San Francisco Values – Hamburger Edition

San Francisco Values – Hamburger Edition


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San Francisco’s Happy Meal Ban
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I generally don’t post here about the day to day indignities foisted upon the San Francisco citizenry by our Board of Supervisors. However, since this local edict has garnered Daily Show treatment, I thought I’d bring it to your attention. My hometown Board of Supervisors have again set up The City for national ridicule and general hilarity, this time with the ban on Mcdonald’s Happy Meal toys. I guess it is a good thing that in these trying times we can offer ourselves up to the rest of the nation as civic clowns to help lighten the national mood.

I fully understand that – in the most progressive major city with the most progressive governing body in the country – it is impossible to resist the temptation to occasionally legislate based on their core belief that no citizen can make a decision for themselves or their family without the Supervisors benevolent dictates guiding forcing them to “do the right thing”. But – when even the Daily Show is pointing and laughing – you’d think our Supes might get a clue.

Featured in the clip is SF Supervisor Eric Mar as he is made to look particularly stupid by Daily Show comedian Asaif Mandvi. It’s not like that is a difficult thing to do with our Board of Supes, but Asaif dishes it out with an extra helping of much deserved derision. I can only hope that Mar’s decision to appear on The Daily Show was a career limiting move.

Our local fishwrap transcribes the funniest bit:

“But the most brutal part comes when Mar explains that his 10-year-old daughter, Jade, doesn’t like fast food anymore after watching the documentary “Super Size Me” with him. Those opposed to the to ban maintain it’s up to parents, not McDonalds, to ensure their kids learn healthy habits.

Mandvi: “So she learned from her parents?”
Mar: “That’s a large part of it.”
Mandvi: (staring in wide-eyed disbelief) “Would it be hard to pass a law to force Netflix to send ‘Super Size Me’ to every parent in San Francisco?”
Mar: “We can’t force Netflix, a private company, to do something like that.”
Mandvi: “Are you serious right now?”
Mar:“We have no power to force Netflix or a private company like that to change a business practice.”
Mandvi: “So on one hand, you’re like, ‘We can’t do that’ but on the other hand, you are doing that.”

Mar, looking very tired, shakes his head, stumbles over one of the progressive supervisor’s favorite words, equitability, and mercifully the interview ends. Oy.”

The good news is that four of our Supes have termed out and will be leaving office this week. The bad news is that Eric Mar is not among them.

Reason TV also took note of SF Local Accomplishments in 2010:

The Taiwanese news animators have apparently fallen behind the cultural curve on this story. I am looking at you NextMedia.

Cross posted from Divided We Stand United We Fall.

  • Chris

    I guess the question I have MW is are people able to make good decisions for themselves? Religion certainly doesn’t think so. Conservative philosophy doesn’t think so either, believing that humans are flawed to begin with. Liberals don’t think so based on examination of reality – 1 out of 4 INFANTS are considered obese in this country. Infants!

    People becoming obese is going to bankrupt this country with health care costs, and they clearly cannot help themselves. I certainly don’t want to pay higher costs because people can’t stop shoving garbage food in their faces.

  • kranky kritter

    What’s your basis for believing that society bears a higher overall financial cost for obesity?

    Since it limits lifespan, there’s plenty of reason to believe that a taxpaying and bill-paying society benefits financially from letting people made bad health choices and die sooner. That thins the herd, and preserves sparse resources for things like medicare and social security. Thereby financially benefitting those who make the allegedly wiser health choices.

    Which argument do you want to make, a financial one, or a moral one? I find that progressive nannies who favor prohibitions on unhealthy food always want to tack on the financial argument. But the fact is that there is no “count everything” accounting of costs which shows that forcing people to behave in a healthful way and live longer would save society money.

    Most progressive food nannies really believe it’s a moral matter, that people of poor judgement must be protected by smarter wiser mandatory government policies. They should at least be open and honest about that.

    Tacking on the bogus financial argument is just lazy.

    Personally, I question the notion that people should only be allowed to make decisions when the rest of us can be certain they will make the “proper” ones. The whole point of having the freedom to make individual decisions is that you might be right and you might be wrong.

    Humans learn by making choices and experiencing consequences. The more our culture insists on protecting people from bad choices and undesirable consequences, the stupider we’ll get.

  • WHQ

    Writing in haste because I have to go:

    I don’t agree with bans on things that don’t cause certain kinds of harm. I mean, banning lead paint or asbestos I’m okay with. As far as food goes, aside from things that cause acute poisoning or infection, leave it to personal choice. I’m fine with giving people the best available information so that they can make most informed choice, so long as the choice is still theirs.

    With that, I’m not sure the economic argument is as bogus as you seem to think, KK. I get what you mean about separating the moral argument from the economic argument. But I think you’re off the mark about obese people dying off quickly enough that they don’t end up costing society more economically than fit, thin people. I’d like to see an economic analysis that would support that. It seems to me that obese people can linger unproductively and at a high cost for some time, at least if we don’t simply let their weight-related health problems go untreated (i.e. “No insulin for you, fatty, and forget that bypass surgery, chubster”). Doesn’t work that way.

