Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Healthy Food

In the current health care debate, there have been lots of comparisons between how we handle health care and how we handle other social services: police, firefighters, etc. All of these comparisons have marginal utility in explaining how government can help.

Ezra Klein comes up with another comparison that might beat them all: food.

Food is more like health care than it is like cable television. We worry if people don't have enough food to eat. We worry quite a lot, in fact. So we have a variety of programs meant to ensure that people have sufficient food. If you don't have much money, you rely on these programs. As of September 2008, about 11 percent of the population was on food stamps. It's probably somewhat higher now. Millions more rely on the Women, Infants, and Children nutrition program, and reduced-price school lunches.

The insight that people need food has not led us to simply deregulate the agricultural sector (though that might be a good idea for other reasons) or change the tax treatment of food purchases or make it easier for rich people to donate to food banks, which is what Mackey recommends for health care. It's led us to solve, or try and solve, the problem directly by giving people money to buy food. And that works. These programs, as every Whole Foods shopper knows, haven't grown to encompass the whole population or set prices in grocery stores. If you have more money, you shop for food on your own. And if you have a lot of money, you shop at Mackey's stores. That's pretty much the model we're looking at in this iteration of health-care reform. We're also laying down some rules so grocery stores -- excuse me, health insurers -- can't simply refuse to sell you their product, or take it away after it's already been purchased..





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