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Monday, June 04, 2012

The Fat Nanny State

It's easy to dismiss New York City Mayor Bloomberg's latest nanny state hiccup as the control-freak antics of a powerful man --but that would be missing the point. Bloomberg did not come up with the idea of banning sodas during a spa session on his private island. His implementation of it may be more overtly obnoxious, but the idea that there is a national health crisis that can only be solved by getting people to stop eating sugary foods, is ubiquitous among social policy wonks and national experts on telling people what to do.

In 2007, a conference on obesity was held at George Washington University, sponsored by the Stop Obesity Alliance and the Obesity Association. The Stop Obesity Alliance may sound like a silly afterthought of a group, but its steering committee members include AHIP, the trade group for the health insurance industry; AMGA, the trade association for health care groups; SEIU, one of the largest unions in the country; and NBGH, a business health group representing major companies like Apple, FedEx, Kellogg, Unilever and Walmart.

It was no wonder then that virtually every Democratic and Republican candidate running for office either showed up in person, or sent a proxy to explain how their administration was going to fight obesity.

"The next president must commit to fighting America's obesity problem and possess the experience to win the fight," Governor Bill Richardson said, and vowed to make fighting obesity one of his top priorities.

You might be laughing, but don't. The obesity epidemic buzzword has penetrated every major company, as well as every level of government and academia. That translates into a policy bulldozer with private-public partnerships that will control every aspect of your life.

When think-tanks convince corporations that they're losing money because of obesity, they sponsor trade associations that invite politicians down to explain what they're going to do about it. Health insurance companies have crunched the numbers and decided that they can save billions if the government manages to make people lose weight. Corporations that employ a lot of people and pay for their health insurance think they can save a fortune on health insurance if employee obesity is cut. They have their own employee incentives, but mostly they want the government to do something about it.  

Why do you think the 2012 election came down to a race between ObamaCare and RomneyCare? Because the power players agree that we need national health care; they only disagree over what kind of national health care we need. Just like they agree that we need "immigration reform", tolerance for Islam and a War on Terror that doesn't disrupt international trade. We don't need those things, but they do, and they are determined to force them down our throats.

To understand the genesis of Bloomberg's lunacy, you have to go back to groups like the Stop Obesity Alliance. And it's not the only such group. There's the Campaign to End Obesity, whose board includes executives from major health companies and non-profits, including Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson and Humana. Every time you hear another talking head going on about the dangers of obesity to America, he's repeating talking points lifted from "F as in Fat: How Obesity Threatens America's Future", a report from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the country's largest health care foundation, which doles out 400 million dollars a year in grants. Its primary focus... obesity.

"F as in Fat" includes extensive material on government legislation, everything from soda taxes to menu labeling to "complete streets programs", which New Yorkers will recognize as the melange of bike lanes that squeeze out cars; what they don't know is that it is used to fight obesity. HR 1780: The Safe and Complete Streets Act is a congressional bill that would turn every city into the same nightmare of snarled traffic and no parking.

Around the same time that policy men and women were telling the Stop Obesity Alliance what they would do about fat people, there were warnings in the U.K. that obesity would bankrupt the NHS, and Australia's Labor Party vowed to tackle the "national obesity crisis" as a study claimed that 95 percent of Australians were "unfit". The hysteria is worldwide.

Once you define a problem, then you convene groups to find a solution. The source of Bloomberg's insanity was a report by the New York City Obesity Task Force, which claimed, among other things, that obesity disproportionately affected minorities and that it was an environmental disease. Among a wide range of initiatives, it called for a cap on the size of sodas that can be sold in restaurants. But that's small potatoes compared to its Active Design Guidelines, which involve restructuring the landscape of the city in a way that will force people to engage in more physical activity. Boiled down that means forcing every building to be designed in a way that will compel people to use staircases.

It's not just about the power, it's also about the numbers. If you start thinking of people in a city as consumers, then it's easy to see that Bloomberg is only doing what corporations do all the time, looking for a way to cut costs. Government health care means that everyone is a government customer, buying a product that can't be paid for, and that requires constant cost-cutting efforts.

The product is cradle-to-grave health care. The costs are astronomical. The experts keep attending conferences discussing how to cut those costs. They're no different in that from corporate experts called in to discuss how to reduce the cost of manufacturing a bottle of soda, a pair of jeans or a microchip.

The experts can't tell the company that the bottleneck is the system, that the company needs to fire most of its vice-presidents and half its managers, reduce advertising, stop hiring experts to consult on everything and streamline its operations. They certainly can't tell it that the product it is manufacturing is no longer relevant to consumers or that its methods are so outdated that it has no future in the marketplace. Instead, they identify a conceptual bottleneck in consumer culture or corporate culture, a buzzword-oriented problem that the company needs to tackle as its number one priority.

This is where the government is. The current bottleneck is obesity. Get rid of the fat people and government health care will work fine. After the fat people, it will be the old people. The last of the smokers. After that, a bid to keep people with genetic diseases from reproducing. There's no end to this sort of thing because the system is inherently broken and is trying to fix itself by fixing the people. And that won't work.

The obesity epidemic is a convoluted way of saying that the problem with government health care is the people. But that's not the problem. Obesity may not be healthy, but if we ban sodas and force everyone to exercise in the yard before work, the numbers still won't balance. Because the real problem with government health care is government.

