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The ‘nanny state’? April 14, 2016

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.

Eamon Delaney wrote in both the SBP and Independent the weekend before last about ‘the long overreach’ of the nanny state. Which is hardly untypical given his form as part of the Hibernia Forum – self-described think tank for all things pro-market. The two pieces are remarkably similar in phrasing, and near enough identical in content.

Whether any of it holds up is a different matter. For example, He suggests:

This week, in Australia, a national women’s group proposed that the Government there introduce plain packaging for children’s toys!
‘Sexualisation of young children through products, dress, toys and cosmetics’ it wrote in a formal submission ‘reinforces that girls should be sexy, submissive and boys should be dominant, macho, important and strong. These products reinforce boys to grow to males that can be powerful and strong and that girls need to be attractive and submissive to males. We suggest a campaign like the successful plain packaging of cigarettes,
‘If products for children did not have macho and dominant images for boys and sexy submissive images for girls’ it continued ‘then children are not having this image and concepts reinforced by the community in which they live.’

And comes to the conclusion that:

This might be described as extreme Political Correctness or more Health and Safety nonsense, but what it actually is the onward march of the Nanny State – everywhere, including, and especially, Ireland. The suggestion on ‘plain packaging’ is inspired by the proposal for the same on cigarette boxes, which both Australia, but also Ireland has been to the forefront on, as it was on a public smoking ban.

Er… except… the proposal came from a non-state group. That’s right. A group of people operating outside the orbit of the state. Granted they were demanding that the state do something, but the direction of the suggestion is crucial, and more over undercuts his contention entirely. He may not like it, but it’s no more ‘nanny-state’ – in the sense that it’s not the state initiating the process – than if the Hibernia Forum demanded of the state a range of policies at the most recent election. Oh, wait, they did – check out their site.

He continues:

But the Nanny State is now multi-faceted and everywhere. This week, dog owners have been asked to micro-chips their dogs, while proposals are afoot to have a sugar tax on soft drinks, proposed calorie counters on restaurant menus and even a suggestion to outlaw the opening of a certain number of cafes in a certain area. Yes, we have an obesity problem, but notice how little focus there is here on encouraging people to look after their own health and take personal responsibility.

Actually, dog owners aren’t being asked to micro-chip, this is now the law and they are being told to micro-chip, and already a third of dogs are chipped. Why so?

That champion of socialism, Minister Simon Coveney, is quoted here explaining just why it might be a good idea.

I am very supportive of National Microchipping Month.  Microchipping helps speed up the rehoming of lost or stray dogs. This will reduce the cost of caring for dogs while owners are being located. It will reduce stress on people who have lost their animals.

I’m kind of all in favour of people taking responsibility for dogs as for themselves, but sometimes people have to be pushed towards taking responsibility or aren’t in a position to do so for one reason or another. But these are good solid reasons, as well as cost saving. And the range of bodies behind the idea of chipping includes representative bodies of veterinarians as well as dog welfare charities – people who might know something about the area and tends to undercut notions of ‘political correctness’.

Not a great great example so from Eamon. He continues:

Instead, we have an increasing paternalism (or maternalism) in our government policy, and a growing official appetite to intrude into yet more aspects of our consumer and social behaviour. The human individual is a not a free agent and empowered, it seems, but a public resource, a potential ‘victim’ and someone to be managed.  And the law is brought into every sphere, including employment.

But hold on again. The Australian example is non-governmental. The chipping example is supported by non-state agencies (and some commercial organisations). As for the law coming into employment – pull the other one. Of course the law should be involved in employment, it is, has been and will continue to do so. Nothing strange about that at all and it’s risible to suggest this is novel.

On that there’s there’s this:

For example, how ironic that the nanny state may do away with the actual nanny, or au pair! The traditional arrangement where a young au pair got bed, board and language classes, and often life-long companionship, in lieu of a sometimes lower wage is to be done away with by those campaigning for the sort of strict employment laws and minimum wage seen in a more conventional workplace. Families, and au pairs, are upset at this. But the Nanny Staters don’t care. They’ll feel smugly satisfied that they have stopped ‘the potential for exploitation.’ And perhaps they have, but they have also ruined a unique and enduring cultural phenomenon.

