09 April 2016

Subsidising obesity

Jason Fung writes:

The government is subsidizing, with our own tax dollars, the very foods that are making us obese. Obesity is effectively the result of government policy. Federal subsidies encourage the cultivation of large amounts of corn and wheat, which are processed into many foods. These foods, in turn, become far more affordable, which encourages their consumption. Large-scale consumption of highly processed carbohydrates leads to obesity. The Obesity Code: Unlocking the Secrets of Weight Loss (page 130), Jason Fung, 2016

What have this and other perverse subsidies got to do with Social Policy Bonds? Simply that the relationship between a policy and its effect is obscured by a policymaking process that focuses on supposed ways of achieving desirable outcomes, rather than the outcomes themselves. So, the US (and most other rich countries) justifies agricultural subsidies because they are supposed to protect the 'family farm'. But very little of these subsidies actually go to smaller farms: most of them are capitalized into farmland values, benefiting wealthy landowners, or end up as subsidies to large agribusiness corporates. And, as Dr Fung relates, they conflict with health objectives. They persist because our policymaking process allows the - deliberate or not - obscuring of the real goals of the powerful.

Expressing policy goals as broad outcomes that are meaningful to ordinary people would change this. If people truly wanted their tax payments and higher food prices to fund wealthy aristocrats and agribusiness then a government could achieve the same result without deceiving its citizens. But it's unlikely that the public actually wants to subsidise the very wealthy: it happens only because policymaking is effectively manipulated and disguised by the powerful. Social Policy Bonds would make the real goals of policy clearer to everybody, generating more public participation in the policymaking process and so, importantly, more buy-in.

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