Happy Meal ban didn't go far enough. Ban Popsicles!

Guest blogger Art Carden looks at the logical implications of the recent ban on Happy Meals.

Melanie Stetson Freeman / The Christian Science Monitor / File
Desmond Guest from Florida enjoys a bomb pop Popsicle at Hardings Beach in Cape Cod, Mass., in this 1998 file photo. Has your child been brainwashed by the Popsicle people, too? asks guest blogger Art Carden.

We have a two-and-a-half year-old son and an almost seven-month old daughter. Both are usually extremely pleasant and well-behaved, though there are cycles during which our son is less than cooperative.

Like this morning. He wanted a Popsicle (which is a proper noun, by the way) and was pretty belligerent about it. We generally let him have a few small Popsicles every day because there is less sugar in the handful of Popsicles he eats than he would get from a second cup of juice. They’re also a relatively cheap source of incentives (here’s Bryan Caplan with similar thoughts on TV).

To borrow an idea from our friends in San Francisco, I propose an obvious solution: Popsicles should be outlawed. After all, we’re powerless before our crying child, who has been brainwashed by the corporate villainy of the Popsicle people. We’re not going to stop there. Our son eats a ton of ice, too, and I’m on the hunt for the covert ad campaign by the ice interests who have brainwashed him into ice enthusiasm in ways we have yet to detect. Be warned, readers from the ice syndicate. You tell your corporate masters that I’m coming, and the State is coming with me. Or maybe I should re-read James Otteson’s insightful post on the Happy Meal ban and take a few deep breaths. As Professor Otteson points out, “[t]he parents have the money.”

All kidding aside, a few years of parenthood has taught me a couple of important lessons. First, there’s no One Right Way to do it. Second, the ratio of snake oil to legitimate information in the parenting literature is really, really high. Finally, being an adult is just flat-out hard compared to being a child or an adolescent. Fortunately, I only have about another eleven to thirteen years before my kids are teenagers, at which point all of the difficulties we’re experiencing right now will vanish and my wife and I will be able to kick our feet up and relax.

From an academic perspective, all of this cries out for explanation and examination from a dynamic, Austrian perspective. Fortunately, my sometime-coauthor Steve Horwitz is on it. Here’s his paper “Is the Family a Spontaneous Order?” which, as I understand it, is part of a larger book project on the Austrian economics of the family. From a policy perspective, the San Francisco Happy Meal ban illustrates the importance of keeping good ideas alive in the public debate. Along these lines, Steve and I have written a trilogy of articles on the Tea Party movement (1, 2, 3), and I have another article about how economics can help us reduce child abuse that some might find interesting. If you’re looking for pointers on how to join the conversation, I humbly suggest the 2010 version of my annual summer advice for students and welcome any advice or correction.

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