‘Fake food’ and ’empty calories’: An assault on value?

On Thursday I was in the supermarket after a long day of reading – with a long night of reading ahead.   Next to me was a deal, dark chocolate Tim Tam’s, two packets for $5.  They are great with coffee and so I reached to grab them – however, then the barrage of health related stories I’ve seen at the moment came into my head.

These are empty calories, fake food, there is no nutritional value, they are not good for me.  I could do with losing a couple of kgs, and my weak willpower ensures that future me will find it just that little harder to get to the size I want to be!

Then I thought, blah blah blah.  Information is great, but looking solely at the cost of “empty calories” without thinking of the subjective benefit I get is as dumb as Boris Johnson presuming that maximising the GDPs is all we want.  Yes there is a time inconsistency issue, but as I am aware of it, and surprisingly active at trying to deal with it, I am pretty comfortable that I can make my own choices …

In my view economists, and other forms of social informers, have a role to provide information and help describe trade-offs for the public.  But lets not get on people’s back because they enjoy action that has a corresponding cost to themselves.  Analysts that go too far in telling other people how to act have moved past acting in the public interest, and are starting to act more in terms of ego or an inflated sense of confidence about their own understanding [to be clear this comment is NOT pointed at anyone, it is a hypothetical – accusing anyone in NZ of this would be strawmaning them].

In this case I purchased the Tim Tams and had a few with a coffee.  I spent the rest of the afternoon reading about economics and many utils were gained.  I have no doubt that other people, with different preferences, would not have gained the utils in this case – but that is completely irrelevant, these are my preferences, which are revealed by my action.  Not your preferences.



10 replies
  1. Eric Crampton
    Eric Crampton says:

    I’m not sure one needs construct strawman versions of those who write that school sausage sizzles ought be viewed as enabling food addictions.

    • Matt Nolan
      Matt Nolan says:

      I have had a lot of people complain to me about that one … I just wish more sausage sizzles had vegetarian sausages, and that the ones that did didn’t cook them right on top of the meat ones.

      • Eric Crampton
        Eric Crampton says:

        I wish more of them used decent sausages instead of the cheapie ones. I’d be much happier paying $5 for a good sausage and giving them $2 profit than paying $1 for a crap sausage and giving them $0.20 profit. But not enough people have my idiosyncratic preferences, alas.

        • Matt Nolan
          Matt Nolan says:

          I’ve heard that comment a few times now. While I believe you, with regards to the others I’m not sure how many people are just saying it, and when push comes to shove they won’t do it. Talk is cheap, revealed preferences, and all that.

  2. Luis Apiolaza
    Luis Apiolaza says:

    A case for “I disapprove of your choices but I will defend to the death your right to make them”. Except for the death part, which involves to much disutility for my taste.

    • Matt Nolan
      Matt Nolan says:

      The disutility is an opportunity cost – it is just the forgone utility of future life. So the older you get, the more time you should spend defending things right …

  3. Kimble
    Kimble says:

    Eric is right. How can you construct a strawman for someone who is a parody of them self?

    On a serious note, where can I purchase the TVHE t-shirt that says,

    “Analysts that go too far in telling other people how to act have moved past acting in the public interest, and are starting to act more in terms of ego or an inflated sense of confidence about their own understanding.” ~ Matt Nolan not talking about Gareth Morgan

    • Matt Nolan
      Matt Nolan says:

      It is a risk for all people who learn the logical framework of economics and then think about issues – this includes myself.

      Many economists went into the discipline wanting to “save the world” or at least improve it – the desire to “find solutions” is something we all have, and that we all need to be careful with. I didn’t want to fuzzy this message by unfairly targeting individuals.

      I’d also note that Gareth and Geoff (the other author on the health stuff) have both, repeatedly, said that one of the most important things is information. It would be hardly fair for me to turn around, ignore this, and then pick at things I may disagree with them on 🙂

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