A lawsuit has been filed by the Center for Science in the Public Interest – fancy name – against McDonald’s in the liberal bastion of San Francisco. The lawsuit alleges that the McDonald’s practice of including toys with its Happy Meals is deceptive advertising. From now until the time this lawsuit is dismissed in eight years, people will call it the McDonald’s Happy Meal lawsuit.
I’m going to focus group this lawsuit. Hold on. I’m back. Jury’s back. Everyone thinks it is stupid. Notably included in that group are mainstream progressives like myself. We are not libertarians. But liberals are Americans, too. (A few tort reformers heads just exploded but let’s move on.) We are a people that are historically opposed to others making decisions for us when we have all the facts available for us to make our own decisions and the majority of us think the behavior is okay.
The counterargument to this is that times change. Is feeding your kids Happy Meals the same as not putting your kids in car seats/seat belts was 30 years ago? Maybe. The difference is in the data. We were overwhelmed by the data of the deaths and injuries to children in car accidents who were not secured to the point where now I think even the Walter Olsons and Ted Franks – to name two notable “too much regulation” bloggers – of the world agree that the state must intervene on this decision and require children be properly secured in a car. (Yes, we can argue about the details. But I think we agree on the premise).
Happy Meals are different. The data is not that definitive yet. I don’t think the evidence is there that indicates Happy Meals portend bad things for kids. I think that I’m a better parent than I am anything else in this life. By far. My wife and I spend a lot of energy, sometimes to the point of battle, trying to get our kids to eat healthy. We’ve even been known to sneak wheat germ and vegetables into their food to the point of excess. But do I slip my kids a few Happy Meals? Sure, occasionally. Why do I do this? Because I don’t think an occasional bad meal is a death knell for children. And because the toys in those Happy Meals are pretty cool.