Free Markets, Free People
I’ve been writing about attempts like this for over 20 years. Each time I do I remind people that much of the road to totalitarianism is paved with good intentions – well, at least sometimes. This would be one of those times.
In this case I’m talking about a study claiming sugar is toxic and should be controlled by government.
I thought immediately of the climate debate (complete with modeling). This is just a variation of the same sort of argument and solution.
More importantly, I thought of the saying above and reminded myself that since I began writing about these sorts of attempts 20 years ago a lot more paving stones have been laid in that road.
20 years ago an attempt such as this would have, for the most part, been laughed away. Oh sure, some people have been pushing to have government control many things over the years. But for the most part, the structure to justify and/or facilitate such grabs really wasn’t in place. Much more of a totalitarian infrastructure now exists than did back then.
In the case of things like this, ObamaCare changed that game. Because government has now passed a law which puts it in charge of controlling health care costs and requiring insurance of all Americans, it also is in the position to act to do what this law allows it to do legally – exert more control over our everyday lives.
What would have essentially been laughed away 20 years ago now has to be taken seriously. We have to remind ourselves that the game has changed to the point that it isn’t at all inconceivable that something like controlling sugar and its intake through government aren’t at all as far-fetched as it once was.
Lustig has written and talked extensively about the role he believes sugar has played in driving up rates of chronic illness such as heart disease and diabetes. Excessive sugar, he argues, alters people’s biochemistry, making them more vulnerable to metabolic conditions that lead to illness, while at the same time making people crave sweets even more.
It’s sugar, not obesity, that is the real health threat, Lustig and his co-authors – public health experts Laura Schmidt and Claire Brindis – say in their paper. They note that studies show 20 percent of obese people have normal metabolism and no ill health effects resulting from their weight, while 40 percent of normal-weight people have metabolic problems that can lead to diabetes and heart disease. They contend that sugar consumption is the cause.
In other words, not everyone gains a lot of weight from over-indulging in sugar, but a large proportion of the U.S. population is eating enough of it that it’s having devastating health effects, they say.
"The gestalt shift is maybe obesity is just a marker for the rise in chronic disease worldwide, and in fact metabolic syndrome, caused by excessive sugar consumption, is the real culprit," said Schmidt, a health policy professor who focuses on alcohol and addiction research.
Obesity is bad. Sugar causes obesity. Control sugar. (Global warming is bad. CO2 causes global warming. Control CO2)
Think through that formulation. Does anyone actually believe that if we “control sugar like alcohol and tobacco” that we’ll suddenly solve the obesity problem?
Is it really obesity or is it more of a rich, indulgent and sedentary lifestyle where many eat well beyond the recommended daily calorie intake each and every day?
The solution? Well, back again casting a glance at global warming, the same:
But while individuals certainly can make small changes to their diets to eat more nutritiously, that alone is not going to effect major public health improvements, Lustig and his co-authors said.
In their paper, they argue for taxes on heavily sweetened foods and beverages, restricting advertising to children and teenagers, and removing sugar-ladened products from schools, or even from being sold near schools. They suggest banning the sale of sugary beverages to children.
Since these “scientists” are sure you can’t manage your own health or that of your children and since they’re convinced that you have to be controlled, they’ll just use the tax system for what it should never be used for – to control behavior, force change, and penalize you if you don’t comply. Sound familiar?
Who gets to decide what is “sugar-laden”? Why? Who the hell are they to make such a decision for you?
By the way, banning junk food at school simply has no effect on obesity per one study.
Now obviously this is in the beginning stages, the stage where this would have mostly been waved away 20 years ago. But no more. You have to take all of these attempts at removing choice, freedom and liberty seriously. There are forever do-gooders out there who see no problem whatsoever in using the power of government to control your life for your own good (a variation of “for the children”) or at least their definition of “good”.
Laura Schmidt, one of the authors of the study which recommends controlling sugar uses those battles of 20 years ago, and the losses to good effect in her plea to us to voluntarily give up more choice and freedom:
We need to remember that many of our most basic public health protections once stood on the same battleground of American politics as sugar policy does today.
Simple things like requiring a seat belt and having an airbag in your car to save you in a crash were once huge political battles. Now, we take these things for granted as simple ways to protect the health and well-being of our communities.