Hmmm… that last seems like an excuse for many a form of exploitation, no? Unique and enduring cultural phenomena… Well. Though given that the examples so far are nothing to do with the ‘nanny state’ the irony he mentions at the start of the quote is entirely absent.

Then he suggests that:

Elsewhere, growing Nanny State regulation adds to the costs of doing business and creating jobs. The sugar tax, for example, is surely a punitive and wrong-headed measure which seeks to penalise business rather than focus on broader health policies.

I’m somewhat agnostic about sugar tax – but if there are strong arguments to tax it for health reasons then let the science guide us. And what “broader” health policy does he suggest? Given that he doesn’t suggest how a government which he chides for any intervention at all in these areas due to its supposed ‘nanny statism’ can do anything it’s difficult to take seriously the idea he believes that it should.

Then there’s this…

The Government’s approach is also hypocritical. While it criticises and curbs smoking, for example, it takes a huge whack of tax out of it. It is the same with alcohol, where the State takes over 50% of the retail price in tax. These may be sins, but the State profits from them until salvation!

Is that hypocritical? Taxation directed to social ends surely is… well… taxation directed to social ends.

He has half a point about targeting low-cost alcohol in super-markets – though only half a point. It’s more that the impacts seem to fall disproportionately on those with lower incomes that is the problem (and there is an absolute absurdity in regard to the times when alcohol can be sold – I’ve known more than my fair share of alcoholics unfortunately from close relatives out, they tended to be well prepared for such eventualities and for the rest of us it’s simply a somewhat foolish inconvenience. On the other hand it’s not the end of the world).

Yet in all this he seems to think this is government directed.

…clearly many of these measures are more about public image and a growing Government appetite to regulate our lives, rather than a genuine belief about the measure’s effectiveness or fairness,

Does he genuinely believe that? In terms of smoking, alcohol and other areas there are clear societal (and health) issues in regard to the products involved. All the complaining about ‘nanny statism’ won’t do away with a basic truth that there are overwhelming problems in regard to smoking and significant issues in relation to alcohol.

I’m utterly against prohibition of alcohol but it is something around which some framework should and does exist.

Experts though? Experts!

We hear a constant stream of experts and quango representatives looking for new laws, regulations, and, of course, more resources to further their ‘social improvements’.

But this is to diminish that reality noted above further.

And how about this?

And in tandem with this we see an increasing dependency on the State in terms of direction and welfare.

Again, does he genuinely believe that? I’d be fascinated by some tangible evidence for that. Sure it fits with any number of prejudices, but the reality?

Of course he continues on a sort of slippery slope line…

One wonders if there is any end to the things politicians want to legislate on in our lives, from our consumption of products to the way we express ourselves. Labour Senator, Lorraine Higgins has been advocating a bill to restrict name calling on the internet and social media, a laudable aim perhaps but we already have libel laws, and many would be worried by the implications of Higgins bill for free speech and expression.

Anyhow, he tries heroically to introduce something a little more empirical.

Unsurprisingly, it was revealed this week that Ireland scores a very high fourth place in a new survey of Nanny State culture across the EU.
The Nanny State Index compiled by the Institute of Economic Affairs in London, in partnership with EPICENTER (the European Policy Information Center) is the first comprehensive evaluation of paternalistic lifestyle regulation in Europe. Using 32 criteria related to food, soft drinks, alcohol, tobacco and e-cigarettes, the survey identifies the best and worst countries to eat, drink and smoke in. Ireland is at 4th place, just behind the UK, which is not a surprise given how much we follow British legislation and official behaviour.

It hardly needs to be said that the IEA is an economically hard right free market outfit. The EPICENTRE is itself pro-market. And the giveaway in all this is the small phrase… “ the survey identifies the best and worst countries to eat, drink and smoke in”. Smoke in – they say? These things are clues.

Anyhow, he concludes with a modish reference to the year that is in it…

Granted, we all want to see people obeying the laws, getting healthy and behaving properly, but many of us would think that this should be about individual responsibility and education, and not the growing Nanny State’s responsibility. Otherwise we will give away our freedom and self-reliance, and this is not the Irish spirit, especially in the centenary of 1916.

