Economics and the mid-life crisis have much in common: Both dwell on foregone opportunities

C'est la vie; c'est la guerre; c'est la pomme de terre . . . . . . . . . . . . . email: jpalmer at uwo dot ca

. . . . . . . . . . .Richard Posner should be awarded the next Nobel Prize in Economics . . . . . . . . . . . .

Friday, January 21, 2005

Do Food Stamps Cause Obesity?

You may have seen this already. It is a summary of a U.S. Dept. of Agriculture report showing a strong correlation between being on food stamps and being obese. It is worth a look.

The reaction of friend BenS is that "correlation doesn't show causation." But what might explain the correlation?

One possibility is that people on food stamps choose cheap carbos over expensive protein sources. Another is that cheap carbos taste a lot better than cheap nutritious food, and only as incomes increase do people spend money on more expensive nutritious food.

Yet another possibility is lack of information (or will-power?) which, after all, provides the underlying rationale for the food stamp programme in the first place. If we thought people who receive food stamps could (and would?) make "good" choices (by whose criteria?), we would just give them money and let them choose. The food stamp programme, in addition to being a sop to farmers, reflects a lack of trust in the decisions made by the aid recipients.

If you don't think food stamp recipients are capable of making good choices allocating cash, there is good reason to question whether they can make good choices allocating food stamps. In that case, if it weren't for concerns about (1) paternalism in general, and (2) the capture of the programme by various agricultural lobbyists and rent seekers, the use of specialized food stamps might make sense. But then, so might continued education.

[Link courtesy of Marginal Revolution]
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