Rundles wrap-up: Please, sir, I want some more
I have obesity on my mind as I ponder the world around me this spring, and the only thing I am sure of is that people everywhere are pretty comfortable with more and, ultimately, will want some more still.
A disturbing report out from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control says that by the year 2030 fully 42 percent of American adults will fall into the category of obese, up from 34 percent today, with 11 percent severely obese in 18 years where just 6 percent fall into that category now. Another one-third of American adults, the CDC says, are overweight. In 1980 – 32 years ago – adult obesity stood at 15 percent.
On the heels of the CDC report came another report from the Institute of Medicine (IOM) that claims obesity is not the result of a lack of willpower, and it recommends a whole host of policy changes – changing government farm subsidies, altering zoning laws, introducing a tax on sugary soft drinks, etc. – because of what it calls an “obesity-promoting environment.” A number of others dispute that lack-of-willpower assertion, with a group called the Center for Consumer Freedom, funded by the restaurant and food industries, among others, saying the IOM recommendations would “actively reduce the number of choices Americans have when they sit down to eat.”
I’m all for some of the policy changes proposed – more sidewalks, adding weight-loss programs in a broader array of health care insurance coverages, increasing physical education in schools, encouraging more fresh produce production by altering farm price-support programs for wheat, cotton and other commodities, to name a few – but I am not convinced that changing the “obesity-promoting environment” will do much to alter behavior. People like what they like and, apparently, they want some more.
While all of this is going on, there are several other seemingly unrelated weighty issues occurring around the world that, to my mind, are part and parcel of the same thing.
In early May, voters in both Greece and France rejected politicians and policies that, basically, had called on the populaces of those countries to go on a severe fiscal diet in the wake of the massive European debt crises. Up to a point people there were willing to put up with spending cuts and tax increases, but apparently they have had enough sacrifice. Living high on the hog for so long, as it were, has given them a taste for pork and, apparently, they want some more.
And, over the last several years there has been a hue and cry in some circles about executive compensation at the world’s public companies, and as a result there have been a few rule changes and legislative initiatives to give shareholders a greater say in the process of paying senior executives. While there have been a few examples of shareholder executive-pay revolts – at the British insurance giant Aviva, Citigroup in the U.S. – just 36 of 2,225 public companies in the U.S. in 2010 rejected proposed executive compensation plans, a 1.6 percent rejection rate. Executive compensation – and everyone knows business executives want some more – has continued its steady march upward in spite of the recession. Shareholders pretty much don’t care how fat the cats get as long as they get some more, too.
While there are many reformers out there – food-nannies, Tea Partiers, corporate gadflies – with human nature being what it is, it will always be difficult, if not impossible, to stem a tide. I find this instructive. While the Lord may giveth and taketh away, here on Earth once something has been given, taking it away presents a ton of problems.
So for everyone out there who thinks they know how to stimulate the economy, be careful on the giving, and be very, very careful on the taking away. Each one, quite obviously, can lead to a Twist of fate.