Obesity: The harm in trying…?
July 31, 2009, 8:35 pm
Filed under: Health
Here, I pioneer a new blog style: the epistolary. Basically I posted this as a comment on Megan McArdle’s blog and can’t be bothered to translate it into third-person. This blog is all about laziness! Enjoy.
Megan, I’m going to egotistically assume I am the one other blogger you expect to accuse you of blindly endorsing nay-saying, and say: you’re blindly endorsing nay-saying. I am dull and predictable, and no one should read my blog. But more importantly, this whole subject initially came up because you were saying that increased government intervention in the health insurance market would lead to government increasingly telling us what to eat, and, as with the chocolate eclair example, that this was a problem because it entailed a curtailment of freedom.
But now you’re saying that the whole of the problem is that there’s nothing we can do about what people choose to eat. I still feel that you’ve got a really serious logical problem here that you’re just not addressing. If attempts to limit obesity prevalence don’t work, why will increased government responsibility for health care spending raise pressure on the government to waste money on them? If rising obesity doesn’t really entail very much higher rates of morbidity or higher health spending, then why will the government feel pressure to attack obesity to lower morbidity or heath spending? You may be saying that the government will do these things because it’s irrational, but in that case, what does this problem have to do with universal health insurance? The government does all sorts of irrational things, and its irrational campaigns against drugs and sex have proceeded quite aggressively without universal health insurance.
And, finally, if it’s just impossible to control what people eat, then how can there even be any curtailment of freedom here? If government interventions will be limited to TV ad campaigns that don’t work, am I really supposed to treat that as a serious harm worth worrying about? The amount of money is trivial; for citizens, it’s at most an inconvenience, or perhaps a wasteful subsidy of late-night TV comedy material. Weigh this against the cost of even 100,000 people in the US who actually need insurance being unable to obtain it. Which is more important?
Then, you say that it will simply be impossible to achieve any of the more serious measures that advocates argue might lead to reducing obesity, like cutting corn syrup subsidies or building a less car-oriented society. Again, if these measures will not pass, where is the threat to freedom? If they do pass, and work, isn’t that good? What is the harm you’re claiming? You may be saying that people should just not use their votes to get government to intentionally intervene in shaping policy or the built environment towards any particular lifestyle preferences, that this is in itself a curtailment of freedom. But then in the next breath you say that the reason we have a car-based society is because people voted for the governments that built it. And I really get the sense that you think this was okay. Well, people are voting now for governments that want to do something about reducing childhood obesity. Explain to me again what’s wrong with that.
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