Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Communist Paternalism

It's scary how many people could draw exactly the wrong conclusion from this:
When the Soviet empire began to unravel in 1989, Cuba was hit with serious food and fuel shortages. From 1991 to 1995, people were getting only about 1800 calories a day and had to walk or cycle wherever they needed to go.

The result was an average drop in body mass index of 1.5 units, and a halving of the obesity rate to just 7 per cent. In the years that followed, deaths from potentially fatal diseases fell dramatically - diabetes by 51 per cent, coronary artery disease by 35 per cent and stroke by 20 per cent...

In countries like Canada and the US, where obesity rates are around 30 per cent, the gains from population-wide weight loss would be even greater, the authors argue.
I offer two possible conclusions:

1. People would be better off if the U.S. adopted economic policies more like those of communist Cuba.

2. People have values other than maximizing their health.

I leave it to the reader to guess which conclusion I favor.


Anonymous said...

I'm not so sure that this is defending the economic policy of communist Cuba. This is saying that, in a sense, the Castro regime conducted a highly unethical "experiment" in population-wide weight loss. Inadvertently, this generated a copious amount of data, which we can use to make inferences about the effects of weight loss on other health outcomes. Presumably, one would see the same health effects from non-coercive diet and exercise.

Gil said...

Lots of people get healthier in prison, too.

It may be in interesting bit of trivia, but it doesn't say much about the desirability of going there.

Ran said...

3. Many Americans and Canadians would be better off if they voluntarily cut their food intake (as measured in calories) and increased their daily low-grade exercise over the long term.

Anonymous said...

Did the author's of this study actually look at any other health effects? A very low fat diet will tend to decrease your risk of heart disease and such, but it will usually shorten your life, by increasing risk of other ailments.

Thus, maybe we should be a little cautious about adopting self-destructive programs that make people skinnier and less heart-disease prone, but less healthy overall.

Though you would look better in your swimsuit. Good reason to move to Zimbabwe or North Korea right now.

It'd also be nice to know what the health effects of the price controls and rationing that FDR employed during WWII.

Beth said...

In the UK, it's generally accepted that under strict rationing during WW2 the population was generally much heathier - particularly as many grew their own vegetables on allotements. And, the fact that many of those people who grew up in that era are living longer.

Will our kids live as long and achieve the same high levels of health? Probably not.

Anonymous said...

2. People have values other than maximizing their health.

Then you would say the same about people attempting to maximize there wealth, I think. Then, why is profit maximization the raison d'etre of corporations? Then, why is it taught that that should be the case? Where am I lost?

Michael Schwartz said...

Firms maximize profit, but individuals maximize utility-just what exactly constitutes utility is up to the individual;thus making it nearly impossible to quantify and measure-another "raison d'etre" taught in economics principles classes.

Unknown said...

Hi there,

I read your blog and think you're a good writer. I'd like to invite you to join our new online community at polzoo.com. We are a user generated political editorial and social network. You can write blogs, participate in forums, build a profile and link up with other members.

We also choose from amongst our own writers to feature on the front page. I think your voice would be a great addition to our site.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 727. I'd say you did not have a very good econ teacher or have never taken economics.

Individuals maximize their utility, not their wealth. They make the best choice available according to their preferences, their means, and the prices they face. There are many things that make a person happy, wealth, health, time with family, etc. A person balances those things according to their prefereces.

Businesses, however, are different, and are modeled differently by economists. Most businesses exist to make profits. That is, the activity matters much less.

Here is antother way of putting it: When you go to work, you care if you are frying chicken, doing taxes, or driving a truck. The activity you do, and all the good and bad stuff around those activities matter to you. But if you own stock, the businesses activities matter much less to you. To quote the movie "Other People's Money" you don't care "if they fry chicken or grow tangerines. You want to make money."

So that is the difference between utility max and profit max.

Anonymous said...

Obesity is a medical condition that is self inflicted. Certainly people are not concerned in general with their health. People want to blame obesity on fast food and supersized fries, but really it just simply falls back to taking in significantly more calories that are expended. It could not be simpler. If you put 2 gallons of gas in your car every day, but only used 1... eventually you would need a second tank. And so it goes.

Anonymous said...

um... the obesity epidemic is um... merely a symptom... of something much worse... much worse... severe lack of personal integrity... it is simply rude to be obese... i dont want to look at your fat ass... i understand it is biochemical and psychological, but the simple fact... parents allow their kids to be fat... people have children when they cant afford to feed them properly... i would say our current system is the following.... a few capitalist organizations filled with people who want the best of both worlds (socialism and capitalism)... these lower middle class who just sign their lives away and push papers around for Huge Corps are hollowing out the core of our nation with their hungry lazy mouths and lack of experience... they make me sad to be american sometimes, the fat cubicle people who know very little, and pass on even less... they rely on govt to raise their kids... they cant even cook properly... they go to church, but they know nothing of sacrifice... they are blinded by a society that benefits from their blindness... the obesity is not the obeses fault... it is a symptom of some evil plans by their fellow men