Pretty straight forward plea, no? And she has precedent with which to justify it. While you may agree that seatbelts and airbags are good things, you may not agree that a government mandate for each is.
That’s where we are on this. Her solutions seem benign and certainly a product of good intentions:
First, we think that the public needs to be better informed about the science of how sugar impacts our health.
Second, we need to take what we know about protecting societies from the health harms of alcohol and apply it to sugar.
What doesn’t work is all-out prohibition — that’s very old-school and often creates more problems than it solves.
What does work are gentle "supply side" controls, such as taxing products, setting age limits and promoting healthier versions of the product — like making it cheaper for a person to drink light beer rather than schnapps.
After the “light beer rather than schnapps” remark she says:
The reality is that unfettered corporate marketing actually limits our choices about the products we consume. If what’s mostly available is junk food and soda, then we actually have to go out of our way to find an apple or a drinking fountain. What we want is to actually increase people’s choices by making a wider range of healthy foods easier and cheaper to get.
Corporate marketing “limits our choices”? Really? I must have missed it then. When I enter the local Kroger, the first section I walk into is produce – apples abound. Its not hidden away somewhere with very few choices. It’s a cornucopia of good stuff.
In reality, there’s no limiting of choice by corporate marketing. This is a false assertion. But she knows the language of freedom and tries very hard to spin this attempt to limit yours.
And after that she gets to what she really wants. “Gentle supply side controls?”
– Contact the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Congress to encourage them to take sugar off the Generally Regarded as Safe (GRAS) list. This is what allows food producers to add as much sugar as they want to the products we eat.
– Support our local, state and federal officials in placing a substantial tax on products that are loaded with sugar. Ask them to use the proceeds to support a wider range of food options in supermarkets and farmer’s markets.
– Help protect our kids by getting sports drinks and junk food out of our schools. Ask our school boards to replace those vending machines with good old-fashioned drinking fountains. Ask local officials to control the opening hours and marketing tactics of the junk food outlets surrounding our schools. That way, kids can walk to school without being barraged by advertising for sugary products that taste good but harm their health.
Again, follow the pattern set by the global warming crowd. Get a normal respiratory gas which is naturally occurring declared a pollutant and then tax the crap out of it while mandating all sorts of controls on its emission. Some pattern here.
Why do liberals insist they are the only ones smart enough to not run out and buy everything being advertised on TV and the rest of us are just sheep being led to the slaughter by evil corporate marketers?
It is the premise under which much of this attempt to control founds itself. There seems to be an innate belief that government must do much more than it does in order to protect the poor, dumb proles from themselves and their urges.
If you listen to the liberal side of the house, the Puritan ethic of self-discipline, delayed-gratification and hard work seem to have somehow died in the early 20th century to be replace by a self-indulgent, live-for-today bunch of slackers who need a controlling hand from above (it occurs to me that this study will probably be used to justify the sugar tariff).
Unfortunately there are always those ready to oblige.
The real answer is the same as it has always been. Again, Moran:
The answer is better parenting. Don’t indulge your children’s natural desire for everything to be sweet. The answer is balance – giving your kids healthy food while recognizing that kids adore sweets and, in moderation, are actually good for them. Keep an eye on processed foods and the sugar content. If you don’t know how to read a list of ingredients, learn.
People taking responsibility for their own health and the health of their families is what is needed. Not some draconian regimen that puts sugar in the same class as whiskey.
Unlike 20 years ago, you’d better take this seriously. Again, it’s a fairly simple formula – freedom equals choice. Limiting choice means limiting your freedom. As odd as this may sound, it’s an important principle: Freedom means the right to make stupid mistakes or do stupid things of which other may disapprove. Freedom means the right to fail. As long as your stupidity and failure don’t violate the rights of others, then it is really none of their business.
This and all other attempts like it are designed to make this the business of others. And, as usual, their solution is to limit freedom.
Fight it with everything you have.
That’s a collective “we” and I’m talking about the so-called “obesity epidemic” in this country. We’ve heard all sorts of theories and reasons for our steady weight gain – the sedentary “couch potato” lifestyle, TV, fast food, etc.
The newest study on this now includes the workplace as a partial source as well. As we’ve transitioned form more labor intensive and active manufacturing jobs to more sedentary jobs in an office environment, that too has helped expand our waistlines.
