Why God Created Junk Food

How the dismal science applies to your life.
April 6 2001 3:00 AM

Why God Created Junk Food

The rationality of Big Macs, cashews, and … unlimited sex appetites. 

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In the Samuelson-Swinkels theory, God is the architect of our existence and we are the builders. A wise architect lays down certain general principles as inviolable but allows the builder leeway to make modifications on the spot if unforeseen circumstances arise. The farther the cashews, the more unforeseen circumstances might intrude in the process of retrieving them, so the farther the cashews, the more leeway we're given to override our instincts.

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All of which is, I think, a really cool application of game theory to a fundamental puzzle about human behavior. Here, though, is what bothers me: Samuelson and Swinkels take their Prime Mover to be not God, but Nature, acting through the forces of evolution. But there's no obvious reason why an impersonal Nature would play this game with the same subtlety as a purposeful God. That's not to say there's no reason, just that the reason isn't obvious (and glib appeals to "the survival of the fittest," while quite possibly suggestive of a good argument, do not constitute a good argument in and of themselves). Economics explains a lot, but we seem to keep falling short of explaining everything.

Steven E. Landsburg is the author, most recently, ofMore Sex Is Safer Sex: The Unconventional Wisdom of Economics. You can e-mail him at armchair@landsburg.com.