Friday, July 08, 2005

Paul Calls for Jihad

In The War Against Gluttony (WAG) dark corporate forces lurk under every dining room table, according to once-an-economist Paul Krugman:

In today's America, proposals to do something about rising obesity rates must contend with a public predisposed to believe that the market is always right and that the government always screws things up.

You can see these predispositions at work in an article printed last month in Amber Waves, a magazine published by the Department of Agriculture. The article is titled "Obesity Policy and the Law of Unintended Consequences," suggesting that government efforts to combat obesity are likely to be counterproductive. But the authors don't actually provide any examples of how that might happen.

Would anyone be surprised to learn that Krugman is...shall we say, not being candid about that?

In the article in question (from the Economic Research Service arm of the DoA) we learn, for instance:

A restaurant study in England found that providing nutrition information had no effect on overall energy and fat intake of patrons. In fact, the presence of “lower fat” information was associated with fewer restaurant patrons’ selecting the target dish.


Restaurants could also respond to mandatory labeling by expanding their menu options to include healthier choices, while still selling or even promoting their less healthy options. In this way they could satisfy their nutritionally conscientious customers without alienating their customers who prefer higher fat or caloric foods. This strategy could lead to unintended outcomes for nutrition information policy. A study by Christine Moorman of Duke University showed that following NLEA, food suppliers expanded price promotion of nutritionally poorer brands while promotion of nutritionally better brands did not change significantly between the two periods.

Nor is that all that is odd about Doctor Food's latest column:

... only a blind ideologue or an economist could argue with a straight face that Americans were rationally deciding to become obese. In fact, even many economists know better: the most widely cited recent economic analysis of obesity, a 2003 paper by David Cutler, Edward Glaeser and Jesse Shapiro of Harvard University, declares that "at least some food consumption is almost certainly not rational." It goes on to present evidence that even adults have clear problems with self-control.

Odd that Krugman didn't mention that the above paper is cited at the same Amber Waves site he's criticizing:

Harvard University's David Cutler, Edward Glaser, and Jesse Shapiro have suggested that the increase in food consumption prompted by the falling time cost of food is the major cause behind the surge in obesity since 1980. They note: "Technological innovations—including vacuum packing, improved preservatives, deep freezing, artificial flavors, and microwaves—have enabled food manufacturers to cook food centrally and ship it to consumers for rapid consumption. In 1965, a married woman who didn't work spent over two hours per day cooking and cleaning up from meals. In 1995, the same tasks took less than half the time."

Krugman just wants to do something...for the children:

It is more important, however, to emphasize that there are situations in which "free to choose" is all wrong - and that this is one of them.

For one thing, the most rapid rise in obesity isn't taking place among adults, who, we hope, can understand the consequences of their decisions. It's taking place among children and adolescents.

Left unexplained is why the same adults who are the parents of the children wouldn't also understand the consequences of their children's decisions.

Nor did Krugman comment on this from the Amber Waves paper:

Health insurance, both private and public, may reduce consumers’ incentives to take all cost-justified health precautions (including choosing a healthy diet) because it reduces the medical costs paid directly by consumers. The fact that a large part of the health care bill from overweight and obesity is eventually footed by taxpayers, not private insurance providers, may further misalign social and private costs. Economists have estimated that Medicare and Medicaid pay for at least half of obesity-attributable medical expenses. What would otherwise be a matter of personal choice (and responsibility) becomes a matter of concern for all taxpayers.

Understandable, since Krugman recently came out for Medicare for everyone.

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