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Is this what Cameron’s “liberal conservatism” looks like? er no thanks….

By Angela Harbutt
October 5th, 2011 at 6:11 pm | 2 Comments | Posted in health, Nannying, Nudge Dredd

Ignoring the fiasco of the PM’s speech today, something caught my attention at Tory party conference yesterday that left me literally gobsmacked. “Call me liberal-Dave” has come out into the open and confirmed that a FAT TAX may be introduced in Britain in order to curb what he describes as soaring health costs and falling life expectancy (and there was I thinking that people were actually living longer these days).

I suppose that we should not be surprised.. For every so-called liberal step forward this Government claims to make, the Conservative instinct to re-shape society into some perfect 1950s Utopia takes us 4 steps backward. So much for the end to the nanny state that was promised when the Conservative party was on the hunt for “liberal” votes.

The optimists amongst you will say…Ah but he is only saying that a FAT TAX might be introduced. And that might be fair. After all wasn’t it this Government’s public health minister (Anne Milton) who said,  just last month, that the government believed the best way to achieve results on obesity was through a collective voluntary effort...and that “We have no current plans to impose a ‘fat tax’, but we are working with food companies to reduce fat, sugar and salt and ensure healthier options are available”…..

But you optimists are going to be sadly disappointed I fear. When the Prime Minister says “Don’t rule anything out, but let’s look at the evidence then you know that we ordinary folks are in trouble.Because we know how this will be played out.  Any day now we’ll be told that there will be another “consultation” on health (costing who knows how much money) to “consider the evidence“. The “evidence”  that “liberal-Dave” refers to will come from tax-payer funded health lobbies, the BMA and other interest-groups whose position on this point is already clear. They are the ones who have been calling for a FAT TAX in the first place. So much for goverment groups not lobbying government. And, of course, that “evidence” will be nothing more than a long lament about how much the NHS costs and some rather feeble “modelling” of the “likely effects” of increased tax on our waistlines.  Doubtless being told along the way how “all academics” are 100% in agreement with the “research”. The narcissistic celebrity chefs will fall over themselves to get their sound-bites broadcast out across the nation. And the treasury will sit there quietly calculating just how much money will pour into the coffers under the guise of “helping the nations health”. Against the sheer might of the ludicrously over-funded health lobbyists, luvvie chefs and needs of the treasury – do you really think that this will be a balanced debate?

Yep I am sure that we will hear from the Food and Drink Federation, individual manufacturers and the like explaining what has been done so far and will be done in the future. Too little and too late my friends. The health lobbyists will point to your corporate interests and your huge profits and say that you are BIG Business and anything you say cannot be trusted. Only they – they purveyors of truth – must be listened to. And, oh yeah the BBC and the politicians will buy that line hook line and sinker.

Of course we normal folks know it is not at all clear that “FAT” is the problem. There is no clear agreement amongst scientists on exactly what is causing us to pile on the pounds. It might be the sugar, more likely the carbohydrates, possibly the salt etc. Not to mention lack of exercise – or indeed – stress. That of course won’t be a problem for the health lobby. When they have their FAT tax, they can come back again for a SODA tax, or a SALT tax…They have plenty to go at – and go at it they will. How else will their fat salaries be paid?

We have seen this played out before with tobacco, then alcohol and now food. We have seen governments and organisations (national and international) take £millions of tax from us to fund academics to sit in their ivory towers and tell us how much fat we should limit ourselves to; how many units of alcohol we can “safely” consume; how many litres of water we should drink; how many portions of veg to eat; how much exercise we should take;  how we should eat more fish (but not the small ones we throw back into the sea by the tonne, the nice middle class line-caught ones don’t you know);why we should eat less red meat (though we are now told that some red meat is good for us); eat more chicken (well Hugh Fearnley Wittingstall style chicken, not Bernard Matthews style chicken); how processed meat is linked to cancer so eat less; why Fair trade 100% dark chocolate is good for us (so eat more)…and on and on…

Frankly if they shut down every government funded health lobby group in the UK alone and gave the money back to us, the taxpayers, we could all probably afford to eat more healthily. We would certainly all be a lot less stressed.