If he’d come close to proving any such ‘growing Nanny State responsibility’ he might have a point. But in the absence of same…


1. Phil - April 14, 2016

the giveaway in all this is the small phrase… “ the survey identifies the best and worst countries to eat, drink and smoke in”. Smoke in – they say?

It’s legal, last time I checked. E-cigs in particular are basically harmless, as far as anyone can tell, so comparing how heavily they’re regulated could be quite informative.

While I’m a socialist (I prefer Marxist), I’m what you might call a consumption libertarian – I don’t think the state’s got any business coercing me to eat or drink more healthily, unless what I do has direct effects on others (e.g. drink driving). Tobacco’s an interesting one – smoking’s been well and truly denormalised, largely as an effect of government action, and it’s arguable that we’re well down the road to prohibition. But the evidence for passive smoking as a health risk is thin on the ground – in fact the absence of evidence for a positive health effect from the smoking ban in the UK is striking. I wouldn’t go back to smoke-filled rooms (pubs especially), but I don’t like the way we’ve got here.

As for trusting the science (on sugar), I trust the science a lot more than I trust the public health industry. I know that sounds cranky at best, but on alcohol the results really are in – moderate drinking, up to (say) 3-4 units a day for men, is a net positive for health; anyone who thinks total abstinence is healthier is mistaken. The official UK government advice is now that there’s no safe level, total abstinence is fine, and nobody should exceed two units per day. When the research data says differently, they fudge round it or just ignore it. (Asked about increased health risks for total abstainers, the Chief Medical Officer for England said that those people could reduce their risks by doing more exercise!) With alcohol as with tobacco, the guiding principle in public health at the moment is that less is always better; I expect the approach on sugar (and salt) will be much the same.


WorldbyStorm - April 14, 2016

Agree re ecigs, would think the evidence on passive smoking is more robust than you propose certainly sufficient to ensure bans on pubs etc and arguably anywhere with children is justified, I agree to a point re alcohol and limits, though carcinogenic effects seem plausible, but again I’d be deeply antagonistic to banning it, however social effects ate very real to others in relation to alcolosm and some general behaviours. Sugar salt are different because its not about banning but moderating and no sane person would prevent any one as an individual adding salt or sugar as thru see fit which of course was broadly the way if things prior to more processed foods (with obvious e ceptions cured meats and fish). So I’m with you on individual autonomy but I’d like companies to allow for that choice to be exercised rather than forcing all to eat high salt sugar etc foods.


Phil - April 14, 2016

Fair point about processed food – I’d happily see a lot of processed foods banned on the grounds of being a cynical travesty of what they claim to be. Might be tough to police, though.

The carcinogenic effects of alcohol are genuine, and from that angle it’s true to say that there’s no safe level of consumption. But the average person’s chance of developing mouth or throat cancer is many times smaller than their chance of developing heart or circulatory disease – and the protective effect on those problems of moderate alcohol consumption greatly outweighs the increased cancer risk. As for alcoholism, I can’t see alcoholics being any more responsive to guidelines than they are to price. If you school an entire society in habits of abstinence, maybe ten or twenty years down the line you get a society without binge drinkers or alcoholics; it seems like a hell of a price to pay, though.

I don’t miss smoky pubs at all, and keeping tobacco smoke and children well apart seems like a sensible precaution. But the smoking ban was a natural experiment on a huge scale – there ought to be a massive drop in smoking-related disease, dateable to when the ban came in. There really isn’t. Tobacco smoke is nasty stuff, and passive smoking must have made some contribution to pulmonary disease, but the evidence seems to show it was a pretty small one.


RosencrantzisDead - April 14, 2016

I found this without having to do much searching.

From the piece:

The latest review identified that 33 of the 44 observational studies included, which specifically assessed cardiovascular disease, found evidence of a significant reduction in heart disease following the introduction of these bans. It also found that the greatest reduction in admissions for heart disease following smoking legislation were identified in populations of non-smokers.

