Obese America

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As
our national waistline inflates faster than the Weimar Republic's
fiat currency, Americans aggressively pursue a cure for the obesity
epidemic. Looking for the easy way out, our overweight compatriots
are willing to try anything, from eating nothing but grapefruit
to buying any book with the words "Lose Weight" in the
title. Our undying desire to slim down, compounded by supreme gullibility,
makes the legendary quest for the fountain of youth look promising
by comparison. But, as a law of nature, the equation for losing
weight has been and always will be: consume fewer calories than
you expend. While the "consume fewer calories" part of
the remedy is purely a matter of will and determination, the expenditure
of calories requires actual physical effort, something today's automobile-centric
American avoids at all costs. Parking as far one can from the mall
entrance in order to get in an extra 150 yards of waddling before
reaching the Promised Land (aka, the food court) is not sufficient.
In order to shed pounds, one must partake of vigorous physical exercise.

Running
is one exercise that will generally get the job done. Aside from
helping one lose weight, running also improves the cardiovascular
system, strengthens leg muscles and improves one's emotional state.
Unfortunately, the benefits of running come at a cost. For anyone
who has embarked on a serious running regimen, just uttering the
words "plantar fasciitis" is enough to provoke a wince.
Plantar fasciitis is a painful condition arising when a ligament,
the plantar fascia, becomes inflamed. Preventive measures abound
and, if one is able to detect the condition in its early stages,
a treatment as simple as rolling the sole of one's foot on a tennis
ball will often suffice. However, the combination of foregoing high
calorie foods and sticking to a serious running regimen can be highly
demanding. For those who responsibly choose to run to get in shape,
I humbly propose the following: In order to stomp out (no pun intended)
plantar fasciitis, we will hereby put a tax on all running shoes
of $5/pair. By so doing, we will discourage some people from running
entirely and thereby avoid the dreaded plantar fasciitis. For those
who are stubborn enough not to heed this economic incentive, we
will take all monies raised to fund a state-run plantar fasciitis
rehabilitation center. In the future the alleviation of plantar
fasciitis will become the purview of the state. For those who run
responsibly and take precautionary measures when they sense the
onset of plantar fasciitis, they will have the peace of mind of
knowing that they are funding the recuperation of their fellow citizens
who refuse to take any responsibility for their own condition. Eventually,
we will have lots of runners, no plantar fasciitis, and more tax
revenues than we originally started with!

Although
my proposed solution to foot pain borders on the insane, the state
of New
Jersey
is planning to embark on exactly that path in its treatment
of drug and alcohol addiction. A New Jersey-based group called "Parent
to Parent" is urging the state legislature to impose a five
cent per gallon tax on alcohol to fund the state's rehabilitation
programs. The demon alcohol is always to blame. From the temperance
movement earlier in our country's history to the Eighteenth Amendment,
do-gooders have repeatedly vilified alcohol and its users in order
to gain political power. First it was an attempt to control Catholic
immigrants from Ireland and southeastern Europe in the 19th
Century. Now it is a campaign against those who enjoy a casual beer
since the drinker is always a pariah in the mind of the teetotaler,
and legislation like this will just drive home the point. Why the
state of New Jersey is in the business of addiction rehabilitation
goes unremarked but it should not surprise us since both the Federal
constitution and those of the states have become impotent in circumscribing
the reach of government.

For residents
of New Jersey who drink responsibly, this tax will be an involuntary
charitable contribution (and not tax deductible) that they could
have otherwise made to the charity of their choice. And to think
that some of them might have made such a donation to a charity dealing
with the problems of addiction is where this proposed legislation
is particularly harmful and pernicious. No one likes to make donations
to charities that squander their resources or are ineffective in
assisting those they endeavor to help. In choosing among several
charities soliciting donations, donors will try to determine which
one has the best design and track record. The do-gooders now pestering
the state of New Jersey are proposing that we take away this simple
market check and fund a program whose results will be — in this
case only intentions matter. Not only do the do-gooders desire to
self-righteously punish those who enjoy alcohol. Unfortunately,
they will inadvertently also punish those who over imbibe by subjecting
them to a one-size-fits-none, state-run, monopoly rehabilitation
provider. Any incentive for private parties to test or implement
rehabilitation methods will disappear as the state's funding for
this unconstitutional activity usurps the market in rehabilitative
charities. Ultimately rehabilitation will be like the DMV — long
lines and snarling employees whose primary function is to punch
the clock. So much for helping those in need.

Although
this legislation is still only a proposal, things do not look good
for Bruce Springsteen, blue-haired gamblers in Atlantic City or
the boys at Tony Soprano's Bada-Bing. In this case, a self-righteous
and focused group attacks an "evil" activity practiced,
and more importantly, enjoyed, diffusely. Most of us like to drink
liquor. None of us will cry if we have to pay a nickel more to do
so. But each of those nickels goes into only one piggy bank and
eventually they start to add up. Over time the state will marshal
those nickels to create a perpetual bureaucracy which will inevitably
"forget" its reason for coming into existence (to cure
addiction remember?) but never lose its thirst for stealing private
wealth as it grows like an untended weed garden. Left in the dust
will be those who, for whatever reason, cannot control their addictions,
while the rest of us cough up nickels for all eternity. Residents
of New Jersey will now have a reason to drive the short distance
into New York to buy their alcohol. They should wave to New Yorkers
driving out to New Jersey to buy their clothes tax-free. The conspiracist
in me says this may all just be a head fake to increase revenues
from tolls on the bridges and tunnels connecting New York and New
Jersey. Sadly, in either case the state wins.

February
25, 2006

Mark
G. Brennan [send him email]
writes from New York City.

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