Ha-ha, the kidders at The Washington Post had me going yesterday with a fine satire on how to solve the obesity problem in America. Ha-ha. I almost got outraged. Read this. It’s seriously The Funny.
America is fat and getting fatter. Today 140 million American adults are overweight or obese. Their bodies carry 4 billion pounds of excess fat, the result of eating 14 trillion excess calories.
Numbers of this size belong in the domain of economists, not physicians. And therein lies the solution.
Medical and public health attempts to control obesity should continue, but it is time to add marketplace approaches. The first step is realizing that, nationally, weight gain is not a medical problem, it’s a pollution problem.
Okay, so that part doesn’t really lend itself to laughter. It’s a great ruse, though. Introduce comedy with a straight setup. Here, we’re going to discuss something grown-up and serious. Psyche. You laughed at the pratfall, didn’t you? Ha-ha, that’s a good one. The opening was worth getting to this:
Public policies have succeeded in reducing air pollution. They can teach us how to reduce calorie pollution. Tradable emission allowances, for example, establish markets where permits to emit air pollutants can be bought and sold. Market forces then provide incentives to reduce pollution emissions.
Wait a minute. Public policies? Have succeeded? This IS a joke, right? I’m getting a little nervous.
A specific example illustrates how tradable emission allowances could work. Suppose the calorie-emission allowance is set to 100 calories for each ounce of food emitted into the environment (i.e., sold). A four-ounce food item having more than 400 calories could not, therefore, be sold unless “calorie credits” were purchased to cover the excess calories. So a standard four-ounce stick of butter, containing 780 calories, could not enter the marketplace until the butter producer acquired 380 additional calorie-credits from someone having credits to sell.
On the other hand, the producer of a four-ounce block of frozen spinach would emit only 28 calories into the environment and could sell the unused 372 calorie-credits to the butter producer.
What? This isn’t a joke, is it? A marketplace for calories? I can only buy enough for what I should have? Who sets the values, since the “public policy” aspect almost guarantees that I’ll be treated like a child? You can have your dessert after you eat your spinach, Tony, but only if you have enough calorie credits left.
With such a program, high-density foods would become more expensive and low-density foods would become cheaper. Unlike a tax, the program could be designed so the net cost change to consumers was zero. Thus, consumers who alter their eating habits need pay no more to eat the same number of calories. The hope, which should be tested, is that the number of calories eaten would drop, owing to the difficulty of consuming large numbers of calories from low-density foods. This would then reduce food costs and, ultimately, health-care costs.
Ummm, I hate to burst the author’s little bubble of socialist blather, but free markets aren’t “designed”. They’re free to form to meet needs. Anything else is central planning. And that never works, at least not as well as a free market. So, essentially, a free market involves governmental babysitting of adults and their food consumption. Good thinking.
To avoid shocking the marketplace, the calorie-emission allowance could initially be set very high, say 190 calorie-credits per ounce. Reducing it slowly would give food producers time to adapt and to develop new products with lower energy densities.
And now we see why central planning never succeeds. Our plan should be designed to give food producers time to develop new products? Huh? “New products” in food means processed, pre-packaged. That’s what’s making us fat. How are food producers going to create new spinach? Hold on a minute, this is something like Weight Watchers, isn’t it. Deal-A-Meal? I’ll have to buy my food from the federal government, won’t I?
The industrial production of calories has been a boon to mankind. Famine has disappeared from much of the world. Efforts to control obesity must not threaten this spectacular achievement. But the current marketplace for calories is a classic failed market: The costs of being overweight are external to food prices.
The current marketplace for calories is a classic failed market? That’s nothing more than a propaganda slogan for the further infantilization of America into accepting more socialized public health. Horse hockey.
Economically, a calorie-emission trading program would have winners and losers. Some prospective losers would understand that change presents opportunity. They would welcome the program as an impetus to diversify and do the right thing for the public health. Potential losers having a narrower, self-serving vision might resist the program fiercely. We must hope that our political leaders, many of whom are sedentary, overweight and atherosclerotic, would have the courage and good health to face the barrage.
Prospective losers would suddenly see the light, eventually thanking those kind souls who forgave their wandering in the wilderness of poor food choices for so long. Everyone needs a savior. Thankfully, there are central planners interested in filling the need.
But, what if I really like stuffing mint chocolate chip ice cream and fried possum down my gullet? More so than good health or being slim? I have to sacrifice myself for the public health? I’d be a narrow-minded, self-serving glutton? I should hope that our political leaders act like the good parents that Karl Marx would want them to be? That’s fucking brilliant.
I think I’ll have cookies for breakfast, lunch, and dinner tomorrow.