When offering a product or service, the most elementary thing to do is calculate the cost of making the product and the price that people are willing to pay for that product. If you can't bring the two together, then you don't have a product. You have a disaster waiting to happen.

Government health care adds an army of middlemen between health care producers and consumers, on top of the army it already implemented with HMO's and earlier regulators. Then it tries to balance the books in terms of costs, while only recognizing the costs created by health care consumers, while ignoring the costs of the system. It's a classic case of the problem trying to treat the problem. Every new gimmick only adds to the bloat. The war against obesity will end up devouring whatever health care savings are gained from reducing obesity. Because the problem isn't the obesity of consumers, it's the porcine system that can't stop gorging, while demanding that the citizenry purge.

It's easy to blame individual obesity rather than collectivist obesity, and so we are treated to the obscene spectacle of a system that can't stop wasting billions and trillions of dollars, checking everyone's soda cup size, because down the road they may lose weight and that may lower the cost of covering their health care.

Hundreds of millions of dollars in grant money are changing hands, from private foundations to obesity researchers, from national to local governments, from local governments to consultants and from health insurance companies to obesity alliances. Offices are renovated, executives are installed, papers are authored, charts are drawn up, presentations are given, conferences are convened, policy is made, and people's lives are made miserable by this army of public-private overlords obsessed with their ounces.

Money that could genuinely be used to help people is being spent on an administrative infrastructure in a national policy campaign against human biology. King Xerxes ordering that the sea be whipped showed more reason and sanity than a global obesity hysteria over an inevitable outcome of a society with sedentary jobs and plentiful food. Not to mention hordes of immigrants from cultures in which obesity is considered to be a good thing.

Government can't make people thin, but people can make government thin. And studies have shown that slimming down government prevents tyranny, oppression and inspectors measuring your soda cup with a ruler. A healthy society may have fat people, but it has skinny government. It is not a nation tasked with a war on weight, but a nation of free people of all sizes.





12 comments:

Lemon said...

When they ban the large size sodas, people will simply go back and buy several instead of one large size.
Money is being made in all this. The state has no altruistic bent.

Daniel Greenfield @ the Sultan Knish blog said...

true, the people who will lose out most will still be consumers

Anonymous said...

Rest assured the gov't won't allow people to get more. They'll set a pop limit per customer.

Cut you off after two glasses of Pepsi.

Pop Prohibition.

"A noble experiment"



Keliata

Peter the Roman said...

There are limits on sale items in the supermarket too but we have our ways! And soda drinkers will get all they want.

Irwin Ruff said...

"Government can't make people thin"

Really? Haven't you heard of the Gulag? I'd think that something like that is right up Papa Joe Obama's alley.

HiPlainsDrifter said...

It's not about "soda", it's about control. The very last paragraph is brilliant and spells out the entire mess. Essentially, we don't necessarily need thin people but we FOR SURE need a thin government ..

Ex-Dissident said...

First they came for the smokers, and we did nothing. Then they took our salt, and we did nothing. Now they threaten to take our soda pop.

Noooooooooo

1389 said...

One might say that I have no dog in this fight, in that I have never set foot in NYC, I am not obese, I seldom consume soft drinks of any kind, and I maintain a high activity level through the dire necessity of making some semblance of a living in a job that pays little more than the minimum wage.

What the HELL is Bloomberg thinking? How are people who are elderly or disabled supposed to cope with a government-enforced lifestyle that requires physical activity that they simply cannot do?

This is just plain EVIL.

It's long past time to emigrate - not merely from NYC, but from the USA.

Ex-Dissident said...

1389, we all have a stake in this. Daniel is illuminating in what many called Bloomberg's eccentric meddling. It is not Bloomberg's machinations that we are witnessing. We are seeing the final product of hundreds, if not thousands, of government meetings, research studies, whole departments having been created and billions of tax dollars having been wasted. What was the fruit of all this commotion: smaller soda size.

These are the same folks who spent billions on fighting against the warming effect of solar radiation.

We have to get these idiots out of our pockets. They are insane, and we are subject to suffer from their insanity.

Anonymous said...

Government can't make people thin, but people can make government thin.

Would it be appropriate to note that by the end of the Third Reich, there were a lot of thin people meandering about Europe?

One of the interesting medical papers shortly after the war noted the only clear-cut population-wide regression of atherosclerosis, confirmed by Dutch autopsy studies. It was attributed to their dietary rationing while being forced to send food to the Germans.

Comrade, we're from the government, and we're here to help. Got ersatz bread?

Bill K.

dee said...

I'm sure it's just a coincidence that the Stop Obesity Alliance has the same acronym as Soldier of Allah.

TBS said...

Hi Daniel,

re your comment about human biology:

Notwithstanding the insanity of govt making people act like hamsters and confscating their sodas etc, the real cause of obesity is actually the changes in wheat that have been grown in the last forty years or so.

It has been discussed here and there but a comprehensive examination of this phenomenon is in the book Wheat Belly by cardiologist Dr William Davis at amazon.com.
It's on Kindle.

An informative, overdue read. The reviews are fascinating and also informative.

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