It would seem to me that there are real positive healthy effects caused by a smoking ban. But I agree with the general point, banning and restriction should be evidence based. However, I should point out that, given we have a public health system, the claim that smoking would affect no one but yourself is unlikely to be true. The plethora of health complications that arise from smoking make it unavoidable that society and the citizen will shoulder part of the burden for care and treatment. It therefore makes sense to either tax smoking to ameliorate this effect or, where that proves more difficult, take more direct steps to reduce smoking.


EWI - April 14, 2016

While I’m a socialist (I prefer Marxist), I’m what you might call a consumption libertarian – I don’t think the state’s got any business coercing me to eat or drink more healthily, unless what I do has direct effects on others (e.g. drink driving).

It does have effects on others. We subsidise health care, as others point out, and unfortunately the evidence is that ‘personal responsibility’ is meaningless in a world where companies go all out to initiate and hook joe public on junk food. This is just applying a balance.


CL - April 14, 2016
Phil - April 14, 2016

Well, the liberal framework of personal responsibility I invoked is ultimately incoherent, inasmuch as everything anyone does impinges on a right that somebody *could* assert, and there aren’t any stone tablets listing all the rights there are. But there’s definitely a difference – if only a difference of degree – between hitting somebody, polluting their air and imposing higher health-related taxes on them at some point in future, and I’m not sure that coercing the population at large to prevent them committing the third type of harm can be justified.

As for the Cochrane review, this guy is sceptical – and with good reason, to judge from the graphs reproduced in the post.


RosencrantzisDead - April 14, 2016

If there is a difference between hitting someone and having them pay money, then surely the claim that the state is ‘coercing’ smokers is overblown. The main issue is that they have to pay more money for a pack or have to walk outside to light up.

While the link is interesting, I would be of the view that both cigarettes and pieces by Spiked journalists should come with very prominent health warnings.


RosencrantzisDead - April 14, 2016

Just following on from that, I had a quick read of Snowdon’s (who incidentally is the author of the ‘Nanny State Index’ in the OP) blog and his archive. Much of his attacks are that the research showing benefits is guilty of hyperbole or that the studies can show no real, clear beneficial effects.

But under the precautionary principle, proponents would not need to show that benefits accrue in order to justify retention of a ban. Rather it would be incumbent on Snowdon to show that second-hand smoke and indoor smoking was not harmful. Perhaps he has done this in a paper I have not yet seen, but I have my suspicions he has not.


Phil - April 14, 2016

Having to walk outside to light up is being coerced – the ‘having to’ part is the clue.

Agreed about Spiked, but I think the BMJ is generally pretty trustworthy.

As for the precautionary principle, if your account of it is correct it could be used to justify banning literally anything which the government’s advisors or its voters were worried about (e-cigarettes, gay marriage, Islam…) – and it would be up to opponents to make a case for re-legalising it. I’d rather not live in that society.


WorldbyStorm - April 15, 2016

By the same token having to go into a bar to buy drink is a greater coercion, why isn’t one allowed to drink on the pavement or wherever. But isn’t this simply a trade off like many we make everyday in mnt ways in order to facilitate matters more expeditiously (in this instance the health of workers primarily and secondarily non smokers). I’m happy with outside smoking areas and gardens in pubs etc.


Phil - April 15, 2016

I don’t think you can call it coercion unless there’s some change involved – people being made to do something they didn’t previously have to do. By extension, for anyone under the age of about 25, not being able to light up indoors isn’t coercion – it’s just the way the world is. That doesn’t mean the ban wasn’t a coercive measure when it was brought in (& one which older smokers still feel as such). Incidentally, the Labour government which brought in the ban had had a completely different policy in its manifesto; the ban was Liberal Democrat policy, but they weren’t in government at the time.


WorldbyStorm - April 15, 2016

Now that I’m not convinced about, if a road stops being two way and becomes one way or a cycle lane is put in are those changrs coercive or is it just change? I also think that if such bans were regarded by the population as egregious changes there would be more if a push back but there isn’t.

