that a diet of strictly anything that begins in "Mc" isn't the healthiest of choices, government feels compelled to keep us from making this mistake.

Now, a new study out shows that banning fast food ads may mitigate childhood obesity, and it won't be long before this becomes the new rallying cry of those whom Rick Berman and the Center for Consumer Freedom call "Food Cops."

Berman is the founder of the Washington-based media firm Berman and Company, which runs the Center for Consumer Freedom—a nonprofit consumer advocacy coalition that promotes consumer choice and debunks the myths behind government regulation.  Berman has made an enemy of food radicals who seek to enact legislation to inhibit, or outright prohibit, choices we make as consumers. 

"People should not be led around by the nose by bad information," says Berman in an interview with 60 Minutes. "You can make up your own mind as to whether or not margarine is really rat poison, as some people say."

Berman says the regulators and Food Cops create a "'Chicken Little' mentality, that the sky is falling, over everything," and "drive the government to fill this artificial public need."

"If the government is truly interested in my health and welfare, then I'm appreciative of it, but I think I can take care of myself," says Berman. 

If people have a child in the house, common sense says to keep firearms protected from misuse.  If there is a financial incentive to use more fuel-efficient light bulbs, then people will make the switch.  And if people are bothered by cigarette smoke, they will patron restaurants and bars that make the choice to ban smoking.

Likewise, if food is unhealthy, then it is the responsibility of the consumer to decide whether to eat it. 

The government doesn't have to tell us what we all already know.

Perhaps Nick Naylor, a Washington lobbyist played by Aaron Eckhart in the 2005 movie "Thank You For Smoking," said it best.  "Gentlemen, it's called education," says Naylor during a Senate hearing on a new warning label for cigarettes. "It doesn't come off the side of a cigarette carton; it comes from our teachers, and more importantly our parents. It is the job of every parent to warn their children of all the dangers of the world, including cigarettes, so that one day when they get older they can choose for themselves."

This is what Berman seeks to do: Replace government regulation with consumer choice and give consumers the information they need to make informed decisions for themselves.  When consumers decide fast food is not for them, fast food establishments will make healthier choices available.  And, it's already happened, in case you haven't noticed the plethora of "healthy" choices on fast food menus. 

Imagine that—consumer preference in the free market actually works.  And wouldn't you know, government regulation hasn't.

Granted, some people are just stupid and make really bad choices, but government can't legislate intelligence.  People must learn from their own mistakes, and when government gets involved, it spreads the blame across the board—much like the teacher punishing the whole class for the antics of a single student.  Instead, individuals should—and must—take responsibility for their own mistakes without government there telling them its not their fault.

Besides, it's not just about effectiveness.

In fact, whether the regulation works (which, it doesn't) is second to the fact that government has no right to make these decisions to begin with.  There is something inherently wrong with government taking food off your plate.  That's a decision for you to make as a consumer and because it's your body. That sick feeling in your stomach is your conscience telling you that this isn't right—that is, if it isn't you starving to death because government won't let you eat. 

Therefore, for his work in protecting the freedom of consumers, promoting the free market over government regulation and illuminating the absurdities of a paternalistic government, we are making Rick Berman our free market hero of the week.

The Libertarian Party's "Free Market Heroes" feature seeks to recognize individuals that promote free market values by working to eliminate government intervention in the marketplace and sponsoring other pro-freedom initiatives.  If you know of an individual that should be recognized, please email your suggestion to Andrew Davis at media [AT] lp.org.