In economics, the concept of the externality helps explain the “knock-on” effects of economic decisions and the unintended consequences of choices. Acid rain is a classic example of a pollution externality. Want to see another one?
Meet the Edible Externality. Mark Morford over at SF Gate introduced it to me. And he fears it. He fears it greatly. He abhors what it represents. As do I.
But then, questioning his own liberal-leaning motives (a desire to control the behavior of others through social policy, I suspect), he reflects on the reaction his post about Paula Dean reporting she’s become diabetic generated.
Here’s the gist: Who cares what other people eat? Who cares if people are dumb enough to put poison in their bodies? Let them be stupid and die! One less idiot to worry about! Who are you to tell anyone what to do? Shut up, liberal elitist jerkface! Ron Paul 2012! And so on.
Perhaps Cesar is right. Why should I care what you eat? Why should anyone care what anyone does to anyone else, so long as they’re not hurting the planet, scratching my car or raising property taxes? So long as they’re not promoting dietary ignorance, ruining the health care system and wondering why depression and cancer, obesity and malevolence rule the land? Oh wait.
If you think the shit we stuff into our mouths only vaguely identifiable as “food” doesn’t have a significan external economic impact on society, you’d be very, very wrong. This, my friends, is an externality in action.
Consuming crap like this costs society a bundle in healthcare costs (diabetes alone costs us billions), transportation costs (fat people cost more to move from place to place, a plane full of them costs considerably more to move), productivity costs (the obese are more likely to be absent from work), etc., etc., etc. So what should we do?
The answer to this conundrum is not banning shit-food like this, but to drive it from the market by forcing down demand through education and re-aligning the market costs of such products. A “healthcare tax” on fast food and so-called “junk” food, for instance, would be one way to recognize the true cost of consuming this kind of crap. And that would go a long way to rebalancing both healthcare and nutrition in America.