Sjostrom on Krugman

by Don Boudreaux on July 9, 2005

in Health

I’m lecturing this weekend at a seminar sponsored by the Institute for Humane Studies (IHS). (IHS is one of the planet’s finest resources for young scholars. If you haven’t yet visited their website, do so ASAP. You’ll be impressed with the range and quality of their activities.)  (Full disclosure: I serve on IHS’s board of directors.)

Anyway, just before heading out to the seminar, I read Paul Krugman’s column in yesterday’s New York Times. Oh how I wanted to blog on it! But time wouldn’t permit.  So on my drive to the seminar, I called the Cafe’s co-proprietor, Russ Roberts, and encouraged him to blog on it. No time – Russ is leaving on Sunday for a six-week stint at the Hoover Institution.

So I was very happy to see this post by William Sjostrom at AtlanticBlog. Sjostrom alertly exposes a bait-and-switch that runs across Krugman’s two most recent columns.

I must soon be off again to the IHS seminar site – but before I go, I can’t resist making at least one small point about Krugman’s call for a national campaign to make Americans more svelte.

In yesterday’s column, Krugman wrote:

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

One answer is to focus on the financial costs of obesity, and the fact that many of these costs fall on taxpayers and on the general insurance-buying public, rather than on the obese individuals themselves.

Krugman here reminds me of the 17-year-old kid who murders his parents and then pleads for the court’s mercy on grounds that he’s an orphan.

Krugman advocates government-provided, universal health care for all Americans. That is, Krugman advocates further turning issues that would otherwise be private in to ones that are, by policy design, public. (In econospeak, Krugman advocates creating an externality where one doesn’t naturally exist.) Championing existing levels of nationalized health-care in the U.S. (mainly Medicare and Medicaid), and calling for even more, Krugman then tosses his hands in the air rather cavalierly and cites these government policies as a justification for greater intrusion into people’s private lives (or, what should be people’s private lives – and would be people’s private lives exclusively – were it not for the very health-care policies that Krugman champions).

One more point: because it’s true that government today heavily subsidizes medical treatment, might Americans have greater incentives to eat and exercise properly if this subsidization were reduced?

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