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Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Lard Laden Slippery Slope

First they came for the smokers:

The solutions to these problems are beyond the control of any individual. They involve a different sort of responsibility: civic — even political — responsibility. They depend on the kind of collective action that helped cut smoking rates nearly in half. Anyone who smoked in an elementary-school hallway today would be thrown out of the building. But if you served an obesity-inducing, federally financed meal to a kindergartner, you would fit right in. Taxes on tobacco, meanwhile, have skyrocketed. A modest tax on sodas — one of the few proposals in the various health-reform bills aimed at health, rather than health care — has struggled to get through Congress.

Cosgrove’s would-be approach may have its problems. The obvious one is its severity. The more important one is probably its narrowness: not even one of the nation’s most prestigious hospitals can do much to reduce obesity. The government, however, can. And that is the great virtue of Cosgrove’s idea. He is acknowledging that any effort to attack obesity will inevitably involve making value judgments and even limiting people’s choices. Most of the time, the government has no business doing such things. But there is really no other way to cure an epidemic.

Most of the time soon becomes all the time. Obama Care, whichever Tolstoy length version thereof you care to read, proposes to remove from the individual the responsibility to provide for their own health care. The alledged 47 million Americans without health care include several millions who could purchase health care if they choose. Being young or rich enough, they don't feel the need. It's a calculated risk rather than a lack of options. Smokers face the same choice. It's not that they're ignorant or even uninterested in being healthy. I know several who are careful with their diet and exercise regularly. Their body fat is well within reasonable bounds. Smoking is their indulgence. They're also taking a calculated risk. 

The default assumption of the state is that those who smoke are addicted and need to be cured. Smokers aren't adults with different lifestyle choices, they're juveniles who need to be scolded and taxed into compliance with the state's definition of health. The fat, whatever the politically correct term, are the next target. Being fat hasn't been in fashion for sometime. The portly Edwardian gentleman, Edward VII himself being the finest example, was seen as an ideal. The never too rich or too thin ideal of beauty and success came a few decades later, when mere physical subsistence ceased to be a concern of the typical citizen of a liberal democracy. By the 1940s Sydney Greenstreet, the corrupt blackmarketter in Casablanca, was the New Fat. From a measure of success, fatness has become the hallmark of weak will and urban decadence. We no longer speak of someone lacking character and will. Instead fat becomes the catch all for moral condemnation. 

The question isn't whether being fat is healthy. Being healthy is like being safe or happy. There is no platonic ideal. It would be far safer to impose highway speed limits of 60 km/h, the approximate speed most cars are crash tested to withstand while keeping the occupants alive. People prefer to go far faster. It's a calculated risk made by adults. The formula for losing weight is simple and well known. People choose to ignore it. Living longer and healthier is not as important as whatever pleasure they derive from making unwise food choices. In the past these calculated risks were borne mostly by the individual and his or her family. The more government intervenes to relieve people of the responsibility for day to day life, the more it socializes risk. You being fat is now everyone's problem. Charging the overweight higher health care premiums would be a matter of course, if a genuine free market for health insurance existed. Today such as course is legally fraught. If private individuals and organizations can't decide and negotiate on what the reasonable price for a service is, then a third party will set the terms. In the modern world that third party is usually the government. 

Posted by Richard Anderson on August 27, 2009 in Canadian Politics | Permalink


Having become the Establishment the Left now finds itself defending its prerogatives, rather than challenging from without.

I've been saying that for twenty years. People seldom seek power for altruistic reasons, and the boomers are among the least altruistic of people.

Posted by: Shane Matthews | 2009-08-27 10:15:09 AM

Well stated, Shane. I would however say that people never seek power for altruistic reasons.

The control zealots got high on their success against smoking, so you will see them expanding their targets to more and more things. They owe their success to the apathy and complacence of the majority which has not changed.

Posted by: Alain | 2009-08-27 11:30:12 AM

"Well stated, Shane. I would however say that people never seek power for altruistic reasons."

Hence my belief that the state should be as small, and powerless, as possible.

Posted by: Charles | 2009-08-27 11:58:21 AM

It should also be remembered that activists now dominate government action. In many cases the inmates now rule the asylum. Activists never quit. When one cause has been driven into the ground they simply change causes and keep going. The tails continue to wag the dog.
Alain is right. There is no end to the things that must be eliminated for our own good.

Posted by: peterj | 2009-08-27 10:01:41 PM

I would like to see a government that ushered in a return to our police being law enforcement officers instead of health enforcement officers. It is not the state's business to ensure that citizens make healthy choices. If I want to eat junk food, and get fat and die by the time I'm 50 that should be my decision to make in a country that claims to be free. I should be able to smoke cigarettes and cannabis and drink beer all day long if that is what makes me happy and if I can afford to do so without resorting to theft to support my habits. I should be free to choose quality over quantity of life.

Posted by: DrGreenthumb | 2009-08-28 9:13:11 AM

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