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Thoughts Online Magazine
Collected Articles on Culture & Politics
The Continuing Series Of Government-Worsened Decisions 
22nd-Oct-2009 10:26 am
Inspiration
As discussed before, there was a Nobel prize awarded recognizing the research that indicated that adding disclosures did not improve decision making. There is a CIA Analysis handbook demonstrating the problems with adding information to a situation where information is to be evaluated, not weighed, pointing out that the analysis, not the data, is the key to good intelligence. See the footnotes to the CIA piece for further research. There is a demonstration from New York City that adding information about calories to fast food outlets does not improve choices by consumers.

And yet, there are intelligent-seeming, responsible people who do not understand this point. Hugh Hewitt points out that one of them is FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg, who is even now attempting to add to the clutter you see on the packages of food you find in the market -- or, I suppose, anywhere else that it comes in a package.

"As a mother of two who frequently finds herself racing down the grocery aisle hoping to grab foods that are healthy for my family, I would welcome the day that I can look on the front of packages and see nutrition information I can trust and use," The Post quotes FDA big boss Margaret Hamburg as saying. "As the commissioner of FDA, I see it as my responsibility, and the responsibility of this administration, to help make that happen."

Think about this proposed new mission for the FDA for a moment, and just how vast it is. If the government is suddenly in charge of the labeling of all food products for children on the theory that the government must prevent obesity, why wouldn't it be involved in the labeling of all food products for all people? And beyond labeling, why not grab the authority to dictate what can and cannot be manufactured in the first place?


Hewitt then goes on to note the key constituency pushing for the idea: lawyers who see new possible class action defendants in General Mills, Kraft, Nestle, and other food businesses. Here, of course, he's on sure ground: if there is ANY group in society unable to grasp the references in the first paragraph of this post, lawyers and judges would probably lead the hit parade.

This is the same group of people who, in lawsuits, believe in total disclosure of everything, relevant or not, because it "may lead to" something that might be useful, sometime, somewhere. Their profession is dedicated to the opposite of the research in the first paragraph, and the fact that it produces massive tomes in litigation which have to be read, summarized, scanned and cross referenced for referral contributes mightily to the cost of litigation, and its ability to grind down those who aren't wealthy enough to buy a bunch of lawyers with a large staff.

And we have to keep them employed, right? Otherwise, they would be out, wandering the streets, possibly getting run over by a bus. Tying up traffic. You wouldn't want that, surely?
Comments 
22nd-Oct-2009 08:24 pm (UTC)
So are you against Nutrition Facts in the first place?

I use them, and my personal experience trumps whatever anybody tells me I do, as personal experience tends to do. Just like I use ingredient lists. The last time I was at the supermarket, I had a coupon for a certain item. I looked at the Nutrition Facts and said "Huh? Shouldn't this have much more protein and not so much fat?" Then I looked at the ingredient list and said "Yikes, why are they using oil in this, and where is the real meat?" Then I put the item back on the shelf.

But then I think that the FDA is one of the most shining examples of how necessarily regulation (in moderation) is. Maybe you want to return to 19th century days of uninspected factories and so on, but I don't.

Libertarians should pick on somebody other than the FDA, if they want my advice, which they probably do not. The very raison d'etre of the FDA reminds people of how bad a completely free market can be for people. Libertarians, I would think, would want people not to remember that.
22nd-Oct-2009 10:32 pm (UTC)
I think what you've got on the side of the package now (breakdown by dietary categories and major nutrients, list of ingredients by contribution) is excellent. It takes a small amount of space, and works.

What is being proposed is a lot more information, and I don't need it. I already know the math (and taught it to my daughter in the market) of how to read the categories label. Don't feed me more information, I don't have the time for it in the market.
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