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Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Fighting the fight with people you like

I am going to give a hard time to someone I like immensely, but sometimes, it must be done – more on which later. In this case, it is blogger Harry Hatchet, who has posted an online poll on banning “junk” food advertisements, along with his argument for why the state should step in so that he does not have to say no to his child when she asks for “bad” food from McDonald’s.

I will quote Dr Sean Gabb on the “obesity epidemic” (which might more accurately be described as a “sedentarism epidemic”):

Whenever the government does something for us, it takes away from our own ability to do that for ourselves. This diminishes us as human beings. Better, I suggest, a people who often eat and drink too much, and who on average die a few years before they might, than a people deprived of autonomy and shepherded into a few extra years of intellectual and moral passivity.

Lest you think that I am preaching to the converted here, I mention this to make a larger point: These ideas are nothing new to those who believe in the concepts of personal liberty and the free market and who reject the slave-to-the-state mentality that’s all too prevalent in western society. But it is worth remembering that not everyone accepts these truths to be self-evident. And, unless you only surround yourself with those who agree with you on every single issue, sometimes (just sometimes!) the people who reject such truths will not be total idiots who are not worth engaging in discussion. Sometimes they are, like Mr Hatchet, intelligent people with whom you are friendly and with whom it is often possible to find common ground.

In cases like this, when we are dealing with fantasy “epidemics” spun by the government and irresponsible media outlets, I think it is worth making the effort to find that common ground, even if it is only an inch. Labour MP Tom Watson once told me that reading blogs had led him to change his mind on ID cards; he was once in favour of them, but blogs like this one gave him a fresh perspective on what he previously thought to be an open-and-shut case, and his opinion changed. I did not need to hear this to know that persuasive writing – in this case, in the context of a blog – can actually persuade. But in order for people to be won over, some of us have to be bothered to fight the fight in the first place.

And in case anyone’s thinking that there is nothing that lefties like Harry Hatchet could ever change our minds about, I confess: I used to think that the output of British rapper Mike Skinner, aka The Streets, was not that bad, but thanks to Harry’s quoting of some choice lyrics, I now know otherwise.

28 comments to Fighting the fight with people you like

  • (I’m now wondering if some kind of ban on such noise would really be such a bad idea. After all, playing music too loudly can damage young ears — think of the children! — and lead parents to a terrible dilemma when their kids ask for £10 or more to splash out on the album. Clearly the only solution is to bring the government in and ban record companies from advertising their wares. Really, what’s the harm in hurting the profits of evil multinationals? Apart from all the people they employ and those who are happy to exchange their hard earned ducats for these dangerous products, who really benefits from their existence and continued success?)

  • Ideology – “those who believe in the concepts of personal liberty and the free market and who reject the slave-to-the-state mentality” – is not the only or the best reason to refute state sponsored health initiatives like this. The fact is that they haven’t a clue what they are talking about. They never have had and current health problems are in part a result of their past judgements communicated in an authoritative way to a gullible population that has never grasped the concept of self rule. It is certain that in future we will say the same of today’s advice, as we always have and always will.

    There are so many variables – people have different genetic endowments, different genders, different ages, different activity levels, different tastes and habits… – that there is no useful guideline for a population as a whole other than a very, very general encouragement to self monitor. What a state can do that is useful is to encourage researchers – even fund them – to discover oddments of knowledge about human metabolism, and then assist in the dissemination of their discoveries. Individuals will use that information as they please. Some will do well, others less well, but the society as a whole will be as good as it wishes to be, and much better than if they had been more manipulated by clueless authorities.

  • Verity

    I don’t want the state funding research on human metabolism. It’s not within their remit.

  • toolkien

    What a state can do that is useful is to encourage researchers – even fund them – to discover oddments of knowledge about human metabolism, and then assist in the dissemination of their discoveries. Individuals will use that information as they please.

    Where does the funding come from? Who has lost out to fund this research in the first place?

    People don’t seem to see this as a cycle. The State funds research, then uses that research to justify more laws and intervention. It must be stopped at the root.

    Knowledge is not a State Program.

  • Yes and the state is responsible for all the new development in drugs…right?

    Its private companies that drive research not the state. Its a myth that the state is good for R&D. They stand in the way, over-regulate and stagnate.

  • Get a grip kids, states do fund research.

  • Verity

    We never said they didn’t. We said they had no business doing so.

