Fat of the Land; Salt of the Earth

In my continuing effort to demonstrate that the main problem with our economy is government regulation, I offer George Will’s column last week in the Washington Post. Will offers the 70 year experience of the founder of Carl’s Jr, fast food restaurants, and his successors.

“In 1941, Carl Karcher was a 24-year-old truck driver for a bakery. Impressed by the large numbers of buns he was delivering, he scrounged up $326 to buy a hot dog cart across from a Goodyear plant. And the war came.

“So did millions of defense industry workers and their cars. And, soon, Southern California’s contribution to American cuisine — fast food. Including, eventually, hundreds of Carl’s Jr. restaurants. Karcher died in 2008, but his legacy, CKE Restaurants, survives”.

Sort of. While CKE is still making hamburgers, hot dogs, or whatever (I’ve never eaten at one), it appears to be still in business, selling lots of food, and coincidentally, employing workers at 3,200 restaurants. Now I know that there are those who scorn the “hamburger flipper” industry is being déclassé at best, but it is in fact an industry that employs a lot of entry-level workers particularly teenagers looking for part-time job, as well as those who may be marginally employable elsewhere. It can certainly be a way station for those unemployed in “their field” while they are looking elsewhere. Aside: I have tried very hard to avoid referring to those who deride certain industries and jobs as “underemployment”, as idiots, but I can no longer help myself. They are.

One of CKE’s current problems which will cause it to at least downsize is Obamacare.

“Obamacare’s complexities, opacities and uncertainties,” CKE says “would add between $7.3 million and $35.1 million to the company’s $12 million health-care costs in the next year.” It appears hard to say where in that spread the costs might land. Earlier this year, when In discussing the future of medical costs in a public forum sponsored by the National Center for Policy Analysis, Parkland Hospital and Health Systems CEO Dr. Ron Anderson, said that the scariest words in the Obamacare act are “the Secretary [of the Department of Health and Human Services] shall” leaving open an incredible amount of power in the rule making process. Who knows what the current Secretary Kathleen Sibelius, who has no aversion to making regulations, or one of her successors, might prescribe. Whatever those regulations may require, we can be certain that they will be so incredibly detailed, arcane, and obscure that it will be impossible for anyone to be in compliance at any given time. (See my essay on the difficulty budding child entrepreneurs have in purveying lemonade published last Saturday 12/3/11.)  There is more.

“Rising health-care costs are, [CKE’s Andy Puzder] says, just one uncertainty inhibiting expansion. Others are government policies raising fuel costs, which infect everything from air conditioning to the cost (including deliveries) of supplies, and the threat that the National Labor Relations Board will use regulations to impose something like ‘card check’ in place of secret-ballot unionization elections.” The prospect of unionized fast food employees sort of boggles the mind, but maybe that’s all part of our nannies’ plan to read us of the plague of burgers and fries.

Chicago Tribune columnist Steve Chapman tends to corroborate that last notion. It his recent column http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/columnists/ct-oped-1201-chapman-20111201,0,419567  he writes of the government’s Institute of Medicine urging the FDA to “gradually step down the maximum amount of salt that can be added to foods, beverages and meals.” war on salt. Chapman quotes Dr. Walter Willett, chairman of the nutrition department at the Harvard School of Public Health, who says that “we must treat sodium reduction as a critical public health priority.”

Is it? We have been hearing about the ill-effects of too much salt for decades. Almost every proponent of a healthy diet includes limitation on sodium intake in their advice. It has become an article of faith among nutritionists and dietitians, and even, it appears most physicians.

According to an article in the July 2011 issue of Scientific American, a respected periodicals dealing with science issues and developments (it has been in publication for over 166 years), researchers “reported that the less sodium that study subjects excreted in their urine—an excellent measure of prior consumption—the greater their risk was of dying from heart disease. These findings call into question the common wisdom that excess salt is bad for you, but the evidence linking salt to heart disease has always been tenuous.” See “It’s Time to End the War on Salt”  This article also cited additional studies that compared sodium intake with blood pressure in subjects from 52 international research centers and found no relationship between sodium intake and the prevalence of hypertension. In fact, the population that ate the most salt, about 14 grams a day, had a lower median blood pressure than the population that ate the least, about 7.2 grams a day.

It seems that Mr. Chapman has a point. But even if the average consumption of salt by Americans might be harmful to their health, he asks what business is it of our federal government. Federal regulators have no grounds to dictate how much our food may contain, Chapman asserts. Any consumers who want less sodium are free to spurn restaurant meals and grocery items laden with heavy doses. Food companies don’t use salt because they like it but because their customers do.

Exactly.

Raising the hue and cry against salt, even if too much of it is a bad thing, reduction in intake by trying to make a public health crisis out of it is counterproductive to such a goal. Chapman maintains that it “mutilates a useful concept. Air pollution West Nile virus and E. coli are matters of public health because they inflict harm on broad groups of people against their will and often without their knowledge.” No one eats too much sodium other than by choice.

Leave it to the nannies, nags, and busybodies. A brave new world may be upon us.

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