Who's your daddy?

In re yesterday's posts about the proper federal role in school lunch policy, Mr Yglesias replies:

Julian Sanchez concedes the point regarding "nanny state" activity being perfectly reasonable when the people being nannied are children. Instead, he's upset on federalist grounds about the idea of congress making snack regulations for public schools.

To which I say . . . eh.

In practice, arguments about federalism are almost universally made opportunistically. People favor devolving power to the states when they think doing so will produce policies they approve of, and people favor concentrating power in Washington when they think doing so will produce policies they approve of. Everyone knows this. And while one might condemn the hypocrisy of it all, this always strikes me as a good thing to be hypocritical about.

I think there's a kernel of truth to this, though there seem to me to be a lot of people out there who simply think that more federal control of everything would make the world an infinitely better place. But this example is the worst possible illustration of the principle. I know Julian well enough that I would stake a fair amount of money on the proposition that there is no "policy he approves of" on school lunches, because it is not a subject that he, or I, or Matt, or almost any other single person without children, wastes valuable time developing an opinion on. I am acquainted with Dan Mitchell, and I'm pretty sure that he, too, has no secret school lunch agenda that he is trying to sneak through the back door of states' rights. Actually, this is possibly the strongest argument for federalism on the issue: the people most likely to have a handle on the best policy are the people who actually care about it: i.e., the parents and the school board officials they elect.

This is why, contra earlier commenters, the word "paternalism" strikes me as entirely a propos. The argument for federalising the nation's school cafeterias rests on an argument that most of the people in America are such total morons that they cannot feed their children an adequate diet, or vote for a school board that will do same, without Matt's assistance in the way of a little coercive regulation.