Monday, July 30, 2007

Lose it or Pay: Governing the Workplace through Crime

In the latest sign of the governing through crime trend towards favoring sticks over carrots, a growing number of workplaces are fining workers who fail to lose weight or meet other objectives aimed at lowering health care costs. Daniel Costello reports in the LA Times that "some employers are starting to make overweight employees pay if they don't slim down."

No doubt there is a correlation between obesity and the health problems that can drive up employer health costs. Economists might not see much difference between such "stick" policies, and "carrot" approaches that reward employees who do slim down with bonuses. But to overweight workers the threat to lose it or pay is likely to feel a lot different. Like other punitive approaches toward steering behavior, fatness fines are likely to make people feel stigmatized and shamed over a condition that many find very difficult to change.

Moreover, the new policies show just how natural it has come to seem for institutions to treat complex problems as crimes to be blamed on individuals who are punished if they do not conform.

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