Liberal societies vs top down (centrally planned) societies

Michelle Obama is absolutely correct to criticize food served in many school cafeterias as contributing to an epidemic of obesity. I grew up knowing that white bread, especially enriched white bread, was bad for me. My mother, who like all mothers loved her children and wanted them to be healthy, had read every word of Adelle Davis three times over. Moreover, compared to whole wheat and multigrain breads, white bread has no taste. So why are some kids today—fat kids no doubt—throwing whole wheat bread and fruit in the trash? “Michelle Obama’s school lunch agenda faces backlash from some school nutrition officials” WP/2014/05/29/

I believe it is ignorance, which the First Lady wishes to help overcome, and rebellion. The ignorance is a bad thing to be over come, and the rebellion, if that is what it is, is fundamentally a good thing—resistance to being dictated to from above. If loving mothers and their children understood the importance of nutritious food to their well-being, do we really believe they would throw it in the trash? These are children we are talking about, who must be taught everything they know. If on the other hand, the government and school administrators simply try to impose healthier food on them, they will resent having their candy taken away from them and will rebel.

This all speaks directly to a frequent theme of mine—the sanctity of the individual vs. the power of the state. If the government thinks it knows better than Johnny and Betty what is good for them to eat, what should it do? The top down, central planning mentality calls for better food standards imposed on schools. After all, pizzas etc. are cheaper and easier to prepare as well as more fun to eat and the government shouldn’t allow these shortsighted considerations to dominate. Respect for individuals, even children, suggests a very different approach. It suggests improved education (the same arguments I have made against the war on drugs). If mothers, and through them their children, understood better what food was good for them and the implications of eating or not eating healthier food, most would choose it. The companies that make it are interested in selling their products and if there is demand for healthier food, then that is what they will make money producing.

About wcoats

I specialize in advising central banks on monetary policy and the development of the capacity to formulate and implement monetary policy.  I joined the International Monetary Fund in 2003 from which I retired in 2003 as Assistant Director of the Monetary and Financial Systems Department. While at the IMF I led or participated in missions to the central banks of over twenty countries (including Afghanistan, Bosnia, Croatia, Egypt, Iraq, Israel, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Kosovo, Kyrgystan, Moldova, Serbia, Turkey, West Bank and Gaza Strip, and Zimbabwe) and was seconded as a visiting economist to the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (1979-80), and to the World Bank's World Development Report team in 1989.  After retirement from the IMF I was a member of the Board of the Cayman Islands Monetary Authority from 2003-10 and of the editorial board of the Cayman Financial Review from 2010-2017.  Prior to joining the IMF I was Assistant Prof of Economics at UVa from 1970-75.  I am currently a fellow of Johns Hopkins Krieger School of Arts and Sciences, Institute for Applied Economics, Global Health, and the Study of Business Enterprise.  In March 2019 Central Banking Journal awarded me for my “Outstanding Contribution for Capacity Building.”  My most recent book is One Currency for Bosnia: Creating the Central Bank of Bosnia and Herzegovina. I have a BA in Economics from the UC Berkeley and a PhD in Economics from the University of Chicago. My dissertation committee was chaired by Milton Friedman and included Robert J. Gordon.
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1 Response to Liberal societies vs top down (centrally planned) societies

  1. Obviously the amount of sugars, corn syrup, and msg’s that are in our food contribute more heavily to obesity than white bread. If you take all of the sweets, pies, cakes, etc. off the menu and replace them with fruit (not in corn syrup), you would see a gradual decrease of the weight of students.

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