Friday, December 29, 2006
Judge Richard Posner defends the ban on trans fat in New York City. I hope to criticize his position in the future. In his response to comments, Posner makes this interesting point:
I agree with Becker that many young people who are clogging their arteries by eating restaurant meals rich in trans fats will be saved by better cholesterol drugs that we can expect in the future. However, those drugs will doubtless be paid for in large measure by taxpayers through the Medicare and Medicaid programs. This means that the cost of trans fats will be shifted, in part at least, from those who consume them to those who do not--a classic externality, which justifies public intervention (depending on its cost and efficacy) even to Millian liberals such as myself.
While Posner may (or may not) be correct as an economic matter about the choices of young people, notice the logic of this position. One intervention -- government provided health insurance -- now justifies another intervention -- banning trans fats -- because the first intervention does not allow people to face the full costs of their decisions. Of course, when the first intervention was proposed, no one suggested that this would lead to additional interventions and infringements on liberty. Yet, it does provide an economic argument for doing so.
This is one strong reason why interventions should be so hard to justify: they have indirect and unintended effects which are problematic and infringe liberty. In many ways, a system of freedom and responsibilities works as a systematic whole: one cannot easily depart from it in piecemeal ways without causing additional problems.