“Nevertheless, measures of inequality of incomes do indeed vastly overstate the inequality of material living standards. Nearly all Americans enjoy easy access to the likes of microwave ovens, cell phones, the Internet, and MP3 players, as well as, of course, to food, clothing, and shelter. So the differences separating the super-rich from ordinary folks are increasingly abstract and invisible. I’m told that, say, David Koch has billions more dollars in his bank account than I have in mine, but I never see his bank statements. The fact is, Mr. Koch is no better fed, clothed, or coiffed than I am. And when he walks down the street, Mr. Koch’s immense wealth does little to distinguish him from the many middle-class Americans who walk past him – all unaware that his portfolio is unusually hefty”. — Donald J. Boudreaux
“Sometimes I wonder whether much of the public outcry over the gain in weight of teenagers and adults stems mainly from the revulsion that many educated people experience when seeing very fat people. Surely, though, this should hardly be the ground for interventionist policies!” —Gary Becker, Nobel Laureate in economics, writing on why a fat tax is bad public policy
Gary Becker, Nobel Laureate in economics, writes:
Let me respond to the important question of how can we reduce gentrification that replaces lower income housing by middle and upper income housing. I believe in allowing supply and demand in the housing market to determine land use. Unfortunately, the balance is frequently artificially tilted in favor of gentrification by the use of eminent domain to take land away from housing low income families, and by giving tax breaks to developers who use property for gentrification purposes.
The full post can be found here.
Gary Becker, Nobel Laureate in economics, explains why we are getting fatter:
Several factors explain why the average weight of Americans (and those in other developed countries) increased a lot more rapidly after 1980 than it had before. The effective price of fatty foods began to decline rapidly at that time, in part due to the growth of fast food chains, like McDonald’s. Also important, especially for teenagers, is the attraction of sedentary activities resulting from computers, email and instant messaging, and video games that replaced time at sports and other more physically challenging activities. (Television viewing by Americans did not increase, and may have declined, during the past 25 years.) The development of many drugs that combat high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, and other ill health caused by being greatly overweight, and a reasonable expectation of further medical progress in the future, also contributed to the declining concern about being greatly overweight.
He goes on to show how social causes could have multiplied these changes. See here. Richard Posner has more here.
“America gives a better life to the ordinary guy than does any other country. Let’s be honest: rich people live well everywhere. America’s greatness is that it has extended the benefits of affluence, traditionally available to the very few, to a large segment in society. We live in a nation where “poor” people have TV sets and microwave ovens, where construction workers cheerfully spend $4 on a nonfat latte, where maids drive very nice cars, where plumbers take their families on vacation to the Caribbean. Recently I asked an acquaintance in Bombay why he has been trying so hard to relocate to America. He replied, “I really want to move to a country where the poor people are fat.” — Dinesh D’Souza, in his column “What’s So Great About America?”
The Wall Street Journal has posted another economics debate. This time it is between Darius Lakdawalla and Carol Graham, on the topic of American obesity (No subscription needed for 10 days).
The debate can be found here.
My favorite parts:
It’s no secret that Americans have been getting fatter over the last several decades. But in fact, weight has been rising for more than 150 years, as shown by the economic historians Dora Costa and Richard Steckel. From the Civil War to the 1990s, the weight of a 6-foot-tall American male increased by about 30 pounds on average.
These historical trends are not hard to understand. As we have gotten wealthier and more technologically advanced, food has gotten cheaper and work more sedentary. Both these factors have contributed to rising weight over the time-frame of centuries, and the recent rise in obesity has likewise been fueled by reductions in the price of food.
The full debate can be found here.