08 July 2005

Dean Wormer: The Most Influential Thinker of the 21st Century

In Animal House, Dean Wormer, played by the late John Vernon, cautioned that "Fat, drunk, and stupid is no way to go through life, son." New York Times columnist Paul Krugman and the Waltham (Massachusetts) Police Department hope to get us two-thirds of the way toward realizing the promise of Dean Wormer's brave new world.

Hey there, tubby . . . Krugman's got your number:
In today's America, proposals to do something about rising obesity rates must contend with a public predisposed to believe that the market is always right and that the government always screws things up.

You can see these predispositions at work in an article printed last month in Amber Waves, a magazine published by the Department of Agriculture. The article is titled "Obesity Policy and the Law of Unintended Consequences," suggesting that government efforts to combat obesity are likely to be counterproductive. But the authors don't actually provide any examples of how that might happen.

And the authors suggest, without quite asserting it, that because people freely choose obesity in a free market, it must be a good thing.

"Americans' rapid weight gain may have nothing to do with market failure," the article says. "It may be a rational response to changing technology and prices. ... If consumers willingly trade off increased adiposity for working indoors and spending less time in the kitchen as well as for manageable weight-related health problems, then markets are not failing."

How can medical experts who see obesity as a critical problem deal with an ideological landscape tilted in the direction of doing nothing?

. . . .

[T]he most widely cited recent economic analysis of obesity, a 2003 paper by David Cutler, Edward Glaeser and Jesse Shapiro of Harvard University, declares that "at least some food consumption is almost certainly not rational." It goes on to present evidence that even adults have clear problems with self-control.

Above all, we need to put aside our anti-government prejudices and realize that the history of government interventions on behalf of public health, from the construction of sewer systems to the campaign against smoking, is one of consistent, life-enhancing success. Obesity is America's fastest-growing health problem; let's do something about it.

Of legal age to drink? At a friend's house? Not bothering anyone? In Waltham, Massachusetts, that's grounds for arrest. Call it EWI -- Existing While Intoxicated:
A man arrested when police showed up to break up a New Year's Eve party at a friend's house has filed a lawsuit, arguing he had a constitutional right to get drunk on private property as long as he didn't cause a public disturbance.

Eric Laverriere, 25, of Portland, Maine, was taken into protective custody by Waltham police and locked in a cell for nine hours until the effects of the alcohol wore off.

Legal experts said his lawsuit, filed this week in U.S. District Court in Boston, is the first to challenge a state law allowing police to lock up drunk people against their will for their own protection.

Laverriere argues that the Massachusetts Protective Custody Law was written to combat public drunkenness and that the police had no right to use it to take him from a private residence. He also says he had planned to spend the night at his friend's and wasn't going to be driving anywhere.

"One thing people should be able to do is drink in their own house," Laverriere told The Boston Globe. "That's the beauty of the land of the free."

You have the right to be thin and sober; if you choose not to be thin and sober, the government will ensure that you are thin and sober anyhow. Dean Wormer would be proud.


Anonymous said...

Well, the Mass law has two prongs, drunk (or under the influence) and you also need some sort of conduct that leads the officer beleive the person is a danger to themselves or others. It replaced the old "drunk and disorderly" charge.

Who knows how the court will rule. But they have said previously that the police can place you in protective custody in your own house. Though in other cases they have held that you have more privacy rights in a third party's house than in your own. (That's a bit of a long story.)

Anonymous said...

Evidently the government has given up on curing the "stupid" part, or at least takes that as a given. I can feel hives threatening to rise whenever I hear the words "for their own protection" applied to law enforcement action.

Anonymous said...

I had to save the great Krugman quote to my all-time favorites .. there are situations in which "free to choose" is all wrong.

He'll live to regret his predilection with "nanny government" long before this quote becomes obsolete.

Unknown said...

Krugman's no innovator, though. As the Ministry of Truth informed us around 21 years ago, "FREEDOM IS SLAVERY".

Anonymous said...

Krugman points out obesity is a great problem to america and a major influence on the health care system.

Anonymous said...

So as an economist, shouldn't Krugman's solution be to impose the costs of obesity on those who (presumably) choose to be obese? Instead he bemoans the costs imposed on us all as externalities because of the third-party payor system and requiring, in turn, government regulation to save us from ourselves on the specious grounds of economic cost. See, to Krugman, there's no "cost" to curtailing liberty as long as the freedom being reduced is one that doesn't concern him personally.