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10/08/2006

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Dan C

What an image, Becker and Posner pointing bony fingers at the obese masses - just like the ghost of Christmas future in the Dickens story. In robes and everything, except Becker and Posner are a bit more verbose.

The Russians have tried to tax vodka with mixed results. (High taxes cut some consumption but hard to maintain system.) However Russian male life expentancy is now 58. LA Times did a nice three part piece on population trends in Russia recently. They paint a very bleak picture.

I don't look forward to chasing donut "moonbakers". Of course, as moonshiners gave birth to NASCAR so moonbakers can give birth to racing donut trucks.

I don't know how far Becker and Posner want to go with this stuff. How about a tax on people with bad genes who reproduce? Require all couples to have genetic screening and if they have children without the screening, they must pay a tax. In addition, if they are considered at risk for defective children, they must pay a tax if they go ahead and give birth. Lets get the defectives out of the general population. Or at least tax them.

Aren't these less then healthy, or at least unattractive, offspring a burden on the healthy attractive members of society?

Cyril Morong

Chloe suggests taxing fat people. Fat people are people who pig out.

So, would this be a "pig out" tax or a Pigou tax?

Dan C

In my previous post I do not want to imply that Becker or Posner want genetic screening.

I meant to say that Becker and Posner could push the fat tax advocates to see how far they want to go.

So when I wrote > I meant if it is a good idea to tax fat why not ask if these advocates want to tax genitically defective people.

Redmund Sum

I am scared of people like the NIH Scientist who wrote " …large fraction of the American populace is not just obese, but grossly and morbidly so. Many are grotesquely obese, inhabiting huge deformed bodies … If the problem is largely caused by technological advances on the part of the food industry in advertising and food science that makes their product almost addictive, government regulation is surely the only remedy."
The government should tax people, especially scientists, who do sloppy thinking!

W

Some Fat Lady: Imagine the increase in government size to develop and monitor a fat tax! Imagine the questions- Would a tax cover fast food only? What about restaurant food? Would a tax apply to specific entrees only, or all food on a restaurant's menu? Would a tax apply to grocery products? Red Meat? What about peanuts or olive oil? Avocado? Would a tax apply to organic foods high in fat? Compliance would be a nightmare! As a society are we willing to pay for both the tax and the compliance costs?

Uh, not really. Our tax code is complex, so taxpayers hire H&R block. The incidence of the compliance falls on H&R block, which makes a profit. Restaurants will just hire tax attorneys and so forth. Is that a net increase in costs? Maybe not. The subsidy for grocers and wholesalers of fresh produce can trickle down to restaurants in the form of cheaper prices for produce.

The opponents of the fat tax, it seems, are just making up invalid smokescreen excuses, probably because they are fat free-riders themselves.

The time v. nutrition "dilemma" could be better rephrased as "selling out your kids' health and increasing public health costs because you don't like to shop responsibly and lack the basic skill of cooking". Of course, free-riding is rational. But as Social Security beneficiaries free-riding off the labor of their grandkids should know, it is immoral.

Dan C

W wants to use the tax code for social engineering.

I prefer a simple tax code that is used to generate necessary revenues. All too quickly a tax code based on rewarding good and punishing bad becomes a tax code for helping good friends and punishing the other guys friends.

I can play with an academic debate on a fat tax but the reality is it would quickly morph, in Congress, into a way to subsidize those powerful enough to organize and punish those who lack the resources to fight back.

As George Stigler might have argued on this topic, bad legislation almost always began with good intentions.

BC

I wonder how feasible it would be to collect a fat tax (x per mg) at the manufacturer level, and just let them build it into the price charged to restaurants, wholesalers and retailers.

W

W wants to use the tax code for social engineering.

No, I don't want to pay for your health costs, fat ass. I'm a right-leaning libertarian, you idiot.

W

I wonder how feasible it would be to collect a fat tax (x per mg) at the manufacturer level

It would be very easy.

Dan C

To W, I must be a left leaning libertarian because I do believe in offering mental health services to those who so clearly are in need, regardless of ability to pay.

The world is a much better place when those who need help, seek it. And if they refuse to seek help, I hope they find a cave without electricity to vent their hatred at all the evil people that fill their otherwise empty heads.

BTW what kind of upside down libertarian demands that the government force the donuts from our lips.

W says that the government imposes on him a health care system that he does not like so he has the right to impose his views of good and bad on others. That is a libertarian view? The W definition of libertarian - Rule by the spitefully deranged.

You don't need to respond here W, just put on your little tin foil hat and send me a message.

W

W says that the government imposes on him a health care system that he does not like so he has the right to impose his views of good and bad on others.

