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.
32 thoughts on “Edible Externalities”
I’ve never been exposed to anyone’s opinions that I disagree more vehemently than yours. And I’m being kind there. If I didn’t know better, I’d say you were being tongue-and-cheek with pretty much all you write. But alas, I’m afraid you really are serious.
A “healthcare tax”?? Seriously?? I don’t even know where to begin with that one. Have you absolutely NO faith in people to guide their own lives? Why do you have so much faith that if government got involved in controlling junk food it would produce the desired outcome you describe? The feds got involved in public education and the results have never been worse.
I know you like to say that there’s no way to know what the framers intentions were back then but you look me in the eye and tell me now that any one of them would sign on to your opinion about taxing junk food. But nevermind…knowing you, you’ll find a way.
First, I give you loads of credit for sticking with us here at Blogging Blue because I believe in an open dialog, even if some of your compatriots on the right do not.
I absolutely do have that faith. In fact, you must have skipped over the part where I said
I’m not about telling people what they can and can’t do, but at the same time, I don’t think they should be freeloading on our healthcare costs because of their bad choices. I believe in using the market to solve this problem.
The point of the discussion of externalities is that the true cost of the junk food is not represented in the price of the junk food. The cost is a simple production cost. I’m simply suggesting that, like good capitalists, we use the market to adjust the price to reflect the true cost, including all the externality costs, of the commodity in question.
Just like we used cigarette taxes to create the true social cost of a pack of cigarettes (beyond the simple cost of tobacco, paper, filter, packaging and manufacturing), I’m advocating the same approach with food that is known to cause health issues. By all means, eat up! But you should be prepared to pay the true cost of the food including as much of the external costs as we can extrapolate.
That’s my point.
Or we could reduce the subsidies that make it cheaper and possible.
“using the market” does not include the government imposing a tax on the market. I don’t agree with sin taxes of any sort. I used to smoke. I didn’t quit because it became expensive. I quit because I saw no future in it.
Where would your philosophy on these matters end? Nothing in excess is good for you. One could argue any number of products on the market would qualify for your new tax. Beyond that, did you actually see the ingredient list for the food item you showed a picture of? Is it worse than my eating the sleeve of oreos I might eat tonight?
Thanks for a fun site. I often go looking for differing points of view to my own in an effort to expand my horizons. Even if I know for SURE some of the opinions I encounter are clearly on the wrong side of the issue.
Slippery slope arguments are… slippery. And not convincing in the slightest.
In a democracy, they end when the voters no longer support the policy.
And taxes are certainly “using the market” to manage the externalities.
Then I’m thankful that the voters would be smart enough to not vote for such legislation in the first place
This is a fine example of Every Ultimately Costs What It Costs…
“Have you absolutely NO faith in people to guide their own lives?”
About one-third of American adults are obese, leading to obesity-related health care costs estimated at $147 billion.
Clearly leaving people to their own devices isn’t working to solve the problem.
But what is our other choice? People cannot be saved from themselves.
No, they can’t. But the rest of us can be spared the cost of their bad choices. That’s what externalities are! They’re the hidden costs of policy decisions.
What I love most about America is the fact that if I choose to eat a crap sandwich I can indeed do just that. It’s my job as a free citizen to make this decision for myself. I’ll do my homework and decide if a crap sandwich is a good idea. I don’t need government imposing taxes on products to try and force them from selling crap sandwiches. Because where would that EVER END??
I don’t smoke pot. But think about how the government’s involvement in that product or alcohol during prohibition didn’t work. We put people in jail for growing a NATURAL plant in their basement for their own enjoyment! At the very least get the feds out of it. Let each state and local community decide how to best handle these issues.
James, tell me why corn subsidies are not a tax. Tell me why an import tax on cane sugar helps us.
I don’t agree with either of those policies
Here’s another externality to consider: Helmet laws. Review the following data from the IIHS.
Should helmet-less riders be forced to pay more for their health insurance and life insurance?
Yes. As long as the federal government has nothing to do with it.
James, you’re not listening to me at all, you are arguing with the liberal voices in your head!
I never said you couldn’t. Eat all the crap you want! What I am saying is that you need to pay the true cost of that crap sandwich including all the external healthcare costs driven by that product.
Why is that so hard for you to grok?
NO Phil! What got me going was that you said, “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’s not a liberal voice in MY head, that’s a liberal comment by YOU!
No, that’s an economic comment from me. Neither liberal nor conservative… Purely monetary and market-driven.
We already of surcharges on health insurance premiums for tobacco users…
We already HAVE surcharges on health insurance premiums for tobacco users…
Our healthcare plan this year implemented surcharges (aka taxes) for smokers, drinkers and those who don’t perform a yearly Health Risk Analysis. Next up, fat tax, not enough veggies tax, left handed tax, you didn’t pay enough tax tax.
I actually agree with this putz’ idea regarding better educating people of the dangers, but trying to use taxes to change behavior is Marxist.
When the masses have no money left you will have nothing left to tax.
Woodeye…those aren’t taxes…that’s your employer and the free market insurance cabal at work…
Serious question for you: What is the principal function of taxes? What do taxes do and what are they for?
I’d honestly like to know where you think the money goes when you are taxed.
Seriously, when you say something like
what exactly are you thinking? Do you think the money goes into a black hole in the treasury never to be seen again? Does tt gets eaten by oompa-loompas? Does the Fed build a bonfire every night to burn our tax dollars? Honestly, where do you think it goes?
Woodeye, you do realize that if America had a single-payer system like Canada, France, Germany, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Belgium, The Netherlands, and every other advanced western economy you wouldn’t have that problem.
Insurance works by pooling risk. The bigger the pool, the lower the overall risk to the insurer. The best, biggest pool would be all Americans in one big pool. That would provide for the lowest costs and highest levels of coverage.
Remember, we’re not talking about a nationalized healthcare system like the UK, but a nationalized health insurance system. Hospitals and doctors would be free to compete for patients just like they do in all those countries I listed above.
Only their jobs would be greatly enhanced because they’d no longer have to deal with literally dozens of different insurance companies each with their own forms, phone numbers, systems and processes. The money spent on that horribly inefficient system could be funneled back into actual patient care.
This is a classic example of a provider externality. These unintended costs to the health providers to manage the relationships with all these different insurance providers. It wastes time, money and the valuable skills of our medical professionals.
Just a coincidence that all of these implemented right after Obama care passed????
At least we don’t have death panels…..yet.
You must not have private health insurance then. Because I can tell you that UnitedHealthcare certainly does have “death panels.” They deny care all the time to people I work with.
Woodeye, you are being exceptionally provincial…a bureaucrat working to deny to coverage to provide corporate profits is far more dangerous than anything you could conceive going on in Medicare…life and death decisions are being made in insurance company offices continually.
Yeah, but it’s the private sector so it’s all good, Ed.
Give me a government bureaucrat over a private health insurance company bureaucrat any day of the week and twice on Sunday!
From what I can tell from my conservative readers (Woodeye or James Booth), neither of you has demonstrated even the slightest hint of understanding the main issue behind this post: externalities. Really???
Are you playing ignorant or are you actually ignorant?
Ed, your vocabulary is great, but your grammar needs some work. I’ve been studying “working to deny to coverage to provide” and cannot decipher. I am sure you can blame it on me being exceptionally provincial, but I am wondering if you yourself are not a career politician as you have displayed quite the ability to ramble without actually saying anything.
From you that’s a compliment…I shouldn’t try to write comments and IM at the same time! LOL!
As for who Iam and what I am, it’s posted here on BB if you’d care to look…it’s my real name…not a pseudonym or alias.
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