Free Market?

Note: I am writing a book and starting a company to put food and lifestyle habits (not band-aids like pills and surgical interventions) at the center of how we think about healthcare. This article is from an email I sent analyzing one fact from this work per day. If this resonates, sign up here:

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Fact of the day: 4 in 10 lobbying dollars go to healthcare or food interests.

Early in my career, I consulted for Coke to fight back against sugar taxes in Pennsylvania. We first identified the most influential African American pastors in the state. Coke then (confidentially) donated millions of dollars to them. The pastors then held press conferences, saying sugar taxes were racist. The media covered it, racial tensions flared, and Coke defeated the taxes.

This is emblematic of the playbook that pharma and food companies use daily to protect that status quo.

“Personal choice” arguments on food and health used to carry a lot of resonance with me: 

  • “People like to drink Coke and eat fast food. We can’t infringe on their freedom.” 
  • “Curbing sugar attacks personal choice.” 
  • “Patients are going to make bad choices. The Medical system stands ready to clean up the mess.” 
  • “People getting fat is a matter of personal responsibility.” 

But a crucial fact altered my thinking: You can’t have a free market when the current market is rigged. Healthcare and food companies have co-opted free market thinking. They have lobbied more than any other industry to rig the system and then cry that anyone who questions that system is “anti-free market.” Sadly, even some of the most intelligent conservatives I know fall into this trap. 

25% of teenagers having pre-diabetes is not a result of “personal choice” – it is because of a rigged system that is decimating human capital. The undermining of our brains and bodies on a systemic scale is a first-order issue to almost any other public policy challenge.

The science is clear: if we want to keep people healthy and improve our human capital in America – we need to do three things: 

  1. Limit sugar
  2. Limit omega-6 fats (seed oils) 
  3. Limit processed grains 

We don’t need to consider bans or taxes. We can start by repealing two of the most destructive crony capitalism policies in America: 

  1. The fact that these items are subsidized tens of billions of dollars
  2. The fact that these items can be bought with SNAP benefits, a government nutrition program 15% of the country relies on. As my TrueMed co-founder Justin Mares points out, revenue from taxpayer-funded SNAP made up close to 20% Coke’s annual US revenue that year. This is evil. 

Again, I think a revolution in health will happen and policies will change – but it will happen from the bottom-up: from the hundreds of microdecisions we all make every day. 

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