In the meantime “liberal Dave’s” threat to “consider the evidence” on the FAT tax is not only insulting and nannying – it is downright dishonest. There is no evidence – just a range of well-funded lobbyists with too much money and influence and too little commonsense. Glass of wine anyone?

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Time for a Nanny Unit

By Simon Goldie
February 15th, 2011 at 10:24 pm | 11 Comments | Posted in freedom, Nudge Dredd, Personal Freedom

The question of what sort of nannying Alain De Botton would like, got me thinking about those who desire nannying and the people would rather run their own lives.

This led me to wander if it is possible to reconcile that liberal aspiration with a ‘Nanny State’?

It seems that many people believe nannying is a good thing. According to de Botton people need help with what to eat, smoke and drink.

For those who would rather control their own lives this is all a bit annoying as they get dragged into the nannying. Perhaps one could describe this as a ‘tragedy of the nanny’.

What if the ‘Nanny State’ gave way to a nanny unit?

Those who need nannying would pay into a fund for this service. The payment could be progressive or a flat rate. The charges might be based on the level of nannying you desire. For instance, if you would like someone to come and bring you your five a day mix of fruit and vegetables you would pay more than if you simply got sent a regular text message reminding you to eat your apples and broccoli.

The people who wish to control their own lives would not receive any nannying and would not pay into the fund.

An immediate problem is whether people would opt in or opt out of the nannying unit. For those who believe in nannying the opt out route would be most attractive.

The decision on opting in or out is probably best done on the basis of cost.  Is it cheaper to enrol everyone automatically or make them pay a large entrance fee when they opt in? Should one pay a substantial amount to opt out once in?

For those readers who think it is high time for me to remove my tongue from my cheek, the Republican Senator Ron Paul has recently suggested that Americans be given the option to pay a 10% tax for the rest of their lives and in return never ask anything from government bar some basic State provision such as protection by the military.

I should stress I came up with the nanny unit before reading about Paul’s proposals.

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Alain de Botton argues for a nanny state

By Simon Goldie
February 6th, 2011 at 10:06 pm | 6 Comments | Posted in freedom, Nudge Dredd

The philosopher Alain de Botton has made the argument for the nanny state on the BBC’s website.

Part of his reasoning is that he believes that the libertarian notion, that we must be free, has won. Those who argue for a liberal society, a society where the individual controls their life, might be surprised to hear that as they tend to think there is more work to be done to establish a liberal world.

Putting that to one side, many people take the view that people cannot make decisions on their own and need help.

Reading de Botton’s piece I was struck that there was something missing from his argument. What would be fascinating to know is what sort of nannying would de Botton like? I am assuming de Botton needs nannying as his argument is that we all do.

I have no idea if de Botton reads Liberal Vision but if he does he is more than welcome to comment and tell us.

Minimum impact legislating – for your own good

By Andy Mayer
January 18th, 2011 at 12:44 pm | 2 Comments | Posted in health, Lifestyle Products, Nudge Dredd

I have a modest proposal. In future all regulation and legislation should be subject to a minimum impact threshold. Where either does precisely nothing of any value to anyone beyond generating mindless bureaucracy to service it, it should be quietly binned, and the minister or civil servant responsible along with it.

This surely is the only way we can tackle the blight of legischolism,  a cruel disease unhappily prevalent amongst politicians of all stripes, that sees sufferers reach for the easy comfort of activity it the hope it will relieve the cravings of interest groups. The temporary respite it affords usually result in far deeper cravings later and gradual deterioration in the condition of the nation until there is chronic economic failure.

Today’s announcementof proposals for minimum alcohol pricing, something the SNP failed to impose in Scotland thanks to heroic opposition from everyone else, has been attacked on all sides as pointless.

