American Elephants

The Heavy Hand of the State Censors A Blogger by The Elephant's Child

Steven Cooksey 51, of Stanley N.C. had diabetes. He was hospitalized in 2009 after his blood sugar spiked. At the time, Cooksey, who works for a medical equipment company weighed more than 240 pounds.  He was, he admitted, in bad physical shape, ate poorly and didn’t exercise.  In the hospital, he was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes, and was told by a doctor that he would probably be insulin-dependent for the rest of his life.

So he began reading and studying about diabetes and how it is affected by diet and exercise. He discovered that there were many different opinions. He decided on a high-fat, low-carbohydrate diet similar to what stone age men ate with ordinary unprocessed foods like meat, eggs, vegetables and butter. He ate nuts and fruits sparingly. Within a month of reducing his carbohydrate intake, his blood sugar normalized. Cooksey is now down to 163 pounds.

He was passionate about his life-altering change. Cooksey started a website to chronicle his personal transformation. Later that year, he added a “Diabetes Support” life-coaching service, where he charged a modest fee for the same knowledge, opinions and advice he had been giving to his friends for free. He never described himself as a doctor, dietician, or nutritionist, but only offered his own success.

In December, he started answering reader questions in a Dear Abby-style column. A month later he received a notice from the state asking him to stop “providing advice to readers, friends and family in private emails and conversations, and offering a paid life-coaching service.”

The state’s interest seemed to come from a nutritional seminar for diabetics. A director of  diabetic services at a local hospital was the guest and she said diabetics should eat a diet rich in whole-grain carbohydrates and low in fat. During the question and answer session, Cooksey disagreed. Someone filed a complaint saying he was acting as an unlicensed dietician.

The state ordered him to take down the part of his website where he offered his life-coaching services. Um, there’s that little thing about free speech.


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One of the articles I bookmarked the other day is relevant to this: Do You Need A Permission Slip to Work in Your State?. To quote:

One of the more absurd examples of protectionist licensing requirements comes from Louisiana — the only state to license florists. In defense of the requirements, the head of the state horticulture commission argued: “If [aspiring florists] can’t take the instruction and pass the exam, how can they do an arrangement that you and I want to buy?” That’s government, for you — hard at work protecting you from poorly arranged bouquets.

One of the reasons I find it annoying that some on the right are quick to characterize Europe as a place that is always interfering with business (in contrast with laissez-faire America) is because it simply is not true, or at least not true for all countries. In Norway, for example, professional credentials are required for only a few professions, such as medicine and law. One can call oneself a architect and the state will do nothing. Clients may require some proof of training, and if your building or bridge collapses you could be hauled into court, but otherwise you are free to sell your services. There are, in fact, a surprising number of countries that take a very liberal (in the original sense of the word) attitude towards credentials — a lot more liberal (again, in the original sense of the word) than do many U.S. states.


Comment by Subsidy Eye

I bookmarked that piece too, but I guess I missed the florist licensing. Here in Washington State, the interior decorators regularly try to pass licensing and schooling requirements for anyone practicing interior design. They have a lot of associations: ASID, IIDA, IDEE, ICD and maybe more, and they don’t want anyone who hasn’t gone to the right schools but just has good taste messing around in their territory. I love the LA horticulture chief’s comment: Um, if they can’t do an arrangement that anyone would want to buy, they will go out of business. Problem solved. Hair braiding was widely under attack as well

The European Union, according to what is reported on their interference in the marketplace, is even worse. But Norway is not a member, which is probably why they have sensible rules. The EU has put out preposterous rules for produce and food in general, probably at the urging of the French. It is the ‘temptation to tyranny’ bureaucrats sure that their own good ideas will make society better.A pox on all their houses.


Comment by The Elephant's Child

Yeah, it’s usually the case that the more contestable a market is, the more practitioners look to the state to control entry. “Oh my God, can you believe that that charlatan interior decorator actually advised that the Jones hang curtains with floral patterns?!!”

But, please, don’t draw on general impressions to make a specific point. Norway is part of the European Economic Area. That means that, in exchange for access to the EU common market, it is required to conform to EU-wide regulations where they exist. That it is able to have sensible credential requirements is because the EU does not get involved in such issues: such decisions are reserved by the individual European countries. In the UK, an EU member state, setting up a business (including a consultancy) is extremely easy; in France it is much more bureaucratic. There is more diversity in business regulation across the EU (and the EEA) than across individual U.S. states.

Food regulations are another matter. The European Community started off as a common market, with common external tariffs, which shifted “competence” over regulations affecting international trade to Brussels. Shortly thereafter, the member states also agreed to pursue a Common Agricultural Policy (the “CAP”) and a Common Fisheries Policy, both directed from Brussels. (The phenomenon of the SUV industry in America owes its creation in no small part to the CAP; see High and Mighty — SUVs: The World’s Most Dangerous Vehicles and How They Got That Way.)

It is true that Brussels has over the years put out some preposterous rules on food — not so much because of the “temptation to tyranny” of eurocrats but because of regulatory capture … which also exists in spades in some U.S. states. Have you ever looked into “food blasphemy” laws (also known as food libel laws or food disparagement laws) applied by some U.S. states? I’m not a big fan of Oprah Winfrey, but she will forever have my respect for standing up to these . As explained here:

13 U.S. states that make it easier for food producers to sue their critics for libel. These 13 states include Alabama, Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota, and Texas. Many of the food-disparagement laws establish a lower standard for civil liability and allow for punitive damages and attorney’s fees for plaintiffs alone, regardless of the case’s outcome

Eat dirt, Idaho potatoes! (There, I said it. Now I feel better.)


Comment by Subsidy Eye

So you are a partisan of Maine potatoes? And I suppose you are a partisan of Maine’s wild blueberries as well? Hmmph!

This stuff is complicated— remember the Alar scare? and the cranberry thing? Those did deep damage to apple growers and cranberry growers. And there was the Bovine growth hormone rBHT, which most dairies note on their milk cartons that they don’t use, yet the science is that the hormone only helps cows to make more milk and it is physically impossible for that to affect the milk itself. The Oprah case, as I remember was silly. But Alar, for example was not. Go to and click on the Center for Science in the Public Interest, and the Center for Food Safety under organizations.

Watch your mouth, I grew up in Idaho!


Comment by The Elephant's Child

Yes. Maine potatoes rule! Maine blueberries … what can I say, a glimpse of paradise with each bite!

One can always rationalize any law. The same goes for rules in the EU that once (I think they no longer do) regulated the bentness of cucumbers. This was done to facilitate packaging, or something like that.

The thing about food libel laws, though, is that in some states one can be sued simply for saying that the local produce (e.g., Florida oranges) are insipid and tasteless. Where does one draw the line?

Regarding bovine growth hormone rBHT, the issue for many people is not danger to human health but to the animal’s health and welfare. Cows did not evolve to produce milk over such extended periods. It is hard to provide an unbiased source, but this “fact sheet” provides a quick summary. I have seen reports complete with photographic evidence, and they aren’t pretty.

Of course, there are economic interests involved as well. Producers who do use rBHT get more milk out of every cow, so their average unit cost is less than that of producers who don’t. Labeling one’s milk as rBHT-free marks a small attempt to gain some price premium to bridge that cost gap.


Comment by Subsidy Eye

Can’t hold a candle to Idaho huckleberries!


Comment by The Elephant's Child

Don’t be surprised if a registered letter postmarked “Augusta, Maine” appears in your mail box soon.


Comment by Subsidy Eye

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