Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Satiation points 

In one of my early lectures in principles we get to the discussion of whether people really always want more. To motivate that story, I tell them of sitting at a ballpark next to a rich friend who offers to buy you hot dogs. All the hot dogs you want are available through your friend's beneficence. Of course, at some point you stop -- economists might say the marginal satisfaction of the Xth hot dog is now negative. That doesn't mean you don't want more, just not more of that. (Bromo comes to mind.)

That thought came to mind when reading Don Boudreaux this morning discuss the health cost arguments for smoking bans, helmet laws and putting too much salt in our restaurant food.
if the proponents of greater collectivization of health-care provision not only recognize this fact but cite it as a justification for restricting personal freedoms that would otherwise be no one else's business, it seems to follow that these proponents of collectivization of health-care provision would recognize also that the problem is so general that it indicts the very idea of collectivization of health-care provision.

Because such collectivization creates a giant tragedy of the commons � because such collectivization enables each of us at each moment of making health-care choices to impose most of the costs of our choices on others � such collectivization will require not only that government restrict our access to fun but unhealthy life choices (such as eating lots of Cajun food), but also restrict our access to medical-care.

So the idea that a young mother whose child has a runny nose will be able to skip off to the pediatrician pronto for a diagnosis and treatment is chimerical. Just as collectivization of health-care provision will encourage people to eat too much sodium and too much bacon, it will also encourage people to seek medical treatment too frequently and too frivolously.
We can also observe that on campuses: If we say everyone has a right not to be offended by someone else's speech (or that only "protected classes" have this right), we encourage overconsumption of speech restrictions. You consume speech restrictions up to the point where you are satiated in it. Is this really wise? One example: the new chapter of the "pink locker room" debate at the University of Iowa.

It really would not take much money to convince the athletic department at Iowa to change the color of the locker room. Rather than contribute, though, people claim a right under some law and sue. When people to do not have to bear the costs of their actions -- because "I have a RIGHT!!!" -- there is overconsumption of the activity.

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