Thursday, October 14, 2010

Patriotic Speeding Overweight Smokers

In response to my recent economics of human life post, a reader linked a story about measuring human deaths. The big reveal was that smoking (and I suspect other major killers like heart disease and motor vehicle crashes) may actually decrease (or at least not impact) government spending. Because smoking and other major killers shorten lifespan, society is saved the costs of caring for elderly (and Medicare, Social Security). This certainly isn't an encouragement to die early, but if there are no negative spillovers to society, then perhaps government shouldn't intervene (like banning drugs, taxing sodas or limiting fatty foods).


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Oh good grief. There are "no negative spillovers" to drugs or obesity? And gov't should trade human life for less spending whenever possible? I think you misinterpreted that podcast.

  3. One of my favorite professors would take a cigarette break during every class (his classes were all 3 hours long and he taught three on Tuesday followed by one on Wednesday). He would tell us that was his contribution to Social Security.

    Although it would be a financially sound move to stop taxing self-destructive behavior; and although such behavior is good for other Americans, especially the young; I think the public choice prediction is that this knowledge will only encourage the government to further intervene in people's lives. Bureaucrats' do better the more people are in their jurisdiction.

  4. Interesting thought but consider the hidden value as represented by the people's willingness to pay to keep themselves or their loved ones alive. I think that only in the rarest of cases is the loss of life societally beneficial.

  5. Doesn't government got some moral responsibilities, and carve law for individual as well as community well being ?

  6. Justin S,

    What did I misinterpret? That certainly wasn't what the entire podcast was about, but it's true nonetheless.


    Great Social Security line. I think you're right, it's not as if these facts can have much policy impact.

    Justin W,

    But what if we also count the value people gain from their destructive behavior?


    Maybe. I wish I had a better answer.

  7. It would obviously be ill-conceived and have drastic negative effects to force anyone to do these things. And assuming that all these deaths (as per the "not taking care of old people" argument) were instant it would work.

    I would say the problem is that all three of these things (car accidents from speeding, smoking, and obesity) can cause/cause long-term OTHER problems requiring hospitalization and intensive care for very avoidable things. With socialized medicine it's a cost-benefit analysis, [prompting death panels according to Fox News].

    Secondly, these things inconvenience or otherwise negatively effect other people in far reaching ways. Beyond second hand smoke and the other car in a car accident, Obesity as an epidemic can cause such problems as:

    public transportation, like buses, requires more force to get up and go, causing more pollution as more fuel is used.

    Only 2 people would be able to ride an elevator at the same time, cutting into production time

    with obesity classified as a medical condition, sometimes costly special measures have to be taken.

    I agree people should have the right to destroy themselves, but I think they should have the decency to do it quickly.

  8. That's the thing the article is saying. Even if you count the cost on society of them dying, it's actually cheaper to have them die young.

    I'm also not convinced that bus and elevator costs are that significant.

    Let me clarify the main point of this post: I have heard an argument for government interference in the health market because there are negative externalities to unhealthy people. However, it turns out the opposite is true. So I say we simply let people calculate their own cost benefit analysis without the interference of government. I want people to live long if they want to. I am willing to let people risk their lives if they want to.


You are the reason why I do not write privately. I would love to hear your thoughts, whether you agree or not.