Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Right To Be Healthy

Nicholas Kristof has some interesting thoughts on the New York Times Op-Ed page on the greatest health care breakthrough in the last 40 years.

Let’s break for a quiz: What was the biggest health care breakthrough in the last 40 years in the United States? Heart bypasses? CAT scans and M.R.I.’s? New cancer treatments?

No, it was the cigarette tax. Every 10 percent price increase on cigarettes reduced sales by about 3 percent over all, and 7 percent among teenagers, according to the 2005 book “Prescription for a Healthy Nation.” Just the 1983 increase in the federal tax on cigarettes saved 40,000 lives per year.

That's right, it's not drugs, not medical technology, not anything that scientists had anything to do with. The greatest health care breakthrough of the past 40 years involves the government nudging the population in a healthy direction.

But hell, why stop at simple nudging and taxation. If cigarette taxes make for such an incrementally wonderful health policy, why not just ban them altogether. In fact, why not ban anything and everything unhealthful? Kristof's piece lauds New York City for implementing a soda tax to fight obesity, but why not just completely rid the city of those calorie-laden, sugar loaded beverages? And you could go even further. Mandatory exercise programs, strictly controlled diets, and sleep requirements, all formulated and mandated by the government of course, could produce a far healthier population.

I know the regular response of some of the readers here, who think I tend to careen off the deep end with these issues, but there's an important point to be made here. Kristoff is justifying "sin taxes" on the basis health, directly quoting the number of lives saved by such taxes. My point is that if a tax saves X number of lives, outright restrictions should save even more. So if the point is to save lives and to make the population more healthy, why should we stop at a 5% tax or a 10% tax or whatever? Why not just go all the way and save the most lives possible? The answer is that even the most ardent statists tend to have some respect for the notion of individual freedom. Even those who would be willing to ban cigarettes would probably be uncomfortable with the thought of banning soda. So where does it all end? Supporters of these policies can say I'm wrong all they want, but that doesn't excuse them from the natural consequences of their ideas.


Anonymous rose said...

So artificial sweeteners are ok in the eyes of Kristof and in the non-functioning eyes of Paterson?

Studies have conclusively shown that there is an insulin response in the body to tasting something sweet, which spikes apettite. Numerous studies correlate artificial sweetener use w/ weight gain.

Additional studies suggest a cancer link, although I believe these are less sturdy.

Anecdotally, my dad has carpal tunnel and has concluded 100% that artificial sweeteners cause pain and numbness in his hands, meaning there's some sort of circulation issue caused by this stuff.

I guess us folks who are either a) discplined enough to drink reasonable amounts of soda, b) don't trust artificial sweeteners, or c) want their fucking gallon of coke and don't give a shit if they put a few pounds on, will have to deal w/ paying $1 to coca-cola and 18 cents to the libs for each can.

There is hardly consensus that discouraging soda consumption and encouraging artificial sweetener consumption is a net plus to society, so even if you're comfortable w/ these kind of restrictions, wouldn't you prefer them to be limited to more cut and dry situations?

Just the arbitrarity (if thats a word) of the whole thing bugs me. I don't like the fact that a few people can make such abritrary decisions that affect people and companies.

I'm gonna go chew some tobacco and get back to work. Suck it Paterson.

3:19 PM  

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