Taking Away Our Fun

Readers, I want to share a brief exchange between a reporter and Berkshire Hathaway directors Warren Buffet and Charlie Munger. It crystallizes the central debate between food advocates who want to limit access to things like soda and snacks--and those who want to eat and drink what they please without getting scolded.

[Andrew Ross Sorkin, CNBC reporter] "Warren, for the last several years of this meeting, you've been asked about the negative health effects of Coca-Cola products, and you've done a masterful job of dodging the question by telling us how much Coke you drink personally.

Statistically you may be the exception. According to a peer-reviewed study by Tufts University, soda and sugary drinks may lead to 184,000 deaths among adults every year. The study found that sugar-sweetened beverages contributed to 130,000 deaths from diabetes, 45,000 deaths from cardiovascular disease, 6,450 deaths from cancer.

...Again, removing your own beverage consumption from the equation, please explain directly why we Berkshire Hathaway shareholders should be proud to own Coke."

Buffett answers this rather obnoxious-sounding question in his own folksy way (if you're curious, you can see how he responds in the video and article here).

However, what really intrigued me wasn't Buffett's response. What grabbed me was Charlie Munger's answer as he unexpectedly jumped in:

[Charlie Munger] "I drink a lot of diet Coke. And I think the people who ask questions like that one always make one ghastly error that’s really inexcusable. They measure the decrement without measuring the advantage. Well that's really stupid. That's like saying we should give up air travel through airlines because 100 people die a year in air crashes or something. That would be crazy. The benefit is worth the risk.

And if every person has to have about 8 or 10 glasses of water every day to stay alive and it's pretty cheap and sensible and improves life to add a little extra flavor to your water and a little stimulation and a little calories if you want to eat that way. There are huge benefits to humanity in that, and it's worth having some disadvantages.

We ought to almost have a law in the editorial world--here I'm sounding like Donald Trump [NB: here Buffett laughs out loud]--where these people shouldn't be allowed to cite the defects without citing the offsetting advantages. It's immature and stupid." [Laughter, applause from crowd]

Now (finally!) to the point of this post. This answer, typical of 92-year-old Charlie Munger's blunt truthiness, crystallized something new for me about why people get so irritated and annoyed at "Food Police" type food advocates:

They come across like grim, humorless scolds trying to take away our fun.

Warren Buffett, Charlie Munger and lots of other people really enjoy things like Coke, ice cream, candy, Doritos, and so on. These humble little things gives them pleasure, make them happy. Frankly, life ain't always all that fun, and many so-called consumer advocates--who seem to think they know better than we do what's good for us--sure do seem like they're trying to take away (or tax, or ban, or limit) something fun that we really like.

They seem like scolds! Like schoolmarms.

Before we go any further, however, let’s make one thing crystal, crystal clear. In this post I am not trying to say that food advocates are wrong. Not at all!

This isn't a discussion of food advocates and their policies. It is a discussion about the perception of food advocates and their policies. There is an enormous difference, mainly because of the sad fact that, for many people, their perception of a thing is more important than the thing itself.

So, imagine: If food advocates could seem a lot less schoolmarmish, a lot less like food policing fun-killers trying to take away our fun, wouldn't they achieve far more traction with their ideas and policies? Wouldn’t it be a lot easier for them to find support?

Which brings me to my final question, one I simply can't answer: Why don't they do this?

Readers, what do you think?

READ NEXT: Shopping at More Than One Grocery Store: Worth It, Or a Waste?

AND: Money Sundays: All-Time Favorite Charlie Munger Quotes

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