By DAVID MOON, Moon Capital Management
In recent testimony on Capital Hill, Federal Reserve Board chairman, Alan
Greenspan, reiterated his decades-old suggestion that all federal legislation
have an expiration date. This would force future citizens and legislators
to evaluate the effectiveness of every Congressional decision.
Particularly with respect to fiscal, monetary or other economic decisions, this
would help differentiate legislation with sound financial basis from laws passed
simply as favors or punishment to certain constituent groups.
I thought about that this week when I read that almost a third of the
children in Knox County are overweight. This information was released less
than a week after the U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation that
would prevent people from suing restaurants for causing obesity.
The lawmakers had the audacity to claim the super-sized protective
legislation was driven by a concern for the economy. 'I don't want to see
all those [restaurant] jobs at stake,' claimed the bill's sponsor, Ric Keller
I suspect Keller's concern about lost jobs might also extend to a certain
congressional House district in Florida, one that also happens to be the
headquarters of Red Lobster and Olive Garden.
Why are we protecting
McDonald's, but not Philip Morris? Is it okay to sue a company because its
product gave you cancer, but not diabetes? If your heart attack was caused
by decades of cigarettes, you can call a lawyer, but if your heart attack
resulted from arteries clogged with french fry grease, you are responsible for
your own actions?
The health statistics are comparable. Tobacco accounts for 435,000 U.S.
deaths annually, compared to 400,000 for poor diet and physical
inactivity. Interestingly, the House bill automatically dismisses any
state or federal lawsuits based on weight gain or obesity resulting from any
served or manufactured food or beverage ' except alcoholic beverages.
Obviously, the beer manufacturers aren't giving enough money to the right
Does that sound cynical? Of course it does. But what else could
explain Congress almost passing similar protective legislation for the firearm
industry two weeks ago? The bill was withdrawn only after The National
Rifle Association withdrew its support, because of language that would have
impacted gun shows. Legislatively, limits on manufacturer liability are
good when the NRA supports it, but bad without that support? Sure, no
automobile driver has ever been impaired as a result of hamburger abuse.
But is that reason enough to protect the purveyor of grease and not the hops and
Why do we need these types of laws at all? Do we need government to
force people to be responsible for their own actions? And if the answer is
'yes,' why should one type of responsibility be mandated while shirking the
other is congressionally encouraged?
Hence the cynicism.
If we ever adopt chairman Greenspan's idea to require re-approval of all
federal laws after a certain period, this type of legislative favoritism would
be more clearly exposed. And perhaps, eventually, responsibility would be
clearly accepted where it always logically resided: with the
David Moon is president of Moon Capital Management, a
Knoxville-based investment management firm. This article
originally appeared in the News Sentinel (Knoxville, TN).