Grassroot Perspective: Fat Chances, Incentivizing Dependency, and More

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Scanning the week’s national news, views and clues with you and yours in mind

By Malia Hill


“People demand freedom of speech as a compensation for the freedom of thought which they seldom use.”– Søren Kierkegaard

Each week, we’ll be monitoring the web to find the most interesting, challenging, or important items for those who are concerned about liberty, accountability, and big government.  Here are some of the highlights from the past week:

Where’s the Incentive?

Who earns more, once the benefits of government programs are added—the recent college graduate with a salary of $39,900 or the single mother of two (in Virginia) with a $20,000 salary, access to Section 8 housing, food stamps, Medicaid, and the Earned Income Tax Credit?  If you picked the college graduate, that you clearly don’t have much experience with tricky “gotcha” opening sentences.  According to economist Clifford Thies, the single mom with the lower income actually collects an amount equal to her salary in various government benefits.  And as this article from Rebekah Rast points out, this raises serious questions about the real motive and effect of government welfare programs.  To clarify—the problem is not at all that people in difficult circumstances take what is being offered to them.  (As a woman once famously pointed out on this topic, “If the government is dumb enough to offer it to me, then I’m smart enough to take it.”)  The real issue is the advisability of a system that creates the dichotomy in the first place.

When Cheeseburgers are Criminalized, only Criminals will have Cheeseburgers

Perhaps it is our cultural sense of humor (or, less generously, our collective sense of guilt or apathy) that has allowed so many to respond to government attempts to “combat” obesity with a shrug.  Perhaps the victories against fascism and communism in the 20th century has given politicians an inflated sense of the government’s ability to do battle against abstract concepts like “poverty” and “fat.”  The problem (aside from the sheer absurdity that ensues) is that, as the Mercatus Center explores in this study, government efforts to legislate people into health choices often devolve into ineffective (even offensive) paternalism.  (Not that effective paternalism would be an improvement, though it would at least have the charm of novelty.)  Americans don’t need to be told what to eat, nor is there a great deal of mystery about what is required for a healthy lifestyle.  But knowing you should pick a celery stick and a jog over a Twinkie and a movie is one thing . . . doing it is quite another.  And people will continue to act according to their own wants and desires, no matter how fiercely politicians and bureaucrats “wage war” against soda.  Instead of wasting taxpayer dollars figuring out new ways to infringe on our (diminishing) freedom to make bad (but delicious) decisions about our health, politicians should step out of the health police game.

In Memory of a Myth-Buster

Why do criminals do what they do?  An interesting psychological or philosophical question perhaps, but for the man who is about to be mugged, this query is not perhaps as important as, “Why don’t we just stop them?”  Unfortunately, public policy makers tend to be enamored of these types of unanswerable questions, and—even worse—occasionally make them the goal of laws and policy changes.  Such was the case with the fashion for stopping crime by attacking its ambiguous “root causes”.  A practice which, not coincidentally, was accompanied by a steep rise in violent crime in this country.  In many ways, we owe our current lower crime rate (and the slow abandonment of those bad policies) to the work of the late crime scholar John Q. Wilson.  As Thomas Sowell explains in this column, Wilson (in addition to have a name that makes him sound like an action movie hero) was instrumental in bringing common sense and real research back into the our national anti-crime policies.  We owe him a debt of gratitude for the fact that we now live in a safer world.

Religious Liberty vs. Obamacare (Round 2)

The famed Obamacare contraception mandates have generated a lot of news.  And with it a lot of misinformation.  Perhaps the biggest problem comes from those who have zeroed in on the “contraception” angle and pretended that this is somehow about access to birth control rather than infringement on the freedom of conscience.  Fortunately, the Heritage Foundation has produced a video that helps explain the heart of the issue.  Send it to your friends who can’t see where the administration has overstepped.  Or just to those who seem to get all their news analysis from their Facebook feed.

Healthy Sunlight

Quick—how much does it cost to get a broken leg set?  How about an MRI?  Should I even ask about a double bypass?  Chances are that the best you could do in answering any of those is a rough estimate—and if you were to change up the doctors/hospitals/insurance companies involved, who knows how much that affects price?  It’s a strange facet of medical spending, but people will spend as much on health care as they might on a car or a house without ever inquiring about the price.  But, as the Economist points out here, that is (thankfully) changing.  Slowly (too slowly, really, but any progress is an improvement), health care costs are becoming more and more transparent—something that will be critical for consumers to make sound decisions about their health insurance.

Views expressed in this column are intended to promote creative thought, educate, and, we hope, prompt comment. Accordingly, thoughts expressed do not necessarily reflect the official position of Grassroot Institute of Hawaii or the author.

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