It is well known (apparently) that America is suffering an obesity epidemic of unprecedented proportions. And I’ve heard all kinds of proposals for how to deal with it, ranging from the seemingly innocent (e.g. providing more information in school about the risks of obesity) to the more draconian (banning trans-fats, or worse). My personal view on these proposals is that they are largely an exercise of nanny-ism and power-exertion over people deemed “inferior” than those arguing we have an obesity problem. And no, now is not the time to argue with me about the “negative externalities” of obesity – I’ve addressed that several times already, and will do so in the future, but that is not the point of my post.
The point is that I really do not think “they” care very much about “solving” obesity problems. In that case, wouldn’t we expect to see even a wider range of more creative proposals? Why not tax food heavily? After all, if you want less of something, make it more expensive. The answer is probably obvious – but my point remains that if policymakers and “anti-obesity crusaders” were serious we should have at least have heard this most effective economic strategy for doing it. After all, we do see proposals for taxes on soda and specific items. But having a sugary drink does not make one fat – consuming more calories than one burns makes one fat. So where are the calorie tax advocates?
Even more, how come we have yet to see even better proposals. The reason people are fatter today is simply that for whatever reason, the net benefits of eating is higher today than in the past (lower cost food, better medical care, etc.) Part of that calculation must have included something regarding family size. I’d love to see data on obesity rates by family size. My mental model is that larger families, ceteris paribus, have a lower incidence of obesity than smaller ones. Again, to understand why, just think like an economist.
Suppose my hypothesis were true, then how come you never ever could imagine seeing an anti-obesity nanny do-gooder proposing that we take greater steps to promote larger families, subsidizing babies, and the like? I mean, shouldn’t we be thinking about all good ideas for how to ameliorate the “problem” and then doing a “scientific” and “value-free” weighing of the different options? I never see it. Never. And I leave it as a mental exercise for now as to why we never see such “radical” proposals. My brief take, is that following through the proposal on family size to its logical conclusion leads to a stark and direct contradiction of fundamental “principles” that the anti-obesity crusaders hold dear, and we simply cannot allow that, can we?