OK. I see no problem with that particular theory. The study says the change in our workplace activity has, on average, seen a decline of 120 to 140 calories a day in job related physical activity.
Sounds like something those interested in losing weight need to consider and remedy, right?
“If we’re going to try to get to the root of what’s causing the obesity epidemic, work-related physical activity needs to be in the discussion,” said Dr. Timothy S. Church, a noted exercise researcher at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge, La., and the study’s lead author. “There are a lot of people who say it’s all about food. But the work environment has changed so much we have to rethink how we’re going to attack this problem.”
Really? See here’s where today’s “science” and I diverge. Thank you for the information Dr. Church, but while you may have hit upon something solid as a reason for increased obesity, and that information is useful to me, I don’t need anyone “attacking” the problem for me. So you can leave the “we” out of it. Because we all know what that usually means. And you can see it in the words of those who’ve taken an interest in this aspect of fighting obesity:
Researchers said it was unlikely that the lost physical activity could ever be fully restored to the workplace, but employers do have the power to increase the physical activity of their employees by offering subsidized gym memberships or incentives to use public transit. Some companies have set up standing workstations, and marketers now offer treadmill-style desks. Employers can also redesign offices to encourage walking, by placing printers away from desks and encouraging face-to-face communication, rather than e-mail.
“The activity we get at work has to be intentional,” Dr. Ainsworth said. “When people think of obesity they always think of food first, and that’s one side of it, but it’s high time to look at the amount of time we spend inactive at work.”
It shouldn’t be up to employers to have to provide incentives or subsidies. What happened to American willpower? Look, I lost 40 pounds and have kept it off (a year next month). While I wasn’t “obese” in the clinical sense, I was heavier than I needed to be and was starting to have a sugar problem (diabetes runs in my family). I started walking every day. I now do about 4 miles a day (day off every 5th day). That’s approximately 500 calories burned during a walk and I just finished up a physical where my doc said “you’re in great shape, I don’t need to see you for a year”. Seriously, it just wasn’t that hard. Blood pressure is down, weight is appropriate, cholesterol in the 130s, sugar in the green, all the right things.
And people, claiming that you’re just too busy or can’t make that sort of time is nonsense. You can. You just don’t want too. And if you can’t make the time to walk around your neighborhood for 30 minutes, you’ll certainly not have time to take advantage of a “subsidized” gym membership, will you?
The point, of course, is it is your (speaking collectively) responsibility to monitor and do something about your weight if it is a problem. Not business and certainly not government (whose solution is usually some one-size-fits-all abomination that penalizes everyone). The way to “attack” the problem is to recognize it and do something about it – not rely on others to do things for you. We all know that regardless of what others will spend to give you the opportunity to lose weight, for instance, unless you’re willing to make the lifestyle changes to do what is necessary, it is a waste of money and time.
You go to work to work, not lose weight. That’s on you. Not business.
My rant/pep talk for the day.
Economists Timothy Conley and Bill Dupor have issued a study about the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act, also known as the “Stimulus” – approximately a trillion dollars borrowed and spent ostensibly to create and save millions of jobs and keep the unemployment rate below 8%.
We’ve known for months, each and every time the unemployment numbers come out, that it failed miserably to keep unemployment below 8%.
Conley and Dupor give the short “bottom line” version of their study’s result:
Our benchmark point estimates suggest the Act created/saved 450 thousand government-sector jobs and destroyed/forestalled one million private sector jobs.
Those jobs which were “destroyed/forestalled” fell into a 4 sectors that the economists studied:
The large majority of destroyed/forestalled jobs are in a subset of the private service sector comprised of health, (private) education, professional and business services, which we term HELP services.
[O]ur estimates are precise enough to state that we found no evidence of large positive private-sector job effects. Searching across alternative model specifications, the best-case scenario for an effectual ARRA has the Act creating/saving a (point estimate) net 659 thousand jobs, mainly in government. It appears that state and local government jobs were saved because ARRA funds were largely used to offset state revenue shortfalls and Medicaid increases (Fig. A) rather than directly boost private sector employment (e.g. Fig. B).
Here are the two figures from the study:
What you see here is exactly what most critics of the plan claimed would happen – states used the money on government and not stimulating private job growth.
