TCS Daily

Bloated Government

By Tomasz Teluk - January 21, 2005 12:00 AM

The EU has identified the newest social epidemic: obesity. And, judging from how it intends to combat the problem, with among other things a rash of measures aimed at curbing advertising of "junk food", we are to assume that the consumer is not responsible for his corpulence. Corporations are. Naturally, the problem also offers another opportunity to raise taxes.

The strategy of the regulators is simple. Government apparently will "protect" us not only from violence but from ourselves: alcoholism or drug addiction, the ozone hole, emission of dangerous substances, sexual harassment, global warming, global cooling, discrimination, ignorance and so on. And now it will protect us from getting fat.

Some politicians are calling for higher taxes on food to collect money for social programs against obesity. Consumers, whether they are fat or thin, will soon be paying for these political whims. As usual, when government intervenes, the only thing we can be sure of getting out of it is higher prices. Consumers pay more for the same products and nothing changes. Take, for example, the war on the tobacco industry, which has reduced the number of smokers. In Europe a packet of cigarettes is three times more expensive than before. Addicts have found alternatives: they buy cheaper ones.

But the most revolting element of the governmental strategy is this: it deprives people of individual responsibility for their acts, manners and habits. The public is getting the message that patients are not responsible for consuming cancer-causing substances, but the producers of these substances are. Likewise, in a car accident the driver is not responsible but the car; and for obesity, the glutton is not responsible but the restaurant.

This raises the question of frivolous lawsuits. If the government backs the idea that corporations are responsible for making people fat, it follows that fat people will sue corporations. So in announcing this new epidemic of obesity, governments are threatening to make lawyers fat. Obesity is frequently an individual choice, and sometimes an illness. We shouldn't automatically punish corporations and other consumers for the problems of a few people.

Morgan Spurlock's Super Size Me movie, which takes aim at McDonalds and at fast food in general, is more media manipulation in the style of Michael Moore. The director suggests that eating every meal at McDonalds for 30 days made him get fat, boosted his cholesterol level 40 percent and his affected his sex life. Naturally this "experiment" with junk food is an example of junk science. No one is suggesting that the quality of fast food meals is perfect, but few people seem to want to talk about fitness, about a balanced diet, about, yes, personal responsibility.

And maybe we should also worry about the next personal freedom the regulators will go after.



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