Guide One Foot in Front of the Other: A Mans Journey Away from Obesity

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Between boarding and take-off, there is not much time to reach a bargain and disembark if necessary. A more paralyzing problem occurs when property rights are not clearly defined. My seat does not belong to me nor to my fat co-traveler. It does however clearly belong to an airline company, which has the incentive to make as much money as possible from all the seats in the airplane.

Because of this incentive, the airline company plays the role of an intermediary in a virtual bargaining. It indirectly allows both obese and thin passengers to bid for seats. One way the airline company does this is to ask higher prices for wider and more comfortable seats, which either the fat or the thin may purchase depending on how much one is willing to pay to avoid sitting too close to the other.

Comfort is available in business or first class or on a private aircraft. A standard and tired objection is that the rich will be able to rent better seats. Ceteris paribus , that is true—just as the rich buy more BMWs and more rib eye steaks. They regularly do so with large quantities of most goods in services. Finally, if everybody earned the same income, there would be no airline seat nor rib eye steaks to bid for; if they exist, they would go to the equalizing Nomenklatura.

More generally, competition between profit-seeking airlines facilitates the satisfaction and reconciliation of all individual preferences. If the obese or the thin feel they are not well served—that is, if they are not offered the seats they want for a price they are willing to pay—other airlines, whether existing ones or new ones, will be incentivized to cater to the neglected clienteles. That the current rules for obese seating differ slightly among airlines offers a glimpse of the possibilities of this mechanism see again the smarttravel.


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No doubt that we would see more competition if the government-created obstacles to entry in the American airline industry—such as those against foreign competitors—were abolished. The reader who has followed me until now might be tempted to try a little exercise: Can you make a parallel analysis of smokers and non-smokers in restaurants and other commercial venues? Who is the obese and who is the thin among the two groups?

In one sense, it shows us that we need to understand all sides to a conflict. You say to try this exercise with smokers vs. Instead, try it with the mafia vs. You quickly see that viewing externalities solely in terms of who has the highest marginal value for the thing is deeply troubling. The idea of externality comes from poorly defined property rights.

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The issue here is who has the right to perform the activity: does the fisherman have the right to fish in clean stream or does the factory have the right to pollute it. Who has the right to it? When you say coercion, you are implicitly assuming some structure of ownership. Perhaps these examples refer to coercion. Coercion is harmless—but for the externalities created by people objecting being coerced, right? This just illustrates that 1 yes, it takes two to externalize, and 2 we may find it useful to distinguish between an objective description of the situation and our subjective judgments about a situation.

Autonomy rights property rights, the right to be free of coercion reflect subjective value judgments, not objective facts. I understand Lemieux to invite us to reflect on this dynamics of externalities without the need to impose judgment. As far as I can tell, the Coase Theorem does not recognize autonomy rights, and thus does not distinguish between negotiation and extortion.

Externalities, one by one, are clearly asymmetrical. The fat man is exceding his space and invading yours which is external to his. You are not doing the same thing to him. The polluting factory is throwing out externality something toxic negative from its premises and into the river. The fishers are not doing the same thing to the factory owners. Some externalities could be symmetrical when they happen in equivalent pairs, for instance breathing by people at the same rate or intensity, meaning consuming the same amount of oxygen and producing the same amount of carbon dioxide.

Then it is symmetrical. If the fat guy spilled into the next seat and no one was there, there is no externality. I am not blaming anyone though I clearly could in these cases because they are very easy. I am trying to explain what symmetry means: when you exchange the two interacting parties, the situation is the same a symmetry means a system is invariant under some change, like a rotation, a mirror reflection, a change between agent and patient.

You seem to believe that all interactions are symmetrical: they are not. A symmetry is a property of a relationship, but not all relationships are symmetrical. Peter hits Paul and Paul hits Peter. Symmetrical, because it is the same as Paul hits Peter and Peter hits Paul. I studied astrophysics. There is a symmetry in the newtonian law of gravitation, of course m1m2. But even if the forces are the same, the accelerations are not. If you swap the two bodies you have a similar situation, but not the same which symmetry requires , you have to perform a mirror reflection with a plane passing through the center of gravity of the two bodies.

So, symmetry in the law, not in the result. Natural language reflects the asymmetry of human interactions: there is usually an agent and a patient. Pierre and the commenters following used the wrong word. Symmetrical; Peter hits Paul Paul feels pain vs. Peter cannot enjoy the pleasure of hitting Paul Peter feels psychological pain. When you buy a ticket, you have the expectation that the space between the armrests will be occupied by you and not by someone else who did not pay for it.

He asked to purchase 2 coach seats side by side and the airline refused. Maybe it was just that airline, though. David: According to the smarttravel. Perhaps this does not apply to the merely tall because they are assumed to be able to avoid imposing any externality to their neighbors?

Or perhaps it is simply too costly for the airline to manage multiple reservations under a single name even neglecting security regulations except in very limited cases. Much more. Studies have been done about the extra cost. The presumption is that we should be polite; because of the assumption that obese people are not responsible for their condition. If an airline today made any actual noises as opposed to the rules on paper, which are ignored about obese people having to pay double much less, enforcement — can you imagine the viral videos! None of the other airlines would follow suit, as they would all stand to benefit from the self-immolation of the first airline.

This however has to be distinguished from the sort of mob rule that the PC intelligentsia supports. If you read the citations in my post, you will see that the two-seat rule is apparently applied, but perhaps it is only in really extreme cases, which is partly why it seldom if ever makes the news.

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Competition Between the Obese and the Thin - Econlib

No, the citation does not show this. What airlines do in practice is most likely rarely or never enforce their written rules. The fact that many of us have seen lack of enforcement with our own eyes supports this interpretation. And yes, not all overweight people are obese. Are you perchance acquainted with Derrie-Air , where the more you weight, the more you pay?

Note that men tend to be larger than women, so perhaps this could be regarded as a form of gender discrimination? Then again—Derrie-Air would become known as the airline full of slender people.

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Thus, it might become a mark of prestige to be seen boarding and exiting the flight—and perhaps a dating site. Prestige—plus the cost advantage of avoided fuel costs—might suffice to keep the airline flying. Many interesting comments above bring in the limelight the crucial distinction between the positive where externalities thrive and the normative what should count as externalities and what should not.

Welfare economics has shown that public policy cannot be evaluated without value judgments. A system of private property rights is a good I would say the best mechanism to minimize externalities, but it itself requires some value judgments, although much fewer than other systems meant to coordinate individual actions. I also do not see the situation as symmetrical. You paid for that seat for the duration of that flight. Encroachment is trespass just as if someone enters a motel room you have paid for within your consent.

But that's not what keeps him occupied these days. Like some of India's other problems, obesity partly stems from the country leapfrogging generations in industrial development.

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American industrialization took more than a century; India is trying to catch up within a few decades. I read a research paper in the Indian Journal of Endocrinology and Metabolism that says: "For developing countries like India, morbid obesity has not yet become a public health priority. Probably, India is, in our own eyes, still a country of poverty, hunger and malnutrition. Yet, statistics suggest otherwise. This peculiar problem affecting both ends of the nutritional spectrum is one reflection of India today, a nation that experienced rapid growth and with it, massive socioeconomic and cultural changes.

On the one hand, India remains the developing nation of my childhood still struggling to end poverty, illiteracy and disease. On the other hand, India today is a fast-rising global power that's home to vast amounts of new wealth. Childhood obesity is mainly a problem of modern India, teeming with American-style malls, fast food outlets and newfound luxuries like cars and air conditioning that have dramatically changed the lifestyles of families with money to spare.

Great Read: One man’s uphill fight to stem childhood obesity

Kids are far more sedentary than they used to be -- the pressure to study and do well in school is more intense than ever -- and whatever little spare time they have is spent these days on video games, mobile phones or Facebook. The problem is so prevalent that there's even an Obesity Foundation of India -- which also blames the prevalence of television commercials promoting unhealthy foods and poor eating habits.

But obesity is not just affecting the urban well-to-do.