Sunday, 29 June 2008

Are the Greens a communicable disease?

From Kiwiblog we learn that
The ultimate nanny state bill is being pushed through Parliament, having survived select committee. And the Greens say:
The Green Party said the bill would mean the health minister could issue regulations to reduce the risk associated with non-communicable disease.

“Given that poor diet is the leading cause of preventable illness and disease, it is vital that we take steps to create an environment which encourages healthy eating in New Zealand.”

The party said it was strange that there were virtually unlimited powers to prevent communicable diseases but little to prevent or respond to non-communicable diseases.
I may be missing something, but what is strange about the fact that governments have powers to deal with the problems caused by communicable diseases but little power to respond to non-communicable diseases. After all the diseases are .... well .... non-communicable.

Aren't the powers the government has there precisely because the diseases are communicable, that is they could have large negative externalities associated with them. What are the negative externalities of non-communicable diseases? You having bubonic plague could affect me in a very direct and obvious way, without me knowing, until it's too late. So I may want the government to be able to take action to prevent you giving me the plague. But you are eating a "poor diet", how does that affect me? What, exactly, is the negative externality here?


V* said...

I would argue that the negative externalities associated with non-communicable diseases are the additional burden place on the public health system by obese/overweight people, who are more prone to a variety of diseases. Allow poor eating habits etc. to build up in a population and eventually it will affect you by way of additional taxation required to fund the hospital system.
Of course if we had a privatised health system, the costs of people's poor eating could be reflected in their premiums and thus remove the burden from ones taxation. Of course there would be some practical issues to overcome.

Interested to hear your thoughts?

Crampton said...


That's the fiscal externality argument: an argument utterly destroyed by Ed Browning about a decade ago. I discuss it in The Press, available here.

Paul Walker said...

My thoughts are much the same as Eric's. Fiscal externalities don't count. Read Eric's piece from The Press. The problem here is not the burden on the health system of non-communicable diseases, its the fact that we have a publicly funded health system in the first place. We can ether move to a private health system or just learn to put up with the costs of such things to the public system.

V* said...


I think I was a little unclear. I wasn't suggesting that a proposed tax on fatty foods is appropriate, merely that there is a wider cost to society due to poor eating habits.
The Greens are good at identifying issues in society that need addressing, but their solutions are always misguided.
Economically speaking, how would you best deliver incentives to ensure people keep healthy and are less of a burden on the state?

Do you think a more privatised system is the way to go?
Learning to accept the increased costs on the public system doesn't seem like much of a solution. Take the USA, they spend a huge amount of GDP on healthcare, but you couldn't argue they are a 'healthier' population for all the additional expenditure.

kisekiman said...

As a possibly interesting aside, Tom Montag who was president of Goldman Sachs Japan lost over 40kg in weight. It was speculated that it was because among his peers it was thought that being overweight was a general sign of poor discipline and therefore an obstacle to promotion. The incentives for him to counter that perception were obviously quite large financially.