Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Christopher Hitchens, and the Libertarian Critique of Bloomberg's Public Health Legacy
Hastings Center Report, Vol. 44, No. 1, pp. 3-4, 2014
9 Pages Posted: 3 Dec 2013 Last revised: 29 Sep 2014
Date Written: December 2, 2013
Over three electoral terms (2002-2011), the administration of New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg introduced a range of policies to reduce the risk factors for the lifestyle-influenced diseases that are overwhelmingly the cause of death and disability in the United States. Bloomberg’s contribution to public health is reviewed by Lawrence Gostin (‘Bloomberg’s Health Legacy: Urban Innovator or Meddling Nanny?’ Hastings Center Report, 2013; 43(5): 19-25) and remains a matter of debate. This paper, one of several rejoinders to Gostin’s essay, recalls a blistering critique of Bloomberg’s policies written by Christopher Hitchins for Vanity Fair magazine. Taking Hitchins’ critique as a starting point, the paper briefly identifies some assumptions that may help to explain libertarian fears about an emergent ‘nanny state’. It also points to the failure of libertarians to account for changing perceptions about the merits of state intervention at the point when members of the population become sick with preventable illnesses that might have been avoided by state policies. Ultimately, a population’s health problems become personalised in the suffering of each individual they affect. Only then does the public interest that state policies seek to protect become truly visible, yet it is the perspectives of these (now sick) individuals that remain almost entirely absent from the libertarian narrative.
Keywords: public health law, libertarianism, non-communicable diseases (NCDs), Michael Bloomberg, Christopher Hitchins, tobacco control
JEL Classification: K10, K30
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation