Jeb Bush, Obesity, Limited Government, and Me

Before he launched his presidential campaign, Jeb Bush released his emails from his eight years as governor. Now he’s released a 700-page book of selected emails. According to Amazon’s search function, I’m not in the book. But I did have a brief exchange with Governor Bush in 2003. As a libertarian, I wasn’t convinced by his argument. But I was impressed that the governor personally answered an email that I didn’t even send to him but rather to a member of his press staff. Governor Bush announced the creation of the Governor’s Task Force on the Obesity Epidemic, with such goals as:

  1. Recommend ways to promote the recognition of overweight and obesity as a major public health problem in Florida that also has serious implications for Florida’s economic prosperity;
  2. Review data and other research to determine the number of Florida’s children who are overweight or at risk of becoming overweight;
  3. Identify the contributing factors to the increasing burden of overweight and obesity in Florida;
  4. Recommend ways to help Floridians balance healthy eating with regular physical activity to achieve and maintain a healthy or healthier body weight;
  5. Identify and research evidenced-based strategies to promote lifelong physical activity and lifelong healthful nutrition, and to assist those who are already overweight or obese to maintain healthy lifestyles;
  6. Identify effective and culturally appropriate interventions to prevent and treat overweight and obesity;

When the announcement of this task force reached my inbox, courtesy of the governor’s office press list, I had this exchange (read from the bottom):

From: Jeb Bush [mailto:jeb [at]]
Sent: Thursday, October 16, 2003 8:05 PM
To: David Boaz
Cc: jill.bratina [at]
Subject: FW: Executive Order Number 03-196

David, the reason for this is that obesity creates huge costs to government. If you believe in limited government, you should support initiatives that reduce it. I know you believe that it is not the role of government to deal with these demands, which I respect, but until you win the day, we need to respond to the challenge.


—–Original Message—–
From: David Boaz [mailto:dboaz [at]]
Sent: Wednesday, October 15, 2003 10:30 AM
To: DiPietre, Jacob
Subject: RE: Executive Order Number 03-196

Why is what I eat any of the government’s business? This is the very definition of big government.

—–Original Message—–
From: DiPietre, Jacob [mailto:Jacob.DiPietre [at]]
Sent: Wednesday, October 15, 2003 10:21 AM
Subject: Executive Order Number 03-196

DATE: October 15, 2003
TO: Capital Press Corps
FROM: Jill Bratina, Governor’s Communications Director
RE: Executive Order Number 03-196
Please find attached an Executive Order creating the Governor’s Task Force on the Obesity Epidemic.

As I said, I wasn’t persuaded. I’ve written that obesity is not in fact a public health problem. It may be a widespread health problem, but you can’t catch obesity from doorknobs or molecules in the air. And the idea that our personal choices impose costs on government, through semi-socialized medicine and similar programs, has no good stopping point. If obesity is the government’s business, then so are smoking, salt intake, motorcycle riding, insufficient sleep, cooking all the nutrients out of vegetables, and an endless stream of potentially sub-optimal decisions. (I was going to include drinking whole milk, but … well, you know.)

I’m glad to note that last month Jeb Bush said that a federally developed anti-obesity video game, “Mommio,” was a waste of “scarce resources.” Maybe he’s coming around.

An Ostrich’s Review of the Research on School Choice

The overwhelming conclusion of the best research on school choice is that students who receive scholarships to attend the school of their choice perform as well or better on achievement tests on average and are more likely to graduate high school and go to college. The positive effects are particularly found among low-income and minority populations that are presently the most choice deprived.

The only way opponents of school choice get around this inconvenient truth is by ignoring it, which they do with great persistence. They are frequently aided in their willful ignorance by dubious “reports” that claim to evaluate the evidence while inexplicably leaving out numerous gold standard studies by researchers at top universities. The latest such “report” comes from the Center for Public Education, which Professor James Shuls of the University of Missouri-St. Louis methodically exposed over at the Show-Me Institute’s blog

Ohio’s Issue 3: The Runt of the Marijuana Crop

By nearly a 2 to 1 margin, Ohio’s Issue 3 has failed. It may be just as well. Jacob Sullum writes at Reason:

[I]t’s not clear whether the rejection of Issue 3 reflects general resistance to legalization or opposition to the initiative’s most controversial feature: a cannabis cultivation cartel that would have limited commercial production to 10 sites controlled by the initiative’s financial backers. The ballot description highlighted that aspect of the initiative, saying Issue 3 “grants a monopoly for the commercial production and sale of marijuana for recreational and medicinal purposes” and would “endow exclusive rights for commercial marijuana growth, cultivation, and extraction to self-designated landowners who own ten predetermined parcels of land.”