    Here’s something for a start:

    I’d bleg for Tully’s input on the economics of obesity. I’m sure he could convince either one of us that we were wrong, as the case may be.

  • Tillyosu

    I’m really glad that Chris wrote that post actually, because it is a perfect example of why many conservatives believe so strongly that government should be limited, and why there are certain things that government shouldn’t be doing.

    “People becoming obese is going to bankrupt this country with health care costs, and they clearly cannot help themselves. I certainly don’t want to pay higher costs because people can’t stop shoving garbage food in their faces.”

    I agree. But the solution, to me, is to not pay those costs in the first place. To let people live freely, eat freely, and bear the consequences of their choices.

    But to Chris, the solution is to control what those people eat, based on what he believes everyone else should be eating. And you’re right KK, in the end, the financial argument (assuming it is a valid one) is just a pretense for control – which is what they’re really after.

    The same argument could be made for other instances of government support. Think about TARP, when the AIG CEO was forced to step down, or the auto bailout where the GM CEO was forced to step down. These weren’t decisions made by the stockholders or the Board, these were decisions made by politicians who used government support as a justification for exerting control.

    Or how about federal funding of candidates and elections? How long before the Chrises of the country start crowing that they shouldn’t be forced to finance political “extremists” with which they disagree?

    Sure, maybe the bailout had to happen to avert a disaster, and maybe people do need a health care safety net, and maybe federal funding will blunt disproportionate influence by monied interests in elections (all positions with which I disagree), but we should always exercise extreme caution when government starts to attach conditions to these benefits.

    Yes, some of the outrage at Obama for expanding the power and reach of government is overblown. I don’t think anyone seriously thinks he’s a full blown socialist or tyrant in the classical sense, but it’s valuable because it serves as a reminder to him and other politicians that, yes, the people are paying attention, and you cannot long act outside of the authority you’ve been granted without paying a dear political cost.

    Sure, today it’s Happy Meal toys, but what’s next? Smoking? Whiskey? Red meat? Once this justification is accepted, where does it end?

  • WHQ

    I think you’re a little off with your economic analysis of obesity, KK. You’d likely be right if we didn’t treat the complications of obesity (i.e. “No insulin for you, fatty, and forget that bypass, chubster”). It doesn’t work that way. Obese people can live for quite some time at reduced productivity and with increased resource requirements on average as compared to thinner, fitter people. Prior to finding this article, I’d yet to hear of an economic analysis that demonstrated otherwise (read the linked article mentioning a Dutch study). But here’s something that supports what I’m saying:

    It is well established in the U.S. that obese individuals cost more than normal weight individuals at each age of life. I have published several papers showing that result. Recent studies by Fontaine and Flegal also show a relatively small impact of obesity on mortality for BMIs less than 35 (about 70 pounds overweight). As a result, higher age-specific costs and only a slightly shorter life expectancy suggest that the lifetime costs of obesity are indeed positive for most obese adults. The same goes for overweight adults, as they do not seem to have any shorter life expectancy.

    Interestingly, though, you might be right if we were talking about smokers.

    It is well known that smokers tend to subsidize non-smokers because the former pay so much in taxes and die before they can collect their due in social security and Medicare benefits. The researchers’ finding that obese people also cost less is new, and probably not correct for a U.S. population.

    Googling “obesity economics” will get you lots of results that appear to support the idea that obesity results in significant net costs. Maybe lots of people (economists included) are, in fact, wrong, but that doesn’t mean that those who make a financial argument are lazy or knowingly putting something forth that’s bogus. There is plently of reason to think that the financial (or economic) argument is true. The moral argument may be separate , but they’re both valid arguments. (I’d say the economic argument is a moral argument, if not the moral argument, since consuming resources unnecessarily hurts people in need of those resources.)

  • WHQ

    My comments are being eaten. This is a test.

  • WHQ

    @kk, after having multiple, long comments disappear, I don’t have it in me to write another. So, to be brief, lots of economists disagree with you about the costs of obesity. They’re probably smart enough to have considered shortened lifespans in their analyses. I read one analysis that even considered how much extra gasoline and jet fuel obese people consume. Lifespan considerations would be higher on the list of things taken into account than fuel costs, I would think.

    Interestingly, if you were talking about smokers, you’d have more support. Obese (and overweight) people can live at reduced productivity and with increased resource requirements for quite a few years, since we don’t withhold things like insulin or bypass surgery from them based on their weight. You’d probably be right if we just let their weight-related health problems run their courses without intervention, but we don’t.

    Humans learn by making choices and experiencing consequences.

    Not exclusively. That’s why we have writing systems and books and stuff.

    (It seems I had more of a comment in me than I thought.)

