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Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Doughnut fallacy

A column by Kathleen Parker in the Post makes a good overall point about the differences between rural and urban life having an effect on people's views on the role of government. But I have to take serious issue with an example she cites of excessively intrusive rules in cities:
You may have heard about Mayor Michael Bloomberg's crusade against trans fats, which are now banned from restaurant fare in the city. Okay, fine, trans fats are bad for you, and I voluntarily eschew them. Not so the fellow who installed my wireless. "You can't get a good doughnut in the city anymore," he railed. "I have to drive to Jersey to get a decent doughnut."

This is an area where I have some expertise, and I can definitively say that while this man may know how to install WiFi (or may not, based on my experiences with the cable guy), he does not know a doughnut from a bagel. For one thing, trans fats are not the key element in making good doughnuts -- doughnuts were well-recognized as tasty prior to the introduction of partially hydrogenated frying oils. And to even more directly answer his complaint, there are plenty of great doughnuts to be had in New York. Allow me to give you a list. Doughnut Plant, which makes the best doughnuts I've ever had, has always been trans fat free.

(More broadly, this is also a bad example because the case for regulatory intervention is particularly strong on trans fat: It's much worse for public health, but provides little benefit to consumers compared to natural frying oils, and individuals are in a poor position to monitor their intake of trans fats at restaurants or push for alternatives.)


hannah said...

Teague, if I had to pick one post on your blog that exemplified Teague-iness, this would be it. It's everything Teagues like: doughnuts, local politics, regulatory decisions... if we could work a train in here, it'd be complete.
Also, good point re: regulation of trans fat, and also it's non-essentialness to doughnut quality.

Teague said...

Well, if that cable guy really needs to get to Jersey for a doughnut, he could take the PATH train.

hannah said...

Nice! I knew there was a way to work in mass transit here!

lj said...

Any chance of me taking her argument seriously vanished with her "Now I know what it's like to live in communist China" comment. No, you don't. In an actual dictatorship, you wouldn't be complaining about rules for potted plants, you'd be worried about getting shot or "disappeared" for criticizing the government. There is a vast difference.

Also, I think there's a fundamental problem with her logic. I know exactly what she means about people living by their wits. in wide open spaces not seeing the need for government intervention. But that doesn't mean the need isn't there. And in fact, I think that in some cases it increases the need for a regulator to step in and fill a gap in people's awareness: if a dozen people live within spitting distance of you, they'll let you know if your behavior negatively affects them. But in the wide-open spaces, the neighbor you are negatively affecting might be 100 miles down the river, and you have no way of seeing the consequences of your actions.

Finally, she hasn't eaten a doughnut in 20 years? Something is seriously wrong with this person.