That's a strange synthesis of a mischaracterization of two independent arguments I made.

True enough, imposing externalities on others, e.g., your kids, can be immoral ("Let's raid Johnny's college fund to pay for meth.") But my assertion that externalities should be internalized is not based on sectarian morality nor is sectarian morality the justification for limiting government action to efficient provision of public goods.

I never said "the government imposes on me" anything. "The government" to you -- the real nutbag -- is apparently a deity with its own freedom of action. In reality "the government" simply consists of the mass desires of the people limited by generally accepted considerations of fairness. My problem is not with some deity that you believe in called "the government" but with the other people in this society who are shifting their health care costs onto me. It is not a "government" imposition -- it's an imposition by fat people.

It is true that if "the government" had lesser power over health care or taxation, fat people wouldn't be able to shift their health care costs on to me. But it is also true that "the government" is currently constituted the way it is. Instead of denying reality, I am responding to it and articulating an argument for a change from the status quo that will improve my lot. If you had read my argument, you would see I am not arguing for bigger "government" in the least -- my proposal is at least offsetting.

I fail to see how protecting my bedroom safe from the theiving intent of the fat (a tyrannical majority if ever there were one) somehow conflicts with the notion that the state has a basic duty to protect its citizens, i.e., the Nightwatchman State. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Night_watchman_state

I'll also note that "Libertarian Paternalism" -- apparently -- does exist, and that left-libertarianism is a coherent philosophy.

Libertarian Paternalism: http://uchicagolaw.typepad.com/faculty/2006/10/sunstein_podcas.html

Left-Libertarianism: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Left-libertarianism

A book on left-libertarianism: http://www.amazon.com/Libertarianism-without-Inequality-Michael-Otsuka/dp/0199280185/sr=1-1/qid=1160972894/ref=sr_1_1/102-7693810-2105745?ie=UTF8&s=books

Apparently, you flunked Libertarianism 101.

W

W says that the government imposes on him a health care system that he does not like so he has the right to impose his views of good and bad on others.

That's a strange synthesis of a mischaracterization of two independent arguments I made.

True enough, imposing externalities on others, e.g., your kids, can be immoral ("Let's raid Johnny's college fund to pay for meth.") But my assertion that externalities should be internalized is not based on sectarian morality nor is sectarian morality the justification for limiting government action to efficient provision of public goods.

I never said "the government imposes on me" anything. "The government" to you -- the real nutbag -- is apparently a deity with its own freedom of action. In reality "the government" simply consists of the mass desires of the people limited by generally accepted considerations of fairness. My problem is not with some deity that you believe in called "the government" but with the other people in this society who are shifting their health care costs onto me. It is not a "government" imposition -- it's an imposition by fat people.

It is true that if "the government" had lesser power over health care or taxation, fat people wouldn't be able to shift their health care costs on to me. But it is also true that "the government" is currently constituted the way it is. Instead of denying reality, I am responding to it and articulating an argument for a change from the status quo that will improve my lot. If you had read my argument, you would see I am not arguing for bigger "government" in the least -- my proposal is at least offsetting.

I fail to see how protecting my bedroom safe from the theiving intent of the fat (a tyrannical majority if ever there were one) somehow conflicts with the notion that the state has a basic duty to protect its citizens, i.e., the Nightwatchman State. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Night_watchman_state

I'll also note that "Libertarian Paternalism" -- apparently -- does exist, and that left-libertarianism is a coherent philosophy.

Libertarian Paternalism: http://uchicagolaw.typepad.com/faculty/2006/10/sunstein_podcas.html

Left-Libertarianism: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Left-libertarianism

A book on left-libertarianism: http://www.amazon.com/Libertarianism-without-Inequality-Michael-Otsuka/dp/0199280185/sr=1-1/qid=1160972894/ref=sr_1_1/102-7693810-2105745?ie=UTF8&s=books

Apparently, you flunked Libertarianism 101.

W

W says that the government imposes on him a health care system that he does not like so he has the right to impose his views of good and bad on others.

That's a strange synthesis of a mischaracterization of two independent arguments I made.

True enough, imposing externalities on others, e.g., your kids, can be immoral ("Let's raid Johnny's college fund to pay for meth.") But my assertion that externalities should be internalized is not based on sectarian morality nor is sectarian morality the justification for limiting government action to efficient provision of public goods.

I never said "the government imposes on me" anything. "The government" to you is apparently a deity with its own freedom of action. In reality "the government" simply consists of the mass desires of the people limited by generally accepted considerations of fairness. My problem is not with some deity that you believe in called "the government" but with the other people in this society who are shifting their health care costs onto me. It is not a "government" imposition -- it's an imposition by fat people.

