Waaaaay back in 2009, I wrote a post about the Los Angeles City Council’s ban on new fast-food restaurants on the city’s south side – a poor area with a high level of obesity. Here’s part of what I wrote:
The ban hasn’t done diddly, of course — and won’t — but it did serve one important purpose: it satisfied the congenital need of politicians to do something! whenever they see a problem.
Before getting into the economic and nutritional stupidity of this ban, I’m going to risk receiving some hate mail by actually acknowledging the elephant in the room: racism. South Los Angeles is populated almost exclusively by African-Americans and Hispanics. Telling them they can’t have any more fast-food restaurants in their neighborhoods is paternalistic and insulting. It’s rooted in the notion that they can’t make smart decisions for themselves, and therefore need a government nanny to hide the cookie jar.
When I wrote that post, I hadn’t yet read Thomas Sowell’s terrific book The Vision of the Anointed, so I didn’t describe the Grand Plan Fast-Food Ban as an example of The Anointed at work. But boy howdy, that’s exactly what it was. Here’s a quick recap of how Sowell describes The Anointed imposing their vision (which I recounted in more detail in my speech Diet, Health and the Wisdom of Crowds):
1. The Anointed identify a problem in society.
Yeah, okay, there’s a high rate of obesity on the south side of Los Angeles. It’s a problem.
2. The Anointed propose a Grand Plan to fix the problem.
Let’s ban new fast-food restaurants from opening on the south side! Very grand indeed.
3. Because they are so supremely confident in their ideas, The Anointed don’t bother with proof or evidence that the Grand Plan will actually work.
As I pointed out in the 2009 post, the Rand Corporation had already produced a study showing there were more fast-food restaurants per capita on the west side of Los Angeles – a mostly-white area where obesity isn’t a problem. So that would suggest proximity to fast-food restaurants wasn’t the cause of obesity. There were zero studies demonstrating that limiting fast-food restaurants would do diddly squat. But hey, we’re talking about The Anointed here. They don’t need proof or evidence. All they need are good intentions.
4. If possible, The Anointed will impose the Grand Plan on other people (for their own good, of course).
I’d say not allowing people to open new restaurants (which would fail if they didn’t have willing customers) pretty much qualifies as imposing a plan. That’s the thing about those Grand Plans: they almost involve confiscating and spending other people’s money or limiting other people’s freedoms – or both for a truly Grand Plan.
5. The Anointed assume anyone who opposes the Grand Plan is either evil or stupid.
In this case, I’d say the City Council idjits probably view the fast-food restaurants as evil and the people who eat there as stupid – which of course means they need The Anointed to (ahem) help them by limiting their choices.
6. If the Grand Plan fails, The Anointed will never, ever, ever admit the Grand Plan was wrong.
Fail? Now why in the heck would a Grand Plan based on zero evidence and a healthy dose of economic illiteracy fail? But I predicted in 2009 that it would:
Fast-food restaurants are convenient target, but shooting at the wrong target doesn’t get the job done. Banning McDonald’s and other fast-food joints from poor neighborhoods won’t make poor people any leaner. But it will create another tribute to the economic stupidity of legislators … namely, it will deprive a lot of unskilled but work-minded teenagers of their first job opportunities, with at least the possibility of moving into management someday.
It’s been seven years since that ban was imposed. That ought to be enough time for the positive effects of limiting other people’s freedom to manifest, eh? An article from the Los Angeles Times describes the results:
Seven years ago, Los Angeles made national headlines with a novel attempt to reduce obesity in South L.A. by banning new fast-food restaurants.
A “novel” attempt. If you saw my speech, you may recall that Sowell says The Anointed are attracted to ideas that are new, bold, or exquisitely expressed. New and bold are substitutes for supported by evidence they’ll actually work.
But a new study found the effort has not achieved its intended goal.
Well, I am shocked.
A Rand Corp. report released Thursday says that from 2007 to 2012, the percentage of people who were overweight or obese increased everywhere in L.A., but the increase was significantly greater in areas covered by the fast-food ordinance, including Baldwin Hills and Leimert Park.
The study also found fast-food consumption went up in South L.A. as well as across the county during that time.
Now, the logical response would be to admit that the ban was a bad idea and stop curtailing other people’s freedoms to make their own decisions – such as the decision to open a restaurant. But we can’t expect logic from The Anointed. They never admit a Grand Plan was a bad idea. If anything, they insist that we need to do the same thing again – only bigger.
Which is why these quotes shouldn’t surprise any of us:
Councilman Bernard C. Parks, who co-wrote the zoning restriction with former Councilwoman Jan Perry, said he wasn’t surprised that the Rand report says it didn’t have any health effect. But he maintained that it was a vital first step in reducing the number of fast-food restaurants and breaking unhealthy eating habits in the region.
I see. It’s a total failure, but also a vital first step. Those next steps must be real doozies.
This is why it’s important to read books like The Vision of The Anointed. Sowell describes these people and how they think so perfectly, it’s like reading the script before you see a play. You know what’s going to happen next.
“We never believed it was going to be an overnight situation where all of a sudden the community was going to be healthy,” he said.
Riiiight. Seven years — which I think we’d all agree is equivalent to “overnight” — wasn’t long enough. The fast-food ban will work … it will just take another 20 or 30 years to show real results.
I didn’t mention it in my speech, but Sowell explains in his book that The Anointed escape the blame for their failures because it often takes years for the failure to manifest. By contrast, if an engineer proposes a new, bold, exquisitely expressed plan to build a bridge and then the bridge falls down, he gets the blame – and nobody cares how exquisitely he defends his design. Bridge fell, your plan was bad, you’re fired. It’s the same with programming, by the way. My code either works or it doesn’t. If it doesn’t, the results are immediate and I take the blame.
Parks said the ordinance was meant to be part of a larger strategy that includes bringing grocery stores and farmers markets to replace fast-food restaurants, but that part has been more difficult to accomplish.
In other words, the plan didn’t go far enough. I”m guessing if I got Mr. Parks on the phone, he’d inform me that the “larger strategy” has been undermined by people who are evil or stupid.
Like reading the script before you see a play …
Over the last several years, more research has focused on the social factors that affect health, such as where people live, how much money they make, and how close they are to places that serve healthy food. Studies evaluating the increase in obesity have found that the food that is available in a neighborhood can directly affect what people eat.
The Rand study, however, shows how hard it can be to translate that research into effective policy.
Well, here’s a thought: MAYBE THE ANOINTED SHOULD STOP TRYING TO COME UP WITH “EFFECTIVE POLICY” AND LEAVE EVERYONE ELSE THE @#$% ALONE FOR A CHANGE.
Valerie Ruelas, director of the Community Diabetes Initiatives at USC, said that what people eat is based on a complicated mix of behavior, preferences, education, location, access and other factors. She was not surprised that the L.A. policy had little effect on people’s eating habits and obesity rates, according to the Rand study.
“You’re not going to find the one pill that’s going to solve all the problems,” Ruelas said.
A pill? Of course not. A pill is a little itty-bitty thing. If you want to solve a problem in society, you need a Grand Plan. Just ask The Anointed.