Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Fat Chances?


People eat too much of that which harms them, the only logical response is to take away the option altogether, right?

That's the leap that New York City has made concerning the use of trans-fatty acids in restaurants, and it looks like several other cities are following suit.

While I'd like to complain that this is just another silly example of people rudely being presumed by their servants (i.e. elected representatives) incompetent to make their own decisions; that they coopt the decisions that said people make as their best choices given available options; that the unseen costs and benefits are completely ignored; ...

I won't go on at all. I'm going to just ask people to punish their elected bitches by electing new ones to replace them for the vote of no-confidence in their bosses the present ones filed.

Will it happen? Hell no, it's comfy when someone else is taking care of your problems. The psychological stresses we can avoid by just taking the government happy-pill whenever a crisis (manufactured or reasonable though it may be) arises must truly be great, for I know many people that would applaud this decision.

But as I've recently blogged, our legislators have their hands filled with other worthy endeavors such as establishing official state muffins. This can't possibly be the place to look for output resembling sensibility.

I suggest all of our NYC readers (I'll indulge myself with the notion that we actually have one or more - but judging by the hit-meter, it's not likely) go bake a margarine-laden Apple Muffin and send it to city hall.


SmoothB said...

I'm not sure if the right place to lay blame is on legislators. They're not really being "presumptive" at all. They're being obedient -- voters want bad-for-you things banned. If you want to lay blame, lay blame on people's increasing willingness to vote their meddlesome preferences. Politicians do what they're told -- the problem is they're being told to do bad things.

And willingness to vote in a meddlesome way really is a variable that changes over time. Check out Green and Gerken’s article, “Self-Interest and Public Opinion Toward Smoking Restrictions and Cigarette Taxes” (Public Opinion Quarterly, 1989). The paper is primarily about how on the issue of smoking bans, people do vote instrumentally (selfishly), but at the end of the paper there seems to be some evidence that on that particular issue, anti-smoking campaigns have made people more willing to do so. That certainly fits my vision of reality -- we do seem to be growing more willing to say, "I don't like you doing that -- I think it's okay for me to vote to prevent you from doing that."

Anonymous said...

I don't think it's fair to compare this to smoking. I've never heard of "second-hand transfat". Tobacco smoke doesn't stay with the smoker. It floats about the room and becomes a health hazard to non-smokers.

How about comparing it to booze? Both are things people consume of their own free will and neither directly affects anyone else.

Tim said...

SmoothB, that's certainly a fair passing-on of blame. Ultimately it IS the voters that call for this sort of nonsense at some level.

But I can't help but feel if the politicians themselves didn't rhetorically position the issue as a problem needing solving, and themselves as holding the answer. In short, I'm not sure how many individuals are saying "Ban that which I like not" - I don't hear much of it, per se.

Legislators definitely have a special opportunity to collaborate with the media and discover crises - it's just a matter of pushing the right buttons. Who's to blame, the vultures or the carrion? I don't know, but they're both pretty stinky.

When I hear complaints, it's usually about competing liberty - my right to enjoy a meal in a restaurant without breathing smoke vs. your right to smoke - and couched as a safety, health issue.

Given that framing, most people don't even give thought to the rights of the owner of the restaurant, and if it comes up, it usually doesn't get the attention that a percieved danger to health and "freedom" does.


SmoothB said...

Sure, I don't think that people are being actively malicious -- they're probably not getting utility out of knowledge that they kept you from doing something you don't like. I'm just saying that they don't have a really strong reason to take your concerns into account. More specifically, how willing they are to say, "yeah, I don't smoke -- ban cigarettes" or "I don't like transfat, go ahead and ban it" is a variable that is probably increasing.

I'm not sure what the politicians get out of campaigning to ban something, unless they get more votes out of the matter. And if they are getting votes from the matter, then doesn't that mean that voters want to ban it?

I think you can totally compare it to smoking. Smoke goes about the room, but that makes nonsmokers less willing to eat in that restaurant and so the restaurant owner internalizes the cost of the smoking. In the case of both smoking and transfat, there is no externality. (Except insofar as we have public provision of healthcare, which makes pretty much everything a public matter and not a private decision.)