Result? States forestalled their budget reckonings and unemployment, except in the private sector, continued on past 8% into the 10% area.
Of course, it appears that the architects of the ARRA never really thought this through nor did they anticipate how sending money to the states would be used.
As John Hinderaker at Powerline asks:
Does President Obama understand this? I very much doubt it. When he expressed puzzlement at the idea that the stimulus money may not have been well-spent, and said that "spending equals stimulus," he betrayed a shocking level of economic ignorance.
The answer to the question is a profound and telling “no”. And yes, he’s betrayed a shocking level of economic ignorance throughout his presidency:
Upon acquisition of ARRA funds for a specific purpose, a state or local government could cut its own expenditure on that purpose. As a result, these governments could treat the ARRA dollars as general revenue, i.e. the dollars were effectively fungible.
In essence, it was used to save government jobs through a few easily accomplished accounting tricks. The desired private stimulus (assuming there really was such a desired use), never came to pass. An opportunity for state governments to review and downsize government to more efficient and appropriate levels was forestalled.
And the recession ran on.
Missing in action?
A recently published study has found that many college and university students aren’t taught critical thinking skills while enrolled in their course of study. The study "followed 2,322 traditional-age students from the fall of 2005 to the spring of 2009 and examined testing data and student surveys at a broad range of 24 U.S. colleges and universities, from the highly selective to the less selective."
What they found was that about 45% of those students showed no significant improvement in their critical thinking skills during the first two years of enrollment. After 4 years, 35% showed no significant improvement.
The study is unique in that it is the first time a group of students was followed through their college careers to determine if they learned specific skills. As might be expected, academia is not at all pleased with the results.
"These findings are extremely valuable for those of us deeply concerned about the state of undergraduate learning and student intellectual engagement," said Brian D. Casey, the president of DePauw University in Greencastle, Ind. "They will surely shape discussions about curriculum and campus life for years to come."
The students involved in the study were tested using a standard test used to measure critical thinking ability:
The study used data from the Collegiate Learning Assessment, a 90-minute essay-type test that attempts to measure what liberal arts colleges teach and that more than 400 colleges and universities have used since 2002. The test is voluntary and includes real world problem-solving tasks, such as determining the cause of an airplane crash, that require reading and analyzing documents from newspaper articles to government reports.
As noted a significant number of students were unable to break out fact from opinion, make a clear written argument or "objectively review conflicting reports of a situation or event", the study found. In fact those students who fell into this category had a tendency to be swayed by emotion and political spin.
An interesting finding of the study was that students majored in liberal arts courses of study were more likely to develop critical thinking skills than were those that majored in courses of study such as business, education, social work and communications.
Other findings were that students who study alone, rather than in groups, tend to develop critical thinking skills and that courses (such as the liberal arts) which require heavy loads of reading and writing also help develop those skills.
Obviously the answer, if the study is to be believed, is to increase the reading and writing workload of all students. The study found some obvious problems as it is today in many of the universities and colleges included:
The study’s authors also found that large numbers of students didn’t enroll in courses requiring substantial work. In a typical semester, a third of students took no courses with more than 40 pages of reading per week. Half didn’t take a single course in which they wrote more than 20 pages over the semester.
While it would be easy to fob this off on students seeking the easiest path to graduation, it is the school that puts the curriculum together and designs and approves the classes taught. The bottom line is the school is being paid handsomely to turn out graduates that can indeed think critically – a skill in high demand everywhere. Failing in that area at the percentages noted isn’t a student problem – it is a problem of academia.
The findings shot that colleges need to be acutely aware of how instruction relates to the learning of critical-thinking and related skills, said Daniel J. Bradley, the president of Indiana State University and one of 71 college presidents who recently signed a pledge to improve student learning.
"We haven’t spent enough time making sure we are indeed teaching — and students are learning — these skills," Bradley said.
Indeed. And it appears a "back to basics" approach would be most appropriate to bring the students not being taught those skills up to the level they need to be when they graduate. That means tough courses which test those skills routinely. That also means more work for those teaching the courses. The question is will colleges and universities take these findings seriously and do the work for which they are being paid? Or will it, despite the rhetoric to the contrary, remain as it is today, with universities and colleges turning out a high percentage of graduates for whom critical thinking is still an unknown skill?