To solve the Obesity Epidemic: Tax Couch Potatoes’ Remotes

Charge him to click and he’ll get up to chance the channel (

The man in the image is a ubiquitous Anglo-American, Aussie, Kiwi, German, Russian, and with wine, Spanish, French, Italian, Argentine and ______ classic, fighting a losing battle against his own inertia and gravity. Combining TV remotes with a toxic industrial food system makes an obesity epidemic inevitable. Add the collateral damage of healthcare costs the rest of us pay for through taxes and higher health insurance premiums.

Our remote-wielding beer chugger exemplifies the latest in human evolution:

He’s certainly not going back to a pre-Neolithic paleolithic diet, no matter how many celebrities tell him it’s a great idea and however it might improve his health. 250000 years of human evolution, 97% of which happened before agriculture, designed us for scarcity, not abundance, impulse and appetite control, whatever the consequences.

From triathletes to couch potatoes: humans through 6,000 years of farming

So what’s the solution? How can we stop the apogee of human evolution from hearing a man ask his wife when looking down, “honey, who stole my feet?”

Free Market Economics vs Couch Potatoes: Give Him a Nudge

In their behavioral economics classic, Nudge, economics Nobel prize winner Richard Thaler and his co-author, Cass Sunstein, explain how small changes in choice architecture — literally a nudge — can substantially alter human behavior. One unforgettable example is how putting a small picture of a fly in the urinals in Schiphol Airport improved men’s aim. In this spirit I propose to apply an economic nudge to our beer-chugger’s sedentary default. By changing the choice architecture and applying free market economic incentives to our obese couch potatoes, we can alter their behavior and stop panza proliferation.

With my Maskhole Contract (, I had applied a similar idea: the timeless free market principles of Milton Friedman’s “Freedom to Choose”. I offered mask resisters a choice between masking up and renouncing all government-financed healthcare and accepting liability for the healthcare costs of those they infected. I propose a small fiscal policy change to get a better policy outcome in a slower-acting pandemic no less deadly: rampant, preventable obesity.

I propose to use financial incentives to solve the obesity epidemic by taxing TV remote use. Charge TV viewers per click to change the channel and they’ll have an incentive to get off the couch to channel surf. If they prefer spending money to click, the revenue raised can go toward paying their healthcare costs after the inevitable stroke or heart attack.

This tax will be a success even if it fails to get our beer guzzling couch potato off the couch. Advertisers will love this tax, not because they’ll directly share in the revenue, but because fewer people will change the channel when a commercial comes on. This will reintroduce more competition into the advertising industry, diluting the market dominance of the Faceboogle duopoly.

Teachers and psychologists will also love it since our man will likely stop channel surfing as if he’s in the advanced stages of ADHD. There will be fewer husband-wife and sibling arguments over which channel to watch since both will often be too lazy to get up to change it. Or intra-marital fat-shaming, equally deployed by husbands and wives, will enhance gender equality and lower obesity rates.

So how would it work. Let’s say our beer chugger sits down to watch a couple of Thanksgiving or New Year’s Day football games, with two games broadcast on two different channels. When there’s a commercial on one channel he flips to the other, and vice versa. In the course of a couple of two hour games with ads running every 7–8 minutes, he’s likely to click his remote about 8 times an hour. Having overindulged during a holiday meal concluding with multiple desserts, he could benefit from a bit of motion. But to induce it the cost of couch potato immobility needs to rise enough to hurt our beer-chugger’s wallet. Economics tells us that market-based incentives yield an equilibrium — a market-clearing price, which, in this case will yield an efficient market mix of slimmer couch potato wallets and waistlines.

From Latvia I write to share learning from life in 7 languages in 5 countries & seeing fascism die in Portugal & Spain in 1974 and 1976.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store