  • Mace

    The irony here in the U.S. (and elsewhere) is the Liberal/Leftist stance on abortion, i.e. women having the right to do whatever with their body. Just don’t overeat….

  • Verity

    Good point, Mace. And don’t smoke. And don’t do whatever else Herr Big Brother takes it into his head to proscribe, but definitely get on with those abortions so we can import tens of thousands of people with a violent, alien religion and standards totally alien to those of the West to take up the slack.

  • Don’t smoke,drink,over eat, have unprotected sex,drive too fast,earn too much money,bear arms,don’y be proud of you country,discipline your children,pay for their education,criticise immigration or vote for anyone else.Now get out there and party people.

  • No one can agree on what children or adults should be eating, and based on what I observe in my social circle, I suspect there is no one ideal human diet.

    There is one thing on which everyone agrees. The human body was meant to move. If the state feels they must get involved in our health maintenance, strong encouragement to exercise seems the best path.

  • Verity

    Nicole, please go away somewhere.

    ‘If the state feels they must get involved in our health maintenance, strong encouragement to exercise seems the best path.’

    Why have you taken the burden of such a weighty decision upon yourself? What do you mean, ‘exercise seems the best path?’ Towards what? Why are you under the impression that the Samizdatas are daintily choosing from a smorgasboord of tiny oppressions?

    The state always feels it should get involved. This blog is about ways of keeping the state out of private lives.

    The state should not be involved in human lives other than to protect the borders (in Britain: Failed) and maintain civil order (in Britain: Failed).

    There is no other remit for the state. None.

  • Susan

    I think I’ll have a jelly donut. In the name of individual freedom and liberty of course. :)

  • “The human body was meant to move. If the state feels they must get involved in our health maintenance, strong encouragement to exercise seems the best path.”
    The Government is already doing that,having buggered up public transport it is driving cars off the road.They won’t be happy until we are riding bicycles whilst they sweep past in their limousines.
    Meanwhile competitive sports are being dropped in State schools and the playing fields sold off.Any child that moves about a bit is whacked full of Ritalin at the same time driven to and from school by its doting mater.
    At this rate we are going to be comatose from the craddle to the grave,but fit.

  • Verity

    Susan – I was thinking more along the lines of double order jalepeno nachos. Washed down with a San Miguel.

    Regarding some of the other comments, the extent of brainwashing the government has accomplished is rather frightening. Rather than being outraged that the government was planning on widening its remit, some commentators are simply getting exercised discussing the most effective way for the government to intrude into the lives of the citizenry – taking its right to intrude as a given.

  • John Harrison

    I’ve just seen Martin Popplewell on Sky News interviewing some nutritionist, Rick Wilson, who was calling for a ban on advertising of ‘junk food’ advertising.
    Popplewell made the point that chips and sweets have always been advertised in between childrens’ programmes but it is only recently that there have been complaints about obese children. The nutritionist was then forced to admit that the difference today is that children don’t have the freedom to run around and stay outside all day. He even used the phrase ‘battery children’.
    Unfortunately he stuck to his advocacy of an advertising ban.
    It is good to see there are some journalists like Martin Popplewell in mainstream broadcasting.

  • Verity, I’m sure you can make your point to Nicole and the rest of us without condescending and ordering other commenters about. If not, then you go away somewhere.

    Thinking about this issue yesterday, another thought struck me: Exactly why do these people believe that, if “junk” foods aren’t advertised during the kids’ programmes they use as virtual babysitters, then their kids won’t find out that the products exist? Maybe the next step will be to lock children indoors and away from their peers, lest they find out about something to which the parents may have to say no.

  • People don’t seem to see this as a cycle. The State funds research, then uses that research to justify more laws and intervention. It must be stopped at the root.

    In the US, universities account for 61% of all basic research, largely paid for by Federal funds. Economists demonstrate that the returns from such research are much higher than from private research because, unlike private research, the results are freely available to the business community.

    Every dollar spent on public research provokes another 4 dollars of private research. 73% of US patents cite publicly funded science as the basis for the invention.

    Meanwhile, in 1998, a majority of private sector research institutions claimed they had to defer necessary construction or repair programmes because of a shortage of funds and the Us competitiveness council forecasts the free market will be unable to supply the 6 million scientist and engineer positions that will be required by 2008.

    This is a thorn in the side for conservative theorists – work performed in the public sector and the demonstrable failure of the free market hypothesis.

    Dear dear. Such intellectual passivity.

