Thursday, December 31, 2009

Unhealthy habits are what's killing us article "Unhealthy habits are what's killing us" (December 28th, 2009) appears to misunderstand that total utility of life comes from both quality of life and quantity. Furthermore, Corrections notes that higher rates of early death for minorities appears as a natural outcome of maximization, rather than a product of irrationality or a failure of willpower.

So if the U.S. health system does such a good job saving its middle-aged and elderly sick, why do Americans die comparatively young?

Answer: because Americans are much more likely to get sick in the first place.

And that likelihood owes very little to the health care system and a great deal to the bad choices American individuals make.

If you eat too much, exercise too little, drink too much, smoke, take drugs, fail to wear a seat belt or ignore gun safety, there is only so much a doctor or hospital can do for you.

Corrections does not see bad health and dying early as a bad decision. Total happiness comes from both quality and quantity of life. Individuals enjoy eating, drinking, smoking, and consuming drugs. The author begs the question whether or not Americans are actually making the right choices. has one additional observation that is not contradictory to a rational-individual hypothesis. Specifically, that minorities often engage in self-destructive behavior at higher rates than whites.

Acting on this information won't be easy: It violates too many taboos. Americans understandably treasure their right to make their own choices, including the choice to super-size it. And many are uncomfortably aware that self-destructive behavior is most often found among the poor and among minorities: Black women are more than three times as likely as white women to be severely obese.

This may be a rational discrepancy. If minorities also have lower wages, then their foregone earnings from dying early are less. The shadow cost of unhealthy behavior is lower--we should therefore expect higher rates of early death, coming not from irrationality or dynamic preferences, but from rational maximization.

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