Some sense on the 'obesity epidemic'

A sensible article by Fred Barbash on the hysteria over the 'obesity epidemic' appeared in last week's Washington Post Outlook section.

Here's how it works practically. Most of us engage in risky behavior and are free to do so. When risky behavior becomes expensive behavior for society, our freedom shrinks. We get browbeaten. Or our behavior is made to seem antisocial through a campaign of negative publicity. Whatever makes our risky behavior possible -- say, fatty foods or fast cars or maybe someday skateboards -- gets taxed, possibly out of existence. It's not exactly Big Brother. Big Mother is more like it.

Barbash skirts around the only sensible solution to risky behavior, never quite reaching it - let individuals pay for the consequences of whatever risks they choose to take, not through taxes, but through insurance. You pay for the costs associated with your smoking, I pay the costs associated with my drinking, he pays for the costs associated with his skiing, etc. Instead, with regulation of the healthcare industry increasing by the day, we are more and more paying for each other's risky behavior. The result is a tragedy of the commons in which incentives of real preventative medicine and care for one's own self are skewed backwards. It does not matter how much someone eats, drinks, or skis. Someone else is picking up the tab. Things like taxes on 'risky' behavior are emphatically not a solution because they are a one-size-fits-all solution and prevent individuals from buying their own risk, something essential to self-determination.

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