Just on coercive – in Ireland as you probably know supermarkets or off licenses can’t serve alcohol before 1030 or so Mon to sat and after iirc 930 and 1230 on a sun. It drives me to distraction because early on Sat Sun is when i do my food shopping and while not what I’d describe as coercive its a right pain.


RosencrantzisDead - April 15, 2016

Having to walk outside to light up is being coerced – the ‘having to’ part is the clue.

If we accept that, it is still coercion of a very trivial kind. You are free to smoke your cigarette, but you must first walk a couple of yards to do so. I think that this puts it on, at best, equal footing to the coercion imposed a non-smoker who will have to pay extra taxes or see tax monies diverted to cover the cost of smoke-related illnesses. Consequently, I do not think it convincing to say that the coercion of this trivial type is not justified here.

As an aside, your point about coercion only affecting those who perceive a change is quite interesting and touches upon a topic that has always intrigued me – how law can cause people to believe that certain behaviour is normal or proper.

Regarding the precautionary principle, it is a principle that is already used in environmental and health regulation. It does require that there be a prima facie case for prevention which I think is more than met when it comes to smoking and second-hand smoke. It is entirely plausible, even likely, that second-hand smoke has negative health effects. I do not think that is in dispute. In the absence of a scientific consensus that it is not harmful we are better off banning smoking or not permitting/allowing second-hand smoke in enclosed, public places. Following from this, that we have not produced evidence that such a ban is not having significant (or even any) positive health effects is not, in itself, sufficient justification for removing the ban. This is where I think Snowdon is being sneaky or just illogical. The problems with the evidence do not justify removing the ban. This is particularly true where removal could mean that some people will die or have their lives significantly foreshortened.

The principle would not be used to ban Islam, unless you cited some very spurious studies.


EWI - April 15, 2016

While the link is interesting, I would be of the view that both cigarettes and pieces by Spiked journalists should come with very prominent health warnings.

I’d say that pieces by Spiked! about cigarettes, nuclear, climate change etc. would need to have FLASHING NEON LIGHTS health warnings.


Phil - April 15, 2016

You are free to smoke your cigarette, but you must first walk a couple of yards to do so.

Well, I don’t smoke (anything) and haven’t been adversely affected by the ban; if anything it’s benefited me.

But this is, frankly, an insulting trivialisation of the effects of the ban. “Walk a couple of yards” – away from the people you were talking to, out into the cold & the wet. Yep, hardly any cost at all. Have you looked at the figures for pub closures before and after the ban? It didn’t do the British pub trade any good at all, I can tell you – and that in turn says that it had major, negative effects on many people’s social lives. Lots of smokers didn’t quit, they just shifted into a new pattern of staying at home and getting some cans in. Incidentally, one of the arguments advanced by anti-alcohol people to explain away the proven health benefits of moderate drinking is that what’s really being measured is the health-giving effects of an active social life – so cheers for that.

Everyone agrees that smoking is bad for you – we’re in no danger of going back to the pre-Doll days. But the smoking ban was brought in on a hunch, and is now being hailed as a success despite the thinness of the evidence. We’re being told that the smoking ban can be justified specifically by the association between passive smoking and heart disease – but the figures for hospital admissions with heart disease show no sharp drop after 2007, just a long, steady decline. Meanwhile we’re being told – by some of the same people – that drinking can’t be justified by its protective effects on heart disease, despite the fact that long-term trends clearly show that those effects are significant and substantial. It’s policy-based evidence-making.


Phil - April 15, 2016

On the (ab)use of the precautionary principle, the thing is that I don’t see a bright scientific line between the danger of passive smoking and the ‘danger’ of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship (in the words of Section 28) or the ‘danger’ of large numbers of free-thinking Jews (in the words of T.S. Eliot). The evidence ought to be the bright line, God knows, but it doesn’t seem to work like that in public health at the moment.


CL - April 15, 2016

“New York City heart-disease deaths have dropped 28 percent since 2002, a decrease the Health Department attributes to bans on public smoking, cigarette taxes and ads depicting tobacco-related illnesses.”


