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Auto-Paternalism

By Matthew Yglesias  

"Auto-Paternalism"

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Megan McArdle asked earlier today “Are there folks who support food paternalism on the grounds that they, themselves are too fat and need to be protected from choice?”

In a lot of ways, this strikes me as by far the most sensible case for paternalism. It seems to me that if DC were to re-legalize smoking in bars, that would dramatically increase the odds of me returning to being a regular smoker and I don’t want to see that happen. Similarly, I lost 70 pounds in 2010 and I’m hoping to keep that weight off. But I also know that I’m someone with a weakness for over-indulging in salty snacks relative to my second-order desires about weight, and would welcome paternalistic measures that made me less likely to chow down on Combos.

My guess is that this kind of desire for self-regulation via government fiat is an important source of support for paternalistic regulation. The irony and tragedy of it is that the demand for this sort of thing probably could, in principle, be met through the private sector. I bet a dozen clever libertarian bloggers could sketch out dozens of different possible schemes for doing this. Pre-committing to not overeating ought to be doable. But in practice, it’s not and basically nobody seems to be working on ways to make it happen.

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