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Preview: RealClearPolitics - Articles - Richard Samuelson

RealClearPolitics - Articles - Richard Samuelson





Last Build Date: Sat, 23 Jun 2007 00:30:00 -0600

Copyright: Copyright 2007
 



Live Free or Diet

Sat, 23 Jun 2007 00:30:00 -0600

Wherefore this crusade? Some of it has to do with who is paying the tab. The Wall Street Journal reports that "business, labor and health policy advocates prepare to push in 2008 primary states to highlight obesity as a driver of health-care costs. 'We need to put this on the agenda of the presidential candidates,' former Bush Medicare chief Mark McClellan says." Conservatives in Britain complain about the rise of the "nanny state" that cares for us as children. In the US today, we're discovering the fanny state--it butts into everything.

Given the size of the problem, the solutions proposed thus far are woefully inadequate. Banning trans-fats and regulating fast-food, the latest battles, will trim little from our collective waistlines. And why shouldn't fancy fatty fare like fois gras be taxed along with humble fast-food? Breads are fattening, why not impose a carbo-tax? Over in England, the Times of London reports, the National Health Service is seeking to regulate the consumption of alcohol, even at home, because alcohol related illness costs the state a few billion dollars per year.

The logic, Jacob Sullum notes in a recent essay, points beyond consumption taxes to a national fat tax. The IRS will ask each of us to weigh-in. Those who are above a certain standard will carry an additional tax to cover the expense to which we put our neighbors. That way those who eat responsibly won't be taxed for the occasional ice cream. To be sure, as Diana Ernst of the Pacific Research Institute points out, according to the government's currently favored statistic, Body Mass Index (BMI), Michael Jordan is overweight. But having a reliable statistic has never been as important to bureaucrats as having an easily calculable one.

A decade ago many of our public servants said that tobacco companies should help cover the cost smoking imposes upon our health-care system. Now the same people are making the same argument about fatty foods. But why stop with obesity? Those who engage in extreme sports, or in other risky behaviors, or even those who have long commutes to work, are much more likely to suffer from what actuaries might call "a major health event." Skiers are much more likely to break a leg than are the rest of the population. Why not impose a special tax on lift-tickets to cover the cost?

In the 1940s the government extended benefits to universities without strings attached, but it soon added a few threads, then some more, and it has now woven those into a fairly heavy cord of regulation. There is no reason to expect health-care to be any different. With universal health insurance gaining supporters, the campaign against eating too much is a sign of worse to come. This is not a matter to be taken sitting down.




Can Federalism Solve America's Culture War?

Wed, 26 Apr 2006 07:04:55 -0600

Gelernter, Brooks, and Sullivan are right in theory. Our federal system can allow for a certain degree of legal and cultural diversity in the Union. What we need to keep in mind, however, is that since the Progressive era, and particularly since the New Deal, Americans have forgotten the not just the virtues of federalism, but also the practice of federalism. A workable federal system requires forbearance on the part of the political class. It might take us a while to re-learn that virtue. Until then, I'm okay, you're okay might not be a workable political program. A federal approach to cultural issues might worsen things, at least in the near term. As we saw in the Terry Schiavo case, separating state from national issues won't be easy. Federalism works when jurisdiction is clear, but cultural issues create murky and contentious jurisdictional controversies. That has allowed our advocacy groups to make federal cases of them. Consider abortion. If Roe v Wade were overturned, the states could pass a rainbow of regulations, reflecting the different shades of opinion. Abortion might be legal for nine months in New York, two months in Michigan, and not at all in South Dakota. States might adopt various informed consent laws, parental consent laws, and waiting periods. That might release a certain amount of cultural steam. It could also make the cultural pot boil over. State choice might bring local troops to the culture war by forcing us all to pick sides. Whatever happens in the states, Washington will still weigh in. Last year, the House of Representatives passed a law making it illegal to take a minor across state lines to have an abortion without her parents' consent. The more variation there is from state to state, the more opportunities Congress will have to intervene. Suppose Utah declares that life begins at conception, and Nevada declares that it begins at birth. May a resident of Utah have an abortion in Nevada? According to Utah, she has crossed state lines to commit murder. According to Nevada she has done nothing wrong. National law will have to be biased in one way or the other. It might energize more citizens, rather than less, about the issues. Settling gay marriage state by state raises similar problems. If a gay couple marries in Massachusetts and moves to Ohio, will Ohio recognize the marriage? If so, then gay marriage in one state effectively nationalizes the institution. If it does not, then the marriage is terribly flimsy. Congress has tried to tackle that problem with the "Defense of Marriage Act." Will the courts let it stand? Gay couples with children will complicate things further. Would "deadbeat dad" laws apply when a spouse flees to a state that in does not recognize gay marriage? Washington state now recognizes the parental rights of a lesbian partner who is not the biological mother of the child. Not long ago, they had what might very well become a federal case. Two women, one lesbian and one bisexual, were married and started to raise a child together. The biological mother changed her mind and decided that she would rather marry the biological father. What would happen if the biological parents moved to a state that did not recognize same-sex unions? Could the jilted lover sue for divorce on the grounds of bigamy and abandonment and demand primary custody rights of her child? In Washington she wins the case, but elsewhere her case goes nowhere. Such cases might be rare, but they are already happening. As time passes, they'll occur often enough to keep both advocacy groups and tabloid journalists busy. Tough cases make great political theater. In short, going local will probably heat up our culture war, at least in the near term. Civic peace requires self-restraint, and even a bit of self-denial. For it to work, we must be willing not to litigate certain cases. Compromise cannot always mean splitting the difference. Sometimes it means letting the other side win, and even ignoring injustice in the name of peace. After so man[...]