The other day, someone with whom I was arguing told me I was an ‘Ancap’ – that is, a particular type of alt-right loony who pines for an anarcho-capitalist future in which corporate warlords rule and the devil take the hindmost. Why? Because I’d said that ‘lifestyle regulation’ had got out of hand, losing sight of its priorities, its effects on people’s sense of agency and identity, and its role in a relatively democratic, consumer society.
Now along comes a special report in the Financial Times, raising the same issues and more, and I’m wondering if: a) the oligarchs’ house journal proves that I am indeed encouraging a coup by all those bastards in the Square Mile who shrugged off the 2008 crash at our expense; or b) my views are so far from mad that they’re even being echoed in a level-headed, pro-Remain, experts-know-best newspaper of record.
Altogether, there are nine articles in the report, covering such topics as the American marijuana industry and global bone-headedness over e-cigarettes, the fears of trade unions over EU zealotry and Sweden’s road to booze hell (paved with good intentions).
There’s a humorous re-printing of the Nanny State Index, complied by the Institute of Economic Affairs’ Chris Snowdon – well, if you didn’t laugh, you’d cry – and some surprisingly wise words about the limits and unintended consequences of regulation from the former director of anti-smoking charity ASH.
But talking of smoking and unintended consequences– well, that’s what several of articles do. Not that their writers are all enthusiasts. It’s just that a 60-year history of the habit and its discouragement – or ‘persecution’, as Snowdon calls it – provides pretty solid evidence of the pitfalls of a blinkered, heavy-handed, legalistic response.
It has been tobacco’s unlucky fate to act as forerunner for all the ingestible products now in the nanny state’s sights. But, writes Paul McLean, food and drink manufacturers will soon be arguing over exactly the same issues as Big Baccy did: unintended consequences, double standards and contempt for copyright law.
Meanwhile, comments Vanessa Houlder, the government’s satisfaction with its tobacco policy – which handily ignores all the smuggling and counterfeiting – may give it confidence to try the same on other industries. Imagine the good to be done by a sugar tax! And the 4000 British jobs to be lost.
Houlder explains that, while there may be ‘no serious proposal to crack down on sugary drinks to the same extent as tobacco’, the World Health Organisation is already preparing the ground. Its position, she says, is that ‘the beverage industry will do everything it can to avoid taxes, using the same well financed — and well recognised — scare tactics used by the tobacco industry’.
So before any policy is actually considered, the WHO is rubbishing other opinions and making implications about the morals and ethics of anyone who could hold them? Frankly, if you substituted ‘Antichrist’ for ‘tobacco’, these advocates for immortality would have still signed off the quote.
It’s that religious, dogmatic, Manichaean approach that Popla really opposes. Human life is untidy and compromising and contradictory. One size can not fit all. So with the report’s introduction headlined ‘Populists push to roll back the rules’, I was half-expecting a Breitbart-style broadside. Here come the Ancaps?
No. Instead we read the measured words of Ed Crooks, weighing the pros and cons of nanny-state intervention before delivering a masterful payoff. ‘Understanding the complexity of the regulatory system is difficult,’ he writes. ‘Persuading politicians to appreciate it, too, may be even harder.’
No (further) comment.
by Winston Smith