Unintended Consequences: Gov’t and Food

Reason Magazine just put out a piece about Mars Inc, makers of Snickers and a bunch of other candy bars, downsizing their product.  You can read the piece here.  Here’s a summary followed a few quick thoughts:


“By the end of 2013, consumers will no longer be able to purchase king-sized Snickers bars…Mars is implementing the 250-calorie threshold as part of an agreement with Partnership for a Healthier America (PHA), a non-profit organization that aims to ‘broker meaningful commitments’ from commercial food manufacturers like Mars to ‘end childhood obesity.’ PHA was founded in 2010 in conjunction with the Let’s Move! program, First Lady Michelle Obama’s federally funded government initiative that aims to shape up the nation’s tubby youth through a vigorous regimen of legislation, regulation, and mass jumping jacks. Mrs. Obama serves as PHA’s honorary chair, and according to its website, PHA’s mandate is to ‘monitor and publicly report on the progress’ of its private-sector partners like Mars, and, more generally, to ‘make the healthy choice the easy choice.'”


Friends, these non-profits and “federally funded initiatives” are not just feel good groups altruistically trying to convince us all to lead better lives.  They’re canaries in the coal mine.  What begins here, ends on the president’s desk after a congressman drafts a bill.

Where are the unintended consequences?  Businessmen aren’t stupid.  That’s why they’re rich are you aren’t.  A good businessman sees this as the canary in the coal mine that it is.  Congressman Shmuckatelly writes up this bill in the interests of making us healthier.  What do you think a good businessman does?  Outwardly, the business touts their interests in your health.  Inwardly, they smile at their margins.  When this bill comes, (and it WILL come) there is no longer the market pressure to provide a bigger bar for a competitive price.  Capping the size allows you to sell a smaller bar at the same price.  There’s small incentive to lower the price.  If you want the candy bar, you pay the price.  And now there’s no one offering a bigger bar for the same price.


One comment

  1. Why is this a canary in a coal mine? What is the link between federally funded non-profits pushing their agenda and that being written into law? I would think that the opposite is true- if the desired social change is being enacted through charity, it eliminates perceived demand. Why would we need a law?

    Check your bias: try and think if you would feel the same way if it was the NRA working with gun manufacturers to implement better child safety features on hand guns. Would you be afraid that these features were soon be signed into law?

    If federal funding is the catalyst, should we worry that all Pell grant receiving students are being bought and trained to government posts?

    This idea of businessmen being smarter is not founded in fact- businesses make all sorts of stupid decisions all the time (Just open the business section of a paper) It’s not like an entrepreneur *is* the business and is successful and runs every faucet of it over the course of a business’s life. Business is the same as government in that it’s a lot of people, good and bad, smart and stupid, making decisions in a realm of influence.

    What you describe could happen, or it could seem to happen through inflation. More likely, Hershy will offer a temporary discount on their larger bars, take a loss, but try and build market share at Mars expense. Or maybe, their leadership will see it as a way to move back in the candy bar arms race without losing market share (because they might see it as a moral choice in that their contributing to fat America)

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