“In an era of political polarization, Michael Bloomberg has the rare ability to
come up with policies that enrage everyone,” opines New Yorker staff writer
James Surowiecki in this August 13, 2012, article analyzing the mayor’s plan to
prohibit all New York City food vendors from selling sodas in sizes larger than
16 ounces. Surowiecki argues that despite bipartisan disdain for the proposal,
Bloomberg’s scheme “makes clever use of what economists call ‘default
bias,’” the tendency for consumers to choose certain options not because
they reflect actual needs or desires but because they are presented as the
default selection within the context of other choices. As Surowiecki recounts,
researchers have allegedly shown that people calibrate their consumption
habits by outside cues “like the size of a package or a cup” as opposed to
feelings of satiety. “And since the nineteen-seventies the portion sizes offered
by food companies and restaurants have grown significantly larger… and
consumption has risen accordingly,” he writes.

Surowiecki ultimately suggests that Bloomberg’s ban “is designed to flip this
effect on its head: if the largest soda you can order is sixteen ounces, a can of
Coke may start to seem like more than enough.” At the same time, he notes,
the ban would function “as a kind of stealth tax” on consumers who wish
to order two 16-ounce beverages in lieu of one 22-ounce serving. “If this all
sounds as if New York’s soda consumers were about to become the subjects of an elaborate social-science experiment designed to reshape their behavior
and desires, well, that’s kind of true,” concludes Surowiecki. “But then we’ve
been the subject of just such an experiment, run by the beverage and fast-food
companies, for the past forty years.”

About The Author


For decades, manufacturers, distributors and retailers at every link in the food chain have come to Shook, Hardy & Bacon to partner with a legal team that understands the issues they face in today's evolving food production industry. Shook attorneys work with some of the world's largest food, beverage and agribusiness companies to establish preventative measures, conduct internal audits, develop public relations strategies, and advance tort reform initiatives.

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