Unintended Consequences: Cafeteria Food Edition

About six years ago, the First Lady Michelle Obama, started what sounded like a good program to help improve the health of the nation’s youth.

A key tenet of the program was to serve more healthy food in school cafeterias.

In this article from 2011, Megan McArdle wrote about some of the unintended consequences that ensued from such a well-meaning program. She also expounded on this in her book, The Up Side of Down.

It turns out that healthier foods have shorter shelf lives and are tougher to prepare to be consistently taste good enough to eat. These are just two unintended consequences.

There are more.

Food waste increased substantially as kids threw away more of this healthy, but not good tasting food.

In some cases, health was put more at risk as some of the healthy foods, with shorter shelf lives, were sold well beyond their expiration date. As McArdle wrote:

I think one anecdote in the article is particularly telling.  People complained that salads dated October 7th were served on the 17th–and the district responded by first, pointing out that that was the “best served by” date, not the date when the food actually went bad; and second, removing the labels because they were “confusing”.  Now, as anyone who has forgotten to eat a bag of lettuce knows, while it may not actually be rotten after 10 days, it probably doesn’t look much like something you’d eat voluntarily.  This is not something that you can change by stamping a different “sell by” date on the container.  If that were my choice, I too would come to school with a backup bag of Cheetos.

It’s good to keep in mind that even something seemingly as well-meaning and simple as ‘serve healthy food’ has unintended consequences and humans, being the autonomous and creativity creatures that we are, will find ways around it.

Ben Shapiro on Health Care

Ben Shapiro in National Review (this via Mark Perry’s Carpe Diem), Health Care is a commodity, not a right:

The idea here seems to be that unless you declare medical care a right rather than a commodity, you are soulless — that as Marx might put it, necessity, rather than autonomy, creates rights.

This is foolhardy, both morally and practically.

Morally, you have no right to demand medical care of me. I may recognize your necessity and offer charity; my friends and I may choose to band together and fund your medical care. But your necessity does not change the basic math: Medical care is a service and a good provided by a third party. No matter how much I need bread, I do not have a right to steal your wallet or hold up the local bakery to obtain it. Theft may end up being my least immoral choice under the circumstances, but that does not make it a moral choice, or suggest that I have not violated your rights in pursuing my own needs.

But the left believes that declaring necessities rights somehow overcomes the individual rights of others. If you are sick, you now have the right to demand that my wife, who is a doctor, care for you. Is there any limit to this right?

And, practically?

…medical care is a commodity, and treating it otherwise is foolhardy. To make a commodity cheaper and better, two elements are necessary: profit incentive and freedom of labor. The government destroys both of these elements in the health-care industry. It decides medical reimbursement rates for millions of Americans, particularly poor Americans; this, in turn, creates an incentive for doctors not to take government-sponsored health insurance. It regulates how doctors deal with patients, the sorts of training doctors must undergo, and the sorts of insurance they must maintain; all of this convinces fewer Americans to become doctors. Undersupply of doctors generally and of doctors who will accept insurance specifically, along with overdemand stimulated by government-driven health-insurance coverage, leads to mass shortages. The result is an overreliance on emergency care, costs for which are distributed among government, hospitals, and insurance payers.

Shapiro’s preceding paragraph reminds me of a clear account of the early days of communism that I read once and it made clear to me why the government cripples things while with good intentions.

To keep food prices cheap for everyone, early communists set price ceilings on grain. We can call this the Affordable Food Act.

Except, the prices were so low farmers couldn’t sell their crop for enough to cover their expenses. What would you do if you were in a money-losing business? Probably the same thing the farmers did, they stopped producing crops to sell.

Then what happened? This caused big food shortages.

How did government try to solve this problem? By sending the military out to force farmers to produce crops, by pointing guns at their heads.

Of course, that didn’t work well either. Who would want to be a farmer at this point? Not only did your fellow citizens expect you feed them at of your own pocket, but your life was threatened if it appeared you weren’t willing to do so. So, it was easier and safer just to walk away from your farm.

I think it’s good to keep this simple example in mind when thinking through government solutions.

In health care, we’ve taken the first step of trying to force prices low.

We’d be better off if more people understood that the reason health care costs have risen is not due to a flaw in the free market, which isn’t present in markets like smart phones, burritos and shoes.

As Arnold Kling would say, it’s because the government has restricted supply and subsidized demand, as Shapiro points out several ways this has happened in his article.

The best policy isn’t to go down the road communists followed by putting in more ways to restrict supply and subsidize demand, like the Affordable Care Act

The best policy is to back out the things that are already restricting supply and subsidizing demand and causing the problems.

Not only should Hollywood not be smug, they should be more grateful

Megan McArdle writes Hey Hollywood, Smugness Isn’t a Political Strategy.  Here’s McArdle:

Take Streep. She’s right that Trump should not have made fun of a disabled reporter. However, she surrounded that point with an extended discussion of how mean everyone was being to actors and journalists.

Correct. Plus, I’m not too worried about Meryl, Hollywood or journalists who feel vilified.

It’s tough to feel sorry for Streep after learning she attended a $40,000-a-plate dinner with President Obama in 2012.

You can afford $40,000-a-plate? I’d expect a much more gracious acceptance speech.

Something along the lines of, My gosh, I pinch myself everyday to see if the incredibly blessed life I’m leading is for real. Look around. We live in an unprecedented time and space on this planet. To think I can be so stinking rich and famous from something as unimportant as acting. Thanks!

Warren Buffett strikes again

Marissa Mayer to leave Yahoo board. Proving once again, Warren Buffett’s wisdom:

When a management with a reputation for brilliance tackles a business with a reputation for bad economics, it is the reputation of the business that remains intact.

When should we force people to do things and when not?

This post on EconLog is about Megan McArdle’s simple solution to solve the problem of too many people not having enough funds for retirement: force everyone to save between 10 and 15 percent of their income in safe retirement investments.

I have a question for her and anyone who thinks that’s a good idea. What determines whether we should force people to do things and when we shouldn’t?

 

Competing views on how to obtain middle-class prosperity

Here’s a good post from Don Boudreaux on earning middle-class prosperity. It’s a letter to Vince Vogel. In it, he writes:

You say that your parents taught you that “anyone that works hard and lawfully gets to enjoy middle class prosperity” and that “it’s a duty of government to help guarantee this [outcome].”  With respect, my parents taught me differently.  They taught me that, while anyone who works hard and lawfully improves his or her prospects of enjoying middle-class prosperity, no one is guaranteed any such outcome and, further, that the only agent responsible for my well-being is me and not the state or anyone else.

The rest of it is good, too.