New law in San Francisco asks McDonald’s to make Happy Meals healthy meals, or not include a toy with them. Republicans slam the effort as socialism…and ignore external health costs borne by the children, and financial costs borne by the taxpayer resulting from childhood health problems like diabetes, ADD, ADHD, and the like.

I’ve often wondered why the environmental, economic, and public health policies that cities implement are so vehemently criticized by Republicans (who otherwise tend to favor local control), when on the ground in those cities, those policies make so much sense.

There have been several recent policy changes in San Francisco, for example, that Republicans angrily decry as socialism, Obamanism, evidence that Nancy Pelosi is a communist, or that San Francisco is truly un-American. There is a measure before the San Francisco Board of Supervisors that would requirepharmaceutical companies to take back unused medications for proper disposal. If not properly disposed of, pharmaceuticals can leach out of landfills and pollute our drinking water, or worse, get into the hands of children. Right now, most municipalities pay for taking back prescription drugs, which of course, allows the pharmaceutical companies to externalize end-of-life disposal costs onto taxpayers.

So how would passage of a law like that effect change? An example of a local law that just passed and that aims to internalize some externalities is the recent passage of the “be healthy food or be toy free” Happy Meal law.

The policy is aimed at helping to curb obesity, ADD, early onset diabetes and other childhood health issues by requiring that any meal sold at restaurants in San Francisco with a toy included must meet some health standards. In other words, McDonald’s can’t include a toy in a Happy Meal full of processed, fatty, sugary “foods” like their French Fries, high-fructose corn syrup drinks, or their burgers which are likely so full of preservatives that they don’t degrade even after 12 months left out at room temperature. But there is absolutely nothing in the law that says McDonald’s must stop giving out toys. It’s only that they have to give those toys away with meals that consist of actual food, meeting with certain health standards for fats, cholesterol, sodium, and the like.

What’s not to like about that law? The problem, according to Republican thinking, is that this is a free market…why shouldn’t MickeyD’s be allowed to put toys in their Happy Meals if they feel like it? Missing the big picture, of course, this line of thinking completely externalizes the after effects and the costs the public must bear as a result of this ‘free market’. Externalities are the main difference between the green economy and the old, brown, red, polluting, however you want to call it, economy.

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About The Author

Scott Cooney

Scott Cooney (twitter: scottcooney) is an adjunct professor of Sustainability in the MBA program at the University of Hawai'i, green business startup coach, author of Build a Green Small Business: Profitable Ways to Become an Ecopreneur (McGraw-Hill), and developer of the sustainability board game GBO Hawai'i. Scott has started, grown and sold two mission-driven businesses, failed miserably at a third, and is currently in his fourth. Scott's current company has three divisions: a sustainability blog network that includes the world's biggest clean energy website and reached over 5 million readers in December 2013 alone; Pono Home, a turnkey and franchiseable green home consulting service that won entrance into the clean tech incubator known as Energy Excelerator; and Cost of Solar, a solar lead generation service to connect interested homeowners and solar contractors. In his spare time, Scott surfs, plays ultimate frisbee and enjoys a good, long bike ride. Find Scott on

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