It is true that if "the government" had lesser power over health care or taxation, fat people wouldn't be able to shift their health care costs on to me. But it is also true that "the government" is currently constituted the way it is. Instead of denying reality, I am responding to it and articulating an argument for a change from the status quo that will improve my lot. If you had read my argument, you would see I am not arguing for bigger "government" in the least -- my proposal is at least offsetting.

I fail to see how protecting my bedroom safe from the theiving intent of the fat (a tyrannical majority if ever there were one) somehow conflicts with the notion that the state has a basic duty to protect its citizens, i.e., the Nightwatchman State. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Night_watchman_state

I'll also note that "Libertarian Paternalism" -- apparently -- does exist, and that left-libertarianism is a coherent philosophy.

Libertarian Paternalism: http://uchicagolaw.typepad.com/faculty/2006/10/sunstein_podcas.html

Left-Libertarianism: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Left-libertarianism

A book on left-libertarianism: http://www.amazon.com/Libertarianism-without-Inequality-Michael-Otsuka/dp/0199280185/sr=1-1/qid=1160972894/ref=sr_1_1/102-7693810-2105745?ie=UTF8&s=books

Apparently, you flunked Libertarianism 101.

stefanos

You mention iPods twice as a "bad" that should be taxed, however I use my iPod mainly for exercise, and I must say, it has encouraged me to exercise for longer durations. Therefore this is a technology different than video games, TV, or the internet that require sitting down. If anything, there probably has to be a subsidy for iPods because it allows you to listen to music on the go, either that means simply walking or exercising. Same applies for the older Sony Walkman's, as the word itself suggests.

Alex

It seems to me that a simple story of 1-period supply and demand is not an adequate one when describing America's decision to expand its waistline.

How then, should we think about this choice?

Persons deviate from consuming the optimally healthy diet in order to gain felicity in the current period, and, because of this contemporary choice, incur a series of health related costs in the future. A person's decision to overeat, then, is like shorting a "health bond." Americans will opt to eat poorly until the utility they receive in the current period from eating marginally less healthy equalls the present value of the marginal loss of utility that they will receive in the future due to medical and other costs.

So while the current utility (and the inputs into that function such as food prices and search costs) that a person recieves from eating poorly must be taken into account, there are two other factors that must likewise be held in consideration:

1) The function that transforms poor eating today into future costs due to poor health.
Factors affecting this function include such things as be genetic dispostion and exercise rates--Wilson's PhD thesis points to this last factor.

2) The rate at which we discount these future health problems and their associated costs.
Factors such as the funding source of health care, social emphasis on appearance and interest rate will all affect this rate.

From personal annecdotal experience, Wilson's PhD arguement seems to be the most plausible explanation as a cause for America's expaning waistline. However, I am puzzled by the fact the this increase in sedentary entertainment modes and work environments has affected American and Europe an populations in different manners. Upon arriving in Europe for several months this past winter, it was obvious that these populations, equally affected by the technological and junk food revolutions, were much trimmer than the one I was used to seeing about in Chicago. I am curious as to how these other factors addressed here, but not in Wilson's PhD thesis or the above article on the notion of a Fat-Tax affect this contrast.

Dan C

While W is quivering under his sheets fearing that a fat person will enter his bedroom and steal something, I don't want to know what, he wants to grant the government the power to tax the contents of my cupboard. I consider the contents of my refrigerator, my business. If I stock it with cake or carrots, that is my right.

I can claim that I think sex outside of marriage is bad and I think sexually transmitted diseases are self-inflicted diseases that the public should not treat. Public health is only affected to the degree that people refuse to take steps to protect themselves. Let AIDS victims die in the gutter with the dogs and the fat people. They should all take responsibility for their actions and not impose costs on others.

And W can then tax them for excess use of the gutters.

W seems to have some notion that he can write the perfect fat tax, that will clearly obtain his goal, skinny people, without any distortions once the enforcement of the laws is turned over to government agencies. That is somewhere over the rainbow thinking.

But if you want to tax fats and you don't think private interest will fight back to affect the legislation, you must be in a cave. I can only guess at what enforcement measures you might take against inner city kids selling home made fat laden muffins on street corners.

Schools should be required to provide healthy foods and offer exercise to students. I wish inner cities were safer places for children to play outside. I wish suburbs were friendlier to walkers. I wish, I wish, I wish.

But what if I said that the biggest reason for the increase in obesity was smaller families. Larger families have less to spend on food per child and larger families have siblings who engage in healthy physical activity with each other.

Let people make their own choices and keep the tax code simple.

Adrian

"These important changes in the health delivery system would give individuals much greater incentive then [sic] they have at present..."