  • WHQ

    @kk, after having multiple, long comments disappear, I don’t have it in me to write another. So, to be brief, lots of economists disagree with you about the costs of obesity.

  • Chris

    KK that’s a load of shit, I don’t care what other people do with their lives. But trying to pass off that people being unhealthy while they are still alive is some how not more expensive for my health insurance costs is ridiculous.

  • Mike A.

    So nobody has ever performed a cost/benefit or ROI analysis on smokers vs. non-smokers? I find that hard to believe.

    I wouldn’t be surprised to find the last 10 years of a dying smoker’s life to cost multiples of a healthy person living 2x. Now if we withhold all medical treatment from the dying smoker, then the cost/benefit analysis becomes pretty clear. Zero investment makes the argument irrelevant.

  • WHQ

    Mike A., being short because my long comments keep disappearing, but I’ve read that smokers are different and do actually cost less. They tend to die off more quickly after the onset of their increased resource requirements. It’s a lot less likely that someone will live for a really long time while being treated for lung cancer. Diabetes, for example, is another story.

  • kranky kritter

    But trying to pass off that people being unhealthy while they are still alive is some how not more expensive for my health insurance costs is ridiculous.

    Hmm. If it’s ridiculous, then why is it that other sensible smart people right here believe it’s a legitimate area of inquiry that’s germane to the discussion. And why ism it that other smart people have gotten grants and studied date with the express purpose of figuring it out?

    Your usual practice here is to dismiss inconvenient arguments when you don’t like them. And it reflects poorly on you every time you do it. You continue to give the rest of us here very little reason to think you want to discuss complex issues in good faith.

  • kranky kritter


    That blows that your comments are getting gobbled. I have started a thread over at thecrankycritter for us to pursue it some more. I hope you’re still game. Everyone else here is welcome to join in if they want.

    I have entitled it When Do Bad Individual Choices Cost Everyone More Money?”

    Just to be clear, I am not claiming that Fat People dying sooner saves everyone else money, only suggesting that it is possible, that it’s worth considering, and that it’s relevant to the discussion. FWIW, I believe I should have said “there’s reason to speculate” instead of “there’s plenty of reason to think.”

    And to clarify a little bit more, I am definitely not suggesting that fat people, because they die sooner, are a sure saver on overall healthcare costs. Instead, I am pointing out that at the very least, a sane “count everything” accounting on the matter at hand should consider not just health care costs conceivably lost in extra treatment, but things like social security expenditures not made due to shortened lifespan.

  • WHQ

    The showed up. There was no message about their being in moderation when I wrote them. ???

  • kranky kritter

    FWIW, you’re right that the economic argument is not necessarily being made lazily and without consideration. But I think that many times it is made lazily, as a sort of a tack on, a thumb on the scale. Maybe you agree with me that it’s troubling when some folks trot out cosat arguments only when they appear at a glance to bolster their case.

    And as we seem to agree, its probably worth separating out the different arguments for their particular merits.

    Without thinking about it deeply, I guess you’re right that the economic argument is in some sense a moral argument.

    Perhaps it’s a useful distinction that one argument says that the banning is “for your own good” while the other says that it’s “for everyone else’s good.”

    I am going to try googling obesity economics to see what else I can find out.

    Go ahead and stop by at the crank if you want to talk about it more.

  • Chris

    ” And you’re right KK, in the end, the financial argument (assuming it is a valid one) is just a pretense for control – which is what they’re really after.”

    That’s a silly load of bullshit, no majority cares what other people eat. But they do care about the fatties’ impact on society is. And I agree, we shouldn’t be paying for it, but we will anyway no matter what because hospitals won’t turn away fat people having a heart attack, and they won’t stop treating diabetic fat kids.

  • Chris

    And tilly I didn’t and don’t agree with any of the bailouts of the banks or the auto industry or anyone else. Gm deserved to fail, as did the banks and financial players who screwed up.

    But that doesn’t change the fact that a majority of people apparently need someone to tell them what is the right thing to do, that’s why conservatives have religion.

  • kranky kritter

    Here is a link to a paper entitled Lifetime Medical Costs of Obesity: Prevention No Cure for Increasing Health Expenditure which says this:

    Until age 56 y, annual health expenditure was highest for obese people. At older ages, smokers incurred higher costs. Because of differences in life expectancy, however, lifetime health expenditure was highest among healthy-living people and lowest for smokers. Obese individuals held an intermediate position. Alternative values of epidemiologic parameters and cost definitions did not alter these conclusions.

    Although effective obesity prevention leads to a decrease in costs of obesity-related diseases, this decrease is offset by cost increases due to diseases unrelated to obesity in life-years gained. Obesity prevention may be an important and cost-effective way of improving public health, but it is not a cure for increasing health expenditures.

    Lifetime health expenditure was highest among healthy-living people. This did of course use a simulation model. I offer this not as proof of claim so much as proof of plausibility.