Friday 13 July 2012

Banning hate

You can't ban hate. You can put in laws banning discriminatory treatment in employment or consumer markets, but if the differences in treatment arose from real differences in costs rather than hatred, you're probably doing more harm than good.

Today's edition? Here:
"Fat hatred" should be banned like racism or sexism, says a pro-fat scholar who argues that obesity isn't a health problem.

Massey University lecturer Cat Pause says "the war against fat" and "fat phobia" were much more damaging than carrying a few extra kilos or, in her case, a lot.

"Obesity is not a big health problem. If you really look at the science, that is what comes through."

...In New Zealand – the world's third-fattest nation – more than a quarter of the population are classed as obese.

But Dr Pause, who has a PhD in human development, says it is "fattism" that should be feared, not expanding waistlines.

She called on New Zealand to be the first country to outlaw discrimination against fat people, which has been described as the "last socially acceptable form of prejudice".

Fat people were having to live in a culture that openly hated them, she said.
I agree with Cat that policy moves trying to bash fat people really aren't warranted.

But suppose that she's wrong and most other folks are right about the actual health or other costs of obesity. What happens if we mandate that health insurers ignore weight if weight actually does predict health problems? We effectively socialise the private costs of being obese. What happens if we mandate that employers provide reasonable accommodation for the obese? Employers start avoiding hiring them in the first place for fear of having to make unreasonable accommodations. If we ban airlines from requiring larger passengers to purchase extra seats to prevent overflow into the neighbour's seat, we again socialise the costs of obesity, either by making every other passenger pay extra for the obese person's extra free or subsidized seat, or by giving random draw unlucky lotto tickets to other economy-class passengers.

Further, if markets are competitive, any firm that unreasonably penalizes the obese will be out-competed by one that doesn't. Discrimination ought only persist if it either reflects something real, or something that other customers value - which is also real, though subjective. You can imagine a nightclub that only lets in thin people being successful in the market. But discrimination against the obese in this situation would be little different than discrimination against the ugly, or bars banning economists' entry because we're argumentative. You could maybe make the case that banning nightclubs from having exclusive entry policies can shift social norms such that, in a few decades' time, the ban would no longer be needed. But it would be a pretty speculative proposition; there seem to be reasonably fixed beauty preferences that correlate with a mix of genetic fitness (symmetry) and fertility (waist-hip ratio). And preferences against having economists around ought to be understandable to anybody who reads this blog.

The more that is done to ban markets from responding to any real costs of obesity, the more justified are policies that try to tax the correlates of obesity like excess sugar consumption. It's more efficient to let markets sort out costs associated with the output than to have governments tax the inputs where people have very heterogeneous production functions, where the costs of obesity are heterogeneous across activities, and where insurers very likely have a better handle on whether any individual case warrants higher premiums.

1 comment:

  1. There will never be laws to prevent discrimination towards fatties. On the contrary, laws and taxes will be put in place to control and denormalise them.
    Now that they've just about nailed the smokers more scapegoats are needed to blame for tobacco-related deaths and disease - the rates of which (bizarrely) seem to increase as smoking rates fall.
    It'll be for the sake of the cheeeldren of usual.