The money that Coke spends on advertising and sponsorship surely shape that architecture far more powerfully than anything Bloomberg could ever do.
Er, no. Bloomberg can have the police bust a place and arrest its owner for selling a drink, just like he has the police arrest bar-owners who allow their patrons to smoke. Coca-Cola, by contrast, can put up adverts trying to persuade people to drink their drink. Corporate advertising and state power are in no way commensurate. As big a corporation as Coca-Cola is, its executives do not have the power to caution, fine, arrest and jail citizens on a whim. Bloomberg does, and by God does he use it.
But the reason for this post is not to rake over the coals of Bloomberg's latest piece of draconia (summary: people with principles hate it, everyone else either admires it or doesn't care). It is because Burkeman has committed one of my pet peeves and got Nudge wrong. He is hardly alone in this—many libertarians fear the book because they find it sinister while many, er, 'liberals' like it because they see it as a cute word for illiberalism—but Burkeman is unusual in that he actually seems to have read it and still misrepresents it.
...it makes no sense to see Bloomberg's policy as an incursion on anyone's liberty. The proposal is a classic example of a "nudge", as defined by Cass Sunstein and Richard Thaler in their famous book of that name. It doesn't stop you guzzling as much Coke as you like, but it modifies your "choice architecture" – the context in which you decide how much Coke to guzzle – so as to guide you towards the healthier option. Likewise, as Sunstein and Thaler explain, you can transform the dietary choices of school pupils by making salads slightly easier to reach for than fries; nobody's deprived of their right to fries. You can transform savings habits with bank accounts that move a portion of wages into a separate account unless the user opts out.
To see this intrinsically as a restriction on liberty is to misunderstand "choice architecture"...
I wonder who has really misunderstood "choice architecture"? Burkeman or the guy who invented the term?
Oliver Burkeman has offered a sort-of mea culpa here and here.
Later in the year I'll be speaking a Spiked event where I'll be defending Nudge from this kind of thing. Details to follow in a few weeks.
You can read my review of Nudge here. And this was my experience when I appeared on the Moral Maze talking about Nudge in 2010. Everyone got the book wrong then too, except one of the other guests, a certain Richard Thaler.