I protested when San Francisco began cracking down on Happy Meals with its cleverly worded edict to prohibit restaurants from giving away toys aimed at children with food that did not satisfy its nutritional standards. But perhaps I despaired too soon. As it turns out, the magic of the market, the ingenuity of McDonald’s, and the incompetence of lawmakers have liberated the Happy Meal toy from the clutches of the paternalistic progressives posing as public health promoters.
The fast-food chain has figured out how to comply with the ordinance while giving customers what they want: From now on, the restaurant will charge ten cents for the Happy Meal toy, giving the proceeds to the Ronald McDonald House charity. What a heroic way of dealing with those pesky local planners! Parents win. Kids win. McDonald’s wins. And charity gets a boost as well!
Liberty has still suffered, however, since now customers are forced to buy the food if they want the toy. Before, parents could purchase a Happy Meal toy by itself for a little over $2. Because of the way the law is written, this option is now gone—another unintended consequence of a bad law, since now, on the margin, customers will sometimes opt to buy the greasy food targeted by the law just so they can get the toy, when before they would have not bought the food.
Still, the Happy Meal lives, and this is just one more reminder that the market will outsmart the state in ways even those of us always on the lookout will miss. Last year, I was enraged that San Francisco (and my home county of Santa Clara) would wage war on American childhood in this manner. Yet I should have stopped and realized that as horrible as this law was, it was not going to stop the wonders of the market from bringing a smile to all those children.
How excellent that, just in time for Christmas, we once again see the market triumph over the efforts of politicians to destroy what fun is left in this country. To all the Hamburglers and Grinches in the world, I plead that you join in the holiday spirit of commerce and voluntarism, and reject the Scroogish sanctimony of socialistic city planning. Do I believe in magic? Of course I do. We see it every day in the glory of the market economy.