It's comforting to know that we are all human.

W

Dan C: Let people make their own choices and keep the tax code simple.

Taxing fat is keeping the tax code simple and is letting people make their own choices. The question is whether I should have to bear the costs of your choices. The libertarian answer is no.

W

I consider the contents of my refrigerator, my business. If I stock it with cake or carrots, that is my right.

Sure, if you pay for it yourself.

W

I can claim that I think sex outside of marriage is bad and I think sexually transmitted diseases are self-inflicted diseases that the public should not treat.

Except this, unlike efficiency concerns, is not a public reason. Are you really claiming that economics cannot be a public reason? You are a profoundly ignorant fellow, even for a left-libertarian.

Dan C

First, medical studies have shown that thin does not equal healthy. While obese people are at risk for many problems being thin is not the best answer. Active people tend to be thin but the improved health outcomes are more related to the active lifestyle then the weight. If you want to live a long healthy life then be active and be blessed with good genes. However, remember that many bad things are just random and not a punishment for being bad.

The treatment of disease, and a public response, is an efficiency issue. We have limited resources so how much should we spend on a disease that is self-inflicted - obesity or a sexual transmitted disease?

I am sure that some fat people may not want to pay for the treatment of the sexual diseases of sexually active thin people. i.e. public funding of drug research etc. Why should I ignore their plea and grant your rant?

You seem to want to eliminate obesity but prefer to ignore the cost of sexually transmitted diseases. Why? Who knows? Who cares? Perhaps some libertarians aspire to a thin hedonistic lifestyle.

You don't like fat people and consider them a burden on you. You blame fat people for being fat, so you want to empower the government to make them thin. I missed that part in Mills writings. One can only wonder what you would do to drug users?

Still, I feel like I am arguing with a sixteen year old. Your tax can be simple, a tax on Big Macs, and have little real impact on the general population. Or your tax can go after all sources of fat, in which case it becomes a major legislative headache as various interest groups play the game. For example, infants require high fat milk, will you tax the milk of an infant or do you start carving exceptions? What do you think elected officials of dairy states will say? Please get real.

Professor Becker and Judge Posner seem to disagree with you on this topic, so I will remain blissfully ignorant of how your mind defines libertarian. Emphasis on the blissful.

W

Dan C: You don't like fat people and consider them a burden on you. You blame fat people for being fat, so you want to empower the government to make them thin. I missed that part in Mills writings. One can only wonder what you would do to drug users?

The problem with arguing with straw-men is that they don't exist. The issue is not blame or badness (though, apparently, you would love to argue with a religious zealot who is an anorexic BMI Nazi). I'm not fighting for the rights of "thin people" -- whatever that means.

The issue is who has to pay for Person X's lifestyle choices. The best answer is Person X, not Person Y or Person Z. I do not care whether Person X injects himself with heroin, so long as he does not inflict any harm on anyone else. But people who free-ride on the public health system and drive up other people's taxes so they can eat steaks until their heart explodes are, in fact, inflicting harm on others. Even John Stuart Mill recognized that increasing taxes means decreasing liberty.

"You seem to want to eliminate obesity but prefer to ignore the cost of sexually transmitted diseases."

That's silly. I took your raising of STDs as a sad attempt to mock the idea of there being a non-deontological, or public, reason for taxing fat. Because there is a non-religious and non-sectarian basis for taxing fat, your STD example is no longer worth discussing. A discussion on STDs would be a different thread.

An analog to your position is this: serial drunk-drivers shouldn't have to pay higher insurance premiums than anyone else, because everyone benefits from public roads and accidents are random events.

Which, of course, is silly.

W

Oh, and your craven appeals to public choice theory do not work. Fat people like blaming food companies for their situation and being fat is unpopular. There is an overwhelming majority, including fat people who see themselves as victims, that would love to tap into punishing food companies. (That isn't a justification of the proposal, just a rebuttal to the notion that it couldn't be realized without being consumed by special-interest bickering). An analogy to your argument is that gun control legislation could never be passed. Of course, that's false: Plenty of people hate guns, hate gun companies, and blame them for most crime, regardless of the evidence.

Dan C

Perhaps anti fat advocates can follow the Danish model. Trans fats are by law, with criminal sanctions, limited to 2% of a product. It may not have led to better health outcomes, but at least this model has the benefit of being simple.

http://www.breitbart.com/news/2006/10/16/D8KQ0HF84.html

Or the anti fat advocates can look at the Disney model and just let the free market respond to changing tastes.

http://news.yahoo.com/s/nm/20061016/hl_nm/media_disney_food_dc_3

W

Dan C finally admits he hadn't researched the issue before he posted about it.

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