Regulating your food choices vs. retailers' food choices

Suppose the government made it illegal for you to buy sugared soda.  What would be your reaction?  How would you feel?  

Now, suppose instead that the government made it illegal for grocery stores and other vendors to sell sugared soda.  Is your reaction to the second law less visceral than the first?  

I suspect so.  But, here's the key: both laws impose the same restriction on your freedom - the outcomes are precisely the same.

Writing at Forbes, John Goodman notes this dichotomy in the case of California eggs (HT David Henderson)

California has a new law that requires all eggs sold in the state to come from chickens that are housed in roomier cages. Specifically, the hens “must be able to lie down, stand up and fully spread their wings.”

So how many Californians have been arrested for eating the wrong kind of egg? Zero. Not even one? Not one. Actually, the law doesn’t take effect until January, but even then egg eaters will have nothing to fear. The reason: the law doesn’t apply to people who eat eggs. It only applies to people who sell eggs.

When you stop to think about it, that’s not unusual. Almost all government restrictions on our freedom are indirect. They are imposed on us by way of some business. In fact, laws that directly restrict the freedom of the individual are rare and almost always controversial.

After discussing various reasons for the differences in the way we respond to individual vs. business restrictions, Goodman concludes:

Finally, the idea being proposed here seems consistent with history. Over the past two hundred years, we have had a steady migration of people from agriculture to the cities, where they became employees of firms. Over the same period of time we have had a parallel increase in the intrusiveness of government.

Bottom line: if there were no firms, taxes would be much lower, there would be far fewer regulations and government would be a much less important institution in our lives.