Jon Chait has a nice piece about the bizarre idea that Chris Christie’s weight should disqualify him from the presidency, correctly noting that this is a case study in obesity panic as a moral panic rather than legitimate health concern. Clearly all else being equal it’s better to exercise more rather than less, and better to eat healthy food rather than fritos, but there’s precious little evidence that weight per se is a big deal.
A further nuance here, though, is that not only did Michael Kinsley’s piece on this draw a spurious connection between Christie’s appearance his personal virtue, it does so in order to make a second bad moral panic. After acknowledging that Christie “makes all the right noises about fiscal discipline,” he says that “perhaps Christie is the one to help us get our national appetites under control. But it would help if he got his own under control first.” This not only misunderstands obesity, it misunderstands fiscal policy. The sentiment here is that small budget deficits are a sign of self-control and personal virtue, and that large deficits are to be deplored as the reverse. There’s just no reason to think that any of that is true. The question to ask about fiscal policy is whether it’s appropriate to try to advance full employment in the short-term and capacity growth in the long-term. You have to ask what’s really going on, what the situation is, and what the impact of the policy choices will be. On Yom Kippur, you fast as an act of self-abnegation as part of a process for atoning for one’s sins. A person with out-of-control appetites will have a difficult time doing it. Fiscal policy is nothing like that.