Hicks: The links among Ebola, soda, school lunches


The U.S. government’s response to the Ebola virus is a case study on some of the central problems of our times. For many months, anyone possessing an elementary understanding of probability and statistics has known that someone with Ebola would enter the United States.

What we needed from the Centers for Disease Control was guidance on how to help afflicted patients while protecting ourselves. In its place, we received a series of anti-alarmist untruths while actual useful information was dangerously neglected. On account of this, at least one person succumbed to the disease (or at least that will be the tort defense of one Texas hospital).

There is a lot more to this than a series of failures at the CDC. This issue is about the size and scope of government.

The current CDC director is best known as a public health advocate for leading the ban on large sodas in New York. Today, he is a leading spokesman in an administration that has drastically transformed school lunch menus. So, the Ebola fiasco must be placed in context alongside these efforts.

The amount of soda each of us drinks is a wholly private decision. Likewise, the school lunch menu is simply not a matter for the federal government. It is a matter for school boards, school superintendents, principals and (most important) parents.

That the Feds have mandated menus and food restrictions over state and local government offers the most compelling argument for eliminating a slew of federal agencies and sending their budgets back to the states as block grants.

Thus, the federal agency charged with preparing us for contagious diseases failed miserably to do anything of relevance. That is neither an accident nor an isolated failure of government. The leaders of this administration wholly reject the notion that the federal government has a limited scope. This disregard for the Constitution has consequences.

Attempting to stem exposure of Americans to infectious diseases crossing our borders is clearly a federal issue. Here, the federal government failed. This was not due to limited resources. The CDC’s annual budget is bigger than all the 2,024 public schools in Indiana combined.

Rather, it is because its officials are preoccupied with such matters as the size of fountain drinks and the number of cookies in a school lunch.

The CDC has sufficient resources to address Ebola; it is simply misdirected by a failed and ideologically vacuous leadership. Effective government doesn’t just do its job well, but also knows what is outside its scope.

Our affliction is an over-reaching, costly, ideologically vapid and ineffective federal government.•


Hicks is the George and Frances Ball distinguished professor of economics and director of the Center for Business and Economic Research at Ball State University. His column appears weekly. He can be reached at cber@bsu.edu.

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