  • lindenen

    I don’t think a tax on junk food would be too horrible though. They could remove any taxes on vegetables and meat.

  • Food isn’t taxed anyway, though, is it?

    As for a tax on junk food — again, you’re just introducing another level of bureaucracy and regulation, with the government making inevitably nonsensical and inaccurate judgements about what constitutes “junk” food. It’s not the occasional packet of crisps or McDonald’s that makes people obese; it’s having those foods constitute a major part of their diet, and sitting on their bums all day and all night. What next, a sin tax on chairs?

  • lindenen

    Yep, and the more expensive those foods are the less likely they are to make up such a large portion of a person’s diet.

  • Kit Taylor

    “In the US, universities account for 61% of all basic research, largely paid for by Federal funds. Economists demonstrate that the returns from such research are much higher than from private research because, unlike private research, the results are freely available to the business community.”

    Good argument against patents, no? Publicly funded scientists at least have to compete with one another for government grants and prestige amongst their peers, but Big Pharmas can rest on their laurels with a a monopoly patent.

  • toolkien

    Economists demonstrate that the returns from such research are much higher than from private research because, unlike private research, the results are freely available to the business community.

    And just whom are these economists? I’ll wager they fall on the left side of the spectrum. I’ll concede that they may be efficiencies gained by using Force to create economies of scale, but then again I never use a projected efficiency as justification for Statism. Nazi Germany was a pretty efficient machine. Cheap reference? Scientific advancements made by Germany were fairly large during that time. No justification for it though.

    And that is just the problem as well. If the underlying research is publicly funded, how can its use be left to market forces? See Ralph Nader’s arguments in this vein, and perhaps one can’t argue with the logic. How can the knowledge be collectively formulated but its use not be? That, of course, is largely the point, statism breeds more statism and sows the seeds for its own further expansion. The State coerces resources at the start, funds ‘research’ for the public domain, it is utilitized, and now the State can intercede on the allocations made by business X while using it.

    And you’ve hit precisely another nail, the whole infrastructure of socialized research, the calcified, bureaucratized, self-serving, and largely hidden ‘industrial complex’ of dependency and grant writing worms who adore Statism because it is a fertile ground for them and their advancement. But it is all for Good so what’s to sweat over? Just that the root Statism of the confiscation of resources that would have been used in another, privately determined fashion, is forced out of existence. But then again those economists tell us that this would have been of lesser quality, so Statism is justified once again.

    Incidentally, how much subsidy from the government did Thomas Edison receive in his hey day?

  • Yep, and the more expensive those foods are the less likely they are to make up such a large portion of a person’s diet.

    Yeah, that kind of thinking has really stopped people smoking, hasn’t it?

    Apart from that, the point is that it is absolutely none of the government’s business what any of us chooses to have for lunch. Period.

  • Guy Herbert

    Jackie D: Food isn’t taxed anyway, though, is it?

    Rather depends what you mean by taxed… There are quite a lot of restrictions on agricultural imports and the manner of local farming, fishing, etc.; and there are farm subsidies. So there’s a governmental burden that’s not a tax paid when you purchase the food, but a contribution you make for your food out of general taxation.

    This is relatively lower if you buy expensive food. So not only is there tax on (in?) food, but it is quite probably “regressive”.

  • Guy Herbert

    “[...]the more expensive those foods are the less likely they are to make up such a large portion of a person’s diet.”

    Nope. Many of those “unhealty” foods are price inelastic or even Giffen goods. Even the poor in Britain are wealthy enough to choose what they eat, and choose convenience over nutrion/price.

    [Indeed they are more likely to make that option than those of higher classes, where "convenience" indicates lack of ambition or sophistication. The food market in Britain (certainly, and I suspect many Western countries) is made up of tiers of aspiration. In John Bowen's Storyboard (1960), there is a restaurant scene, where the admen are aware their orders are much more sophisticated than the clients. We have moved much further along the same axis since then. What you eat signifies.

    [This may explain the sudden obsession of the socialworking classes. If quality not quantity of food is social difference, if the poor are now the fat, and the rich the thin--congrats on catching up with the '50s darlings!--then we must compel equality of quality. Stratification not allowed.]

  • lindenen

    “Yeah, that kind of thinking has really stopped people smoking, hasn’t it?”

    Actually, there was an article in the NYPost recently about how many people had quit smoking due to the taxes.

  • Universities do research because they’re universities, not because they’re state-funded. Privatise the universities and they will continue to do the research.