Phil - April 15, 2016

Those are anti-smoking measures. The smoking ban wasn’t justified on the basis that it would cause smokers so much inconvenience that they would give up, thus becoming healthier people despite themselves – on the contrary, its advocates claimed (rather unconvincingly) that it *wasn’t* aimed at smokers, and even that it didn’t really cause smokers any inconvenience. It was justified on the specific grounds that passive smoking was a significant cause of health problems among non-smokers – and that’s the claim that the population-scale data seems not to support.


ejh - April 15, 2016

Just following on from that, I had a quick read of Snowdon’s (who incidentally is the author of the ‘Nanny State Index’ in the OP) blog and his archive. Much of his attacks are that the research showing benefits is guilty of hyperbole

Snowdon himself js no slouch in the hyperbole stakes of course: he’s rarely able to distinguish a disagreement over policy from an attempt to restrict our freedoms by bureaucrats with no other motive than that,


ejh - April 15, 2016

In re: coercion, the amount of coercion involved in expecting somebody to walk a few yards outside for a fag really isn’t very great, even if it is cold and wet. It’s no more than is required, in many pubs, of anybody wanting to go to the toilet, and considerably less than the smoking lobby expected of anybody, prior to the ban, who wanted to breath clean air in a public house. Their only option was to go out into the cold and wet and find a non-smoky pub, should they be so fortunate as to find one.

I am mildly sympathetic to that generation of older people which finds itself inconvenienced by the ban, in so far as they used to be able to do, easily and unhindered, something by which they meant no harm. Now they get mucked around for the privilege and fair enough, they find that an imposition. But it’s not very much of an imposition, not compared to the imposition smokers were making on other people, and that’s pretty much normal for the complaints libertarians make: they’re people who are used to doing the decision-making and the imposing.


WorldbyStorm - April 15, 2016

I think you sum up my feelings very well on that ejh. And by the by hope all is good with you. I’m with Phil absolutely on banning. Even cigarettes I feel dubious about banning though there are overwhelmingly clear health impacts – and I guess it is possible in a generation or so they will be banned . But I do think that asking people who smoke to smoke when outside their own houses in specific areas in order not to inconvenience others isn’t that massive an imposition.


RosencrantzisDead - April 15, 2016

Well, I don’t smoke (anything) and haven’t been adversely affected by the ban

I meant ‘you’ in a more general, impersonal sense. My apologies if I gave the impression otherwise. I did not mean to personalise this or make any assumptions about you.

I do not think there is much of a comparison between smoking and Section 28. But the irony is that justification for section 28, if not the banning of same-sex relations entirely, was based on the harm principle (as interpreted by Patrick Devlin).

I agree that a principle can be open to abuse or perverse interpretation but I do not believe the precautionary principle is of greater susceptibility than any other. Similarly, I think we agree that evidence should lead policy but I disagree that the burden of proof need never shift, particularly in circumstances where health or environmental concerns are present. But I will say that those concerns must have some evidence to support them.


Phil - April 17, 2016

My earlier comments on pub closures were based on vague recollection, so I went back & checked. According to the best figures I can find, there was a net loss of between 300 and 1300 pubs per year in the UK every year from 2006 to 2013, with two exceptions: in both 2008 and 2009 over 2000 pubs closed (to be precise, over 2000 more pubs closed than opened). It’s hard to believe that the smoking ban – introduced in July 2007 – had nothing at all to do with this.


WorldbyStorm - April 18, 2016

I wouldn’t disagree that those are a factor though from experience here tougher drunk driving laws through the 2000s was a bigger factor, the UK had a number of more severe measures introduced post 2000. I looked at the UK Licensing Act 2003 andi wonder did that also have an impact broadening the places timess alcohol was available. There’s also a demographic shift – here every taxi driver I meet tells me thstbthose under 25 tend to stay home drink spirits until later then GI to bars and clubs. That’s not good for livers but I can imagine it was a push back against the more sedate pub culture I tend to like.


2. Ed - April 14, 2016

“This might be described as extreme Political Correctness or more Health and Safety nonsense …”

Stewart Lee has a rant somewhere about how his grandmother’s generation have mixed up political correctness with basic health and safety regulations: ‘They’re saying I can’t have a bath now with the television beside the bath-tub Stew, because of the Jews!’


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