Jacob Weisberg: First they came for the Marlboros:
The underlying left-right divide is not about whether government has the right to promote private virtue but, rather, about what kind of virtue it should promote. Republicans demand paternalistic policies that uphold morality or social order. In Indiana, where I recently spent my vacation, you can pick up fireworks or a handgun anywhere, but good luck buying a six-pack on Sunday. Democrats, by contrast, deploy paternalism for health and safety reasons, yielding a different set of absurdities. In California, pot is on the verge of becoming more permissible than cigarettes. Both left and right take pleasure in mildly persecuting those who fail to meet their civic ideals.Dan Engber: Abolish the Fat Tax!
Obese people have shorter life spans. Since the elderly are by far the costliest patients, it's possible that early deaths save taxpayers money in the long run. In fact, fatal diseases almost always return net-cost savings to public health care. Smoking, which causes a host of particularly deadly conditions, turns out to be especially cheap—which is to say, government attempts to curb nicotine addiction have actually cost the United States money. (Niggling mental disorders and musculoskeletal diseases tend to be more expensive.)
Jeff Merron, "Workus Interruptus", on the stupidity of most "costs to society" measures:
Often, though not invariably, "costs to the U.S. economy" are self-serving sums concocted by lobbyists, companies, and advocacy and trade groups in order to grab attention. Basex, for example, is a consulting company that—you guessed it—would love to help you cut down on all those pesky interruptions, for a fee.William Saletan, "Then they came for the Fresca"
My real interest is in the authors' third basis for regulation: market failure thatIndeed.results from time-inconsistent preferences (i.e., decisions that provide short-term gratification but long-term harm). This problem is exacerbated in the case of children and adolescents, who place a higher value on present satisfaction while more heavily discounting future consequences.Wow. This isn't socialism. It's sheer paternalism. It applies even if you cover every cent of your medical expenses. You buy and drink soda because you want the "short-term gratification." Later, you regret this purchase because of its "long-term harm." This, according to the authors, is a market failure that justifies taxation to alter your behavior, totally apart from its impact on public health costs.
This is what worries me about the crackdown on death sticks and edible crap. There's no end to its ambitions. We'd better start applying some brakes.
One decent argument against the socialization of health care in the United States is that the arguments for health paternalism would then become more appealing to the kinds of folks who'd otherwise not give two hoots about your dietary habits. Once you socialize the downside costs, pressures for regulation of risk-taking behaviour become pretty strong.
It would be great to run a study looking at whether the extent of government involvement in health care correlates with the extent of nanny-state health regulations across a panel of countries. I'm sure I can get data on government health care expenditures. Any pointers on an index of "health nanny statism"?