Thursday, March 11, 2010

Regulating sprawl, regulating food

Readers of my blog know that I strongly dislike two things. One is sprawling city development, and the other is cheap unhealthy food. Since I am sympathetic therefore to ideas such as taxing unhealthy food, or regulating urban development to avoid sprawl, a person might conclude that I am not a libertarian; rather that I am some sort of paternalistic statist who wants the government to make all of our rules.

The interesting thing about these two issues in particular is that it is government intervention in the first place that has led to the identified problem (cheap fast food, urban sprawl). For the former, look at this graphic which shows the subsidies that the US government gives farmers:

Its easy to see the problem here. We wouldn't need to tax unhealthy food if the government had not already distorted people's food choices to make unhealthy items cheaper.

As far as sprawl goes, we would not be so predisposed to it in this country if government zoning laws and building codes did not encourage the development of sprawling communities.

I am the libertarian, and the defenders of cheap McDonalds at every suburban street corner are not. I want the government to stop subsidizing the production of unhealthy food, and I want the government to stop telling us to build sprawling communities.  I think that, if given the choice, most people would prefer to live in a community where they can walk to a local farmers market, rather than have to drive to the local strip for lunch at McDonalds, Wendy's, or Taco Bell.

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