Taste and Trans fats

Nobel laureate Gary Becker has some thoughts on the New York City trans-fats ban (reflecting on comments by his co-blogger, Judge Richard Posner):

“Posner also gives a kind of lower bound estimate of the benefits as $100 million, and also suggests a much lower cost to restaurants of becoming trans fat-free — I take this as $30 million. With a small taste benefit from the use of trans fats — the New England Medicine Journal article I cited earlier does admit positive effect of trans fats on ‘palatability’ — the total cost of the ban would equal or exceed total benefits. For example, suppose 1 million persons on average eat 200 meals per year in NYC restaurants with trans fats. If they value the taste of trans fats in their foods only by 35 cents per meal, the taste cost to consumers of the ban would be $70 million per year. Then the total cost of the ban would equal the benefits from the ban.

“Does one really want to go down the road of a ban on trans fats when the net gains to consumers are dubious, and probably negative, and when reversing directions is politically difficult? As an example of the difficulty in adapting politically, new evidence indicates that requiring child car seats may increase their risk of injury in accidents, yet there is no movement to reverse these laws.”

This is back-of-the-envelope stuff and dependent on utilitarian philosophy, but it is highly suggestive that the ban on trans-fats is mere political posturing, of no benefit to New Yorkers.