cover_130506_toc_0Leave it to National Review humorist Mark Steyn to find a way to tie New York City’s nanny-in-chief — Mayor Michael Bloomberg — to one of the key challenges Alexis de Tocqueville identified about mid-19th century American life.

Tocqueville, you won’t be surprised to hear, foresaw the age of Bloomberg. Under the pre-Bloombergian despot, “although the entire government of the empire was concentrated in the hands of the emperor alone … the details of social life and of individual existence ordinarily escaped his control.” What would happen, Tocqueville wondered, if administrative capability were to evolve to make it possible “to subject all of his subjects to the details of a uniform set of regulations”?

Well, you’d wind up with an emperor who put all the data into a grand Imperial Terminal and then issued decrees like Bloomberg’s. As Jacob Sullum of Reason pointed out, under the Mayor’s “arbitrary and capricious” law (in Justice Tingling’s words) a Starbucks venti white hot chocolate with whole milk and whipped cream (640 calories) would be perfectly legal, but a venti black coffee with four teaspoons of sugar (60 calories) would be criminal. So New Yorkers would still get fat, and get heart disease and diabetes and die, but they would do so under the pitiless gaze of a regulatory bureaucracy whose whimsical and contradictory edicts are adjudicated by unionized bureaucrats who retire at 53 with gold-plated benefits. In other words, not a can-do technocracy but New York politics as usual.