Friday, August 22, 2008

Conflict not in our markets but in ourselves (in particular in our stomachs)

Dynamically inconsistent preferences and the Big Mac atack

Via Kevin Via Ezra here is Jacob Sullum arguing that we shouldn't force restaurants to conspicuously post the calorie counts of their meals:

In a 2007 survey of California voters, 84 percent said they thought the government should force restaurant chains to display calorie numbers on their menus and menu boards. That may happen soon: The state Assembly is considering a bill, already approved by the state Senate, that would make California the first state to impose such a menu mandate.

Yet the desires that people express in polls are often at odds with the preferences they reveal in the marketplace. The restaurant business is highly competitive. If customers really were clamoring for conspicuous calorie counts, restaurants would provide them voluntarily.

Hmm how could it be that people want to force restaurants to do something yet patronize restaurants which don't ? I think the main thing which is going on here is that people want to force their future selves to consider how many calories they are consuming. That is people think they should count calories but don't want to do it right now. The competition between restaurants, espeically fast food restaurants, happens right now. Will I go to the place which tells me I am damaging my health or the similar place which doesn't ? I'll enjoy my meal more in the second. I will probably go to the second.

People often make binding rules for themselves (hire trainers, patronize fat farms, don't keep distilled liquor around the house). This is not irrational. It is a sophisticated response to dynamic inconsistency.

So is the proposed law.

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