The world now has more overweight people than hungry ones...Hey, that’s fantastic! A cause for celebration! We’re on our way to conquering world hunger and starvation! Oh, wait:
...and governments should design economic strategies to influence national diets, a conference of international experts have heard.Wow, that was fast. It took less than one sentence to get from victory to hand-wringing to paternalism.
Seriously, you’d think we could take just one moment to savor the fact that capitalism and technology are gradually eliminating famine and malnutrition. But the tone of the entire article is negative and, of course, paternalistic. Among the experts’ suggestions quoted in the article:
Food prices could be used to manipulate people's diets and tilt them towards healthier options, [Prof. Barry Popkin] suggested.Nothing in the article challenges the significance of the obesity problem, asks whether manipulating people’s dietary choices is a proper role for government, or questions the efficacy of the proposed policies. Surprisingly, there is one proposal for deregulation:
"For instance, if we charge money for every calorie of soft drink and fruit drink that was consumed, people would consume less of it.
"If we subsidise fruit and vegetable production, people would consume more of it and we would have a healthier diet."
While a direct tax on food in the US to reduce obesity would not be politically acceptable, agricultural subsidies which resulted in cheap food could be reduced.Boy, wouldn’t that be nice. The problem is that most agricultural subsidies aren’t outright payments per unit of output – which would indeed lower prices for consumers – but instead programs to raise prices, such as price supports coupled with government purchases of the resulting surplus, or tariff barriers designed to keep out cheap foreign foodstuffs. I suppose Popkin would like to keep those agricultural policies in place, and fortunately for him – but unfortunately for the rest of us – doing so is politically feasible, thanks to the powerful agricultural lobby.