Crudely, the level of 24p for beer and 28p for spirits means no legal alcohol can be sold below the cost of the VAT and duty imposed. This on the basis that higher prices restrict people’s ability to drink to excess. Booze however, like most socially and chemically addictive products, impacts us all differently, and in the main demand is inelastic. It takes large changes in price over time to impact consumption. This proposal though does not impact price, it provides the framework to do so in future.

It will not impact demand. If raised in future it will mainly impact low income social drinkers.

Further next to no drinks are sold in the UK at a cost to the retailer. Those that are sold below tax price tend to be from the back of white vans rolling off the Eurostar. These are not retail outlets that comply with the law, and can be linked to organised crime.

It will not impact legal supply, and if raised in future it will largely benefit criminals.

For the 2-6% minority who display a tendency to dependency (alcoholics), demand is very price-insentive. An addict, in denial of their disease, will turn to illicit sources and petty crime to fund a habit they cannot otherwise afford. We can see this in levels of crime associated with prohibited drugs. Addiction cannot be legislated away, it largely rests of the willingness and willpower of the addicted to avoid their poison.

Whether raised or not it wil not help sufferers  tackle alcohol addiction.

I am generally sympathetic to the notion that the social costs of alcohol require a sin tax. For that we have duty, and duty imposed at such a level that like tobacco revenue it already excedes all but the wildest estimates of what that social cost might be. We do not in that regard need new instruments. The issue of discounted booze is principally a competiton matter between supermarkets, retailers, and pubs. It should be dealt with through current competition law.

Taxes should be simple. The law as stands is perfectly adequate to tackle unfair competition.

In conclusion I might understand this move from a Labour government. Nanny knows best and let’s prove our worth through laws were staples of the last regime. But this coalition came together promising such things as one in/one out regulation. This proposition sits entirely at odds with that principle.

Let us hope if the Commons are too addicted to the legimania that leads to this kind of gesture politics, that the Lords will help them kick the habit… for their own good.

Cashpoint charity

By Andy Mayer
December 30th, 2010 at 9:05 pm | 3 Comments | Posted in Nudge Dredd

The season of Giving has seen the Government release a Green or consultation paper on the same subject.

A more giving culture will involve “individuals and communities” giving more “money, assets, time, skills, knowledge, and energy” to “charities, community groups, and social enterprises”. With suggested solutions themed around ‘great opportunities (for giving), information, visibility, exchange (mutual benefit), and support (for successful social enterprises)’.

The most headline grabbing proposition, borrowed from Colombia, has been the idea that the Government will work with banks to encourage donation options at the point of cash withdrawal. Many of the other suggestions in the paper are also ‘nudges

The last Government gave the Police powers to march anti-social thugs to ATMs to pay behaviour fines, this one hopes to encourage everyone else to do the same voluntarily.

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It’s hard to be entirely down on a project with the intent of helping people to help others. However, beyond blandishments to us ‘all being in this together‘ it hard to see what such tinkering has to do with Government. From Comic Relief to local leaflets our lives are filled with invitations and opportunities to do good with our time and money.

Very little, for example, needs to change for Banks to enable ATM-giving, other than Banks deciding it is a good idea their customers would welcome. They should be free to decide otherwise if they wish. Many other ideas in the paper are examples of things that have already happened without Government support.

And the paper is very light the most obvious thing the Government can do to encourage charitable giving, which is focusing ruthlessly on growth and keeping taxes down while tackling the deficit.

Lower taxes mean more growth, more growth means higher incomes, and higher incomes give us more control over our time and what we do with it. The CAF report charts comparing international giving are illustrative. Higher growth, and lower taxes, entirely intuitively, tend to mean more generous citizens.

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Other issues of getting the Government out of the way, for example by reviewing the way bureaucratic CRB checks are deployed, are discussed and hopefully will mean less red tape in future. But we should be cautious on this, there are always political reasons not to remove red tape.

The central problem though remains that the Big Society cannot be magicked into happening through a 5-year tractor plan. This paper isn’t quite that, but then it isn’t quite the removal of Government from areas of life where it has no concern either. Less work required in future Mr. Maude…