Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Poor people just lack discipline!

In Arizona, the local GOP has decided to start penalizing poor people for being obese, in an effort to close budget gaps. We certainly do have an obesity epidemic in this country. Perhaps a better way to address the problem is to stop paying people to eat unhealthy food.

Thanks to big government subsidies to meat and corn producers, we essentially pay people to eat meat products, fast food, junk food, and other sorts of other processed garbage. On the surface, removing this distortion looks like a no-brainer: we could reduce the size of government, save money, and reduce obesity rates by letting the free market work its magic. Unfortunately, no conservatives are championing this cause. As it turns out, the food industry is more effective at lobbying than poor Americans. Stopping government hand-outs to food corporations is difficult, but blaming poor people for lacking self control is really easy.

Speaking of self control, our current policies actually make willpower irrelevant in many cases. Increased demand for processed foods also means decreased demand for produce and healthier choices. Consequently, in many poor areas there are urban food deserts, where the only sellers are convenience stores and fast food chains. Unsubsidized produce sellers can't compete with cheap fast food and processed foods. A person in that environment may have the willpower to eat healthy foods, but lack a market. Imagine for a moment being a low-income single mother, trying to raise children in an area with no local grocery stores. It becomes easier to see our agriculture policies contributing to a vicious cycle of unhealthy eating, obesity, and poverty.

What we have right now is a government that is actively encouraging people to make bad decisions. It would literally be no different if the government was handing out free packs of cigarettes, or had heroin dispensers on every street corner. "Hey addict its your fault, get some self control!" Apparently everyone is OK with this status quo, but what about the opposite? What about a government that encourages people to make good decisions? We could strip the subsidies from meat and corn and place them on fresh produce and other healthy choices. Alas, that is a political non-starter, because that would be socialism!

At any rate, I would be OK with the truly 'conservative' solution: strip the subsides, shrink the government, and let the free market work.

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