Friday, May 6, 2011

Magic Government

There are a lot of issues where people accurately diagnose a problem with our society, but then assume that 'the government' is the solution to that problem. Here's an example:
The pressure starts early, with vending machines and fast food chains a significant presence on school campuses — something Nestle vociferously opposes. "Vending machines in schools was like the invasion of the Pandora's box," she said

So basically, government agencies are callously sacrificing the health of the children under their care for a quick buck. What is the solution to this?
Nestle believes that such deliberate targeting of children in the marketing strategies of food and beverage companies is unethical, which is why she suggests there is a role for government regulation in improving Americans' diets. "We have unbridled capitalism at work here," she said. "I think capitalism is fine, but you need to bridle it a little. There needs to be some kind of check and balances, and the only thing that can do that is government. You have to have government involved."

And what do we observe in the cases where government is most involved with what is fed to people?

More than regulation, though, caring is something Nestle emphasizes again and again in conversation. Discussing the recent recall by the USDA of 143 million pounds of beef — much of which had been sent to school lunch programs — due to evidence that the processor had sent sick cattle to slaughter in violation of federal regulations, Nestle said, "The school lunch program is looking for the lowest cost possible. That's one of the reasons why that company had low costs. That's just the government saving money. Because poor kids eat school lunches, right? Their parents don't vote; some of them are illegal immigrants. Nobody cares. In situations where people do care, they're able to be much more respectful about it, and the kids eat better.

So despite the fact that she chronicles all of the nutritional harm caused by the government, she wants to solve the problem with ... more government.

I think that when people say 'the government needs to do X' they really mean 'people like me need to be given power and put in control of X.' And it is certainly possible that nutrition in this country would be a lot better if people like this nutritionist were in charge of food. But somehow, that never happens.

"There was an inspector (from the USDA) in the plant," she recalled, "and I said to the people, 'What's with the inspector?' They said, 'You could butcher a dog in front of him, and he'd never notice!' I met the inspector; they were right. He had to check the paperwork. It was boring, routine work. He wasn't paying any attention to where he was; there was no thinking going on."

The best way to get people to eat healthier is to increase their income. On average, poor people eat badly, and rich people eat well. With the exception of the laws that correct for externalities and improve things like security and the rule of law, each new government regulation is sand in the gears of the economy, making everybody a little poorer. Every well-intentioned intervention has the side effect of making it harder to run a business, meaning fewer jobs, an increased cost of living, and more poverty.

I actually agree that in a perfect world, nobody would be allowed to advertise anything to children. They simply do not have the wisdom to cope with it, and it warps their desires in unhealthy ways. But instead of attacking the companies, start by reforming the government. Vending machines in public schools should be banned. There is no excuse for them.

They should also get rid of the school cafeterias. Just have the kids bring a bagged lunch like in the old days. All of the money currently spent on subsidized school lunches should be given directly to the EBT card balances of poor families. The multiple layers of government spend over $3 for each free lunch, and almost every parent could spend that $3 more wisely.  You can easily buy week's worth of apples, bananas, lunch meat, and bread for $15. If a kid comes to school without a lunch, then report the parents to social services; they would have no excuse for not feeding the kids.

No comments: