Bad Habits: Is it right to take away the cashew bowl?

Gabby Sharp, Stewart AM Period, Honorbound

Binge eating: an enjoyable, widely popular habit that is more detrimental to the U.S. than one would think. This bad habit, among a multitude of others, contributes to the majority of deaths in the U.S., according to NBC News. The habit of binge-eating is illustrated through the anecdote of an economist Richard Thaler who hosts a party and serves a bowl of cashews before the meal. Thaler noticed that his guests were eating so many of the cashews that they would likely spoil their appetites. Therefore, he took the bowl of nuts away, and was thanked by his guests for doing so. [1] However, this story raises an important issue: Was the host right to take away the bowl of cashews from his guests?

Even though humans make these errors in judgement, what is the correct way to go about solving these bad habits?

First, we should start with why bad habits need to be stopped. If, in theory, “it should never be possible to make rational individuals better off by denying them some option,” then why must the effort be made to deny certain options? [1] Well, based on a recent report from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation the University of Washington, the leading causes of death are all related to bad habits, including smoking, poor diet, and a lack of exercise. These actions are all preventable, and in one way or another, can be traced back to bad habits. The study compiled a list of 14 fatal dietary bad habits and found they lay behind 21 percent of all deaths in the world. [2] The action of overeating can fall into this category of dietary habits that lead to death, because it deprives us of necessary nutrition such as fruits and vegetables, which we do not eat enough of. While most people recognize their bad habits, they often find it near impossible to break them. Eighty percent of smokers, for example, want to quit smoking, but fail to do so. [1] We want to keep our greedy fingers off of those cashews, but our bodies beg for another salty snack. Our failure to both recognize and break these fatal habits calls out for intervention, but to what extent should society or the U.S. intervene?

The solution to bad habits, and perhaps the lifespan of humans as a whole, may lie in the concept of paternal libertarianism, introduced by Richard Thaler himself. According to this notion, “individuals do make systematic errors in judgment, but society should not force you to change your behavior; instead, we should merely point you in the right direction.” [1] A bad habit, in other words, could be defined as a systematic error in judgment, since the individual over and over again misjudges the detriments of an action, such as smoking or overeating. Therefore, this concept may just be the perfect solution to counter this kind of extremely harmful repeated behavior. Based on paternal libertarianism, it is wrong for the U.S. to face these bad habits in a direct way, such as attempting to take away what causes the habit like cigarettes or junk food – in other words, taking away the cashew bowl. The U.S. should, instead, implement programs directing people in the right direction, away from these habits. Wouldn’t you rather your friend guide you away from the cashew bowl rather than have someone snatch away those divine cashews?

[1] Wheelan, Charles. Naked Economics: Undressing the Dismal Science. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2010, 56.

[2] Fox, Maggie. “What’s Killing Us? It’s Mostly Our Own Bad Habits.” NBCNews. September 10, 2015. Accessed June 19, 2017.



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