Insight: We are already mandated to eat vegetables!

by Alan Cohen


In oral arguments at the US Supreme Court for Obamacare this week, Justice Antonin Scalia famously asked what mandate would be next: that we eat our broccoli? Certainly this provocative question will raise the hackles of anyone who has the least aversion to government interference in our personal lives. But it’s based on a false premise: the US already has government mandates to eat vegetables, most notably corn.

How so?, you ask… Well, US subsidies for corn production are well known. This drives down the price of corn relative to other food, and as the average price of food drops, so does the cost of living. As the cost of living drops, the increase in wages drops or grows more slowly as well (employers will not need to pay as much to attract good employees). This makes all food that is not corn cost a larger percent of the average person’s income. So it is, effectively, a penalty for not eating corn, implemented by the government. You can call it a subsidy, or a penalty, or a tax, or a mandate. It amounts to the same thing. And it’s much worse for our health than a broccoli mandate or Obamacare.

And to me, this highlights the absurdity of the US legal system, where it is not the policy and its effects that are debated, but rather how we phrase the policy. There is no room in the US legal system for probabilities, tendencies, constraints, or systems: it is a black and white approach to a complex world. But that is a subject for another post, another day…