Free Market Madness: Why Human Nature Is at Odds with Economics — And Why It Matters

By PETER A. UBEL

It’s time a writerly physician weighed in on how free markets encourage obesity, and that’s just what Peter Ubel does. Adding to the spate of popular books on human irrationality, Ubel makes a case for restraining markets that have gained more territory than they deserve. His argument is nuanced: far from shunning capitalism, he describes how better policies could help people get back on track. When it comes to deflating obesity, Udel calls for snack taxes, farm bill phaseouts, and weekly instead of monthly food stamp payments. These, he believes, could encourage people to make healthier decisions. After all, it just doesn’t seem fair that advertisers have unfettered access to our hearts and minds while government attempts to counteract corporate power put “no nanny state” libertarians into fits and encourage powerful lobbies to bankroll political naysayers. In the same way books like The Paradox of Choice and Predictably Irrational present numerous studies to underscore how humans make poor decisions, Ubel’s book chronicles various experiments showing that we can’t quite keep our hands out of the (proverbial and actual) cookie jar, unless we get some help from Uncle Sam or some other agent who values our well-being over company profits. Ubel discusses how American irrationality also makes for a bloated health care system, long commutes, and other downers someone’s got to fix. Though the book’s message — that the free market puts us in a position to harm ourselves — is sobering, the prose is peppered with tasty recipes for improvement. Ubel will help you think twice about your own decisions, making you realize how little control you actually have.