This is nothing like the model that prevailed in Colorado, and that seems to be working well so far.

Establishing a permanent commercial pot cartel has no clear public policy rationale. It appears rather to have been an instance of shameless self-dealing by individuals who hoped to extract rents based on the public’s anxiety about change. Even – and I don’t say this lightly – even a state monopoly on commercial sales might have been better, in that the rents would have gone to a public purpose, rather than to some well-connected speculators, who ought not to profit from a law written specifically to favor them. Indeed, such laws are not properly called laws at all; they are privileges – private laws, rather than public ones, and as such they come under grave suspicion.

They Represent D.C. in New Mexico

In a recent The Hill piece on the REAL ID debate in New Hampshire, I wrote about the complaint against federal legislators who cease representing their states in Washington, D.C., and start representing Washington, D.C., in their states.

That seems to be happening in New Mexico, where four of five members of the congressional delegation are at best standing by worrying about a Department of Homeland Security attack on their state. At worst, they are lobbying the state legislature to cede authority over driver licensing to the federal government.

The DHS is pushing New Mexico toward compliance with REAL ID, the national ID law, by saying that it will not offer another extension of the deadline for compliance. The statutory deadline passed seven years ago and no state is in compliance. No state will be in 2016. The national ID law is as unworkable as it is weak as a security tool.

Cruz and Paul’s VAT Mistake

Presidential candidates Ted Cruz and Rand Paul have proposed value-added taxes (VATs) as part of their tax reform plans.

I critique these taxes in National Review today, arguing that they could become engines of big government growth.

Cruz and Paul are champions of small government, and so their embrace of VATs is unfortunate, and also potentially dangerous.

Dangerous because VATs are probably the only way that liberals would be able to fund the huge projected growth in unreformed entitlement programs in coming years.

In a worse-case scenario under the current tax system, liberals would succeed in hiking income taxes, but they wouldn’t be able to seize much more money because the income tax base is so mobile in today’s global economy. The corporate income tax, for example, is a complex and damaging tax, but it is not capable of raising the government any more revenue than it already does.

Go Ahead, Have a Lasik!

This morning, I saw a TV ad for Lasik eye surgery and that got me wondering, “What’s happened to the price of Lasik since I had my procedure 10 years ago?” We hear a lot about the rising cost of healthcare. (By the way, how is that Obamacare working out for you?) But, what about medical procedures that patients pay for themselves? And so I called the ophthalmologist who performed my Lasik operation (with superb results, I might add) to find out the details. 
Back in 2005, he charged $3,500 for fixing nearsightedness and astigmatism in both eyes, or $4,264 in 2015 dollars. Today, he charges $3,000. That amounts to a real price reduction of 30 percent. In the meantime, average hourly earnings of production and nonsupervisory employees (a close approximation to the quintessential “blue collar worker”), rose from $15.91 in January 2005 to $20.80 in January 2015. So, an ordinary American needed to work for 220 hours to afford a Lasik surgery in 2005. S/he needs to work 144 hours to afford the same procedure today. That’s a 35 percent decrease in terms of work time.
And, as my doctor reminded me, the price was not the only thing that has changed. Lasik machines today are significantly more precise, achieving 20/20 vision with greater regularity for nearsightedness, farsightedness and astigmatism. They are much safer and disastrous complications, such as the loss of sight, have become even rarer (i.e., Lasik has been a very safe procedure for a very long time). The doctors performing the operation are more experienced and the screening of potentially problematic patients has improved. 
Candidly, my doctor has admitted that the prices could come down even more. One reason for Lasik prices being what they are is that only ophthalmologists are allowed to perform Lasik operations. Optometrists, however, are banned. And, of course, draconian immigration rules make it super difficult for foreign doctors to work in the United States.
Still, relative to 10 years ago, today a prospective Lasik patient enjoys the benefits of better and safer machines, and a price/time reduction of 35 percent. Not bad, not bad at all. Please visit HumanProgress and search for “cost of cosmetic procedures” to see how other elective medical procedures have become cheaper over time.