Thursday 9 November 2017

Killjoys - How Paternalism Harms The Public

Did you know that the annual budget for Public Health England is now £4bn per annum? That is just one nugget of info I learned tonight from a book that I've just finished reading. Now, assuming it's not a typo, this is a quite incredible amount of money. However, it's far from surprising considering that 'public health' nagging is now a very profitable industry in this country.

You see, last night I went to the lauch of Chris Snowdon's new book, Killjoys, at the Empire Casino in Leicester Square and very good it was too.

The launch was heralded by speeches which amused those assembled while making serious points. The IEA's Jamie Whyte spoke about how he finds nothing wrong with restricting choice for kids because - well, they're kids - but a state that presumes to know our choices better than we do ourselves effectively treats adults like kids. Snowdon himself also pointed out how we seem to be harangued at every turn about harmful life decisions such as smoking and drinking, yet more 'cool' and elitist dangerous pastimes such as mountain climbing or ski-ing are somehow left alone.

It is a theme he also touches on in the book, in fact it is a central one. That being that paternalists of today have barely changed in the past 150 years since J S Mill wrote his seminal thoughts on freedom, On Liberty.

Chris begins by examining Mill's work and notes that back then he was reacting to a fundamental religious morality police who objected to the licentious joys of the commoners. Mill's central thesis was, if you didn't already know:
the sole end for which mankind are warranted, individually or collectively, in interfering with the liberty of action of any of their number, is self-protection. That the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not a sufficient warrant. He cannot rightfully be compelled to do or forbear because it will be better for him to do so, because it will make him happier, because, in the opinion of others, to do so would be wise, or even right
The nearest that any paternalist of those days could come to satisfying Mill's harm principle was to say that they objected to alcohol being available because it offended them.

This restrictive way of sneering at the habits of the unwashed was fine for the snobbish paternalist, but Mill argued that only through liberty can an individual maximise his utility (enjoyment) and, consequently benefit the overall well-being of the population. And not much has changed in the intervening period.

The modern 'public health' paternalist would be mocked if they played to religion nowadays, so instead they portray themselves as part of the medical community instead. Yet a doctor can only treat you or advise you with your consent, whereas the new cult of 'public health' doesn't require your consent - or your vote - to curtail your choices and dictate what you are allowed to consume, while they also take your taxes to do so.

Killjoys argues that this is not only contrary to Mill's long-respected principle, but is also actively harming the welfare of the public - because it avoids even considering it - in many different ways, the main one being to view the public's health as our only consideration in life, and discarding absolutely every other measure of well-being that we might hold dear.

Benefits of behaviours and habits are ignored, and blatant downsides of illiberal legislation considered not to exist. 'Science' is perverted, and well-understood consensus on the effect of practices like advertising are denied.

Chris leads the reader through all the varied and shape-shifting tricks that the 'public health' cartel employs to pretend it is helping us instead of the opposite, touching on subjects such as using taxes as a weapon to drive for zero consumption - effectively prohibition - rather than reaching a sweet spot which would maximise the public's enjoyment of life while making adequate compensation for potential harm, real or imagined.

He also illustrates how 'public health' tries to pretend it is adhering to Mill's principles by portraying consumers as victims of industry manipulation instead of having their rights as consumers violated by 'public health'. Industry advertising is deemed to be irresistible, yet 'public health' is quiet about how their own propaganda is so ineffective despite using the same media. A strange occurrence seeing as the same 'public health' consistently says that we all want to ditch the unhealthy behaviour, so it is hard to fathom why we are not queueing up to take their advice unless the messages they are sending are fraudulent.

The books argues, well, that far from increasing awareness about consumer products, the 'public health' crusade actively restricts information, increases market failure that they claim to be correcting, and their policies lead to more harm, more barbaric stigmatisation, along with transferring wealth from the poorest individuals in society to the state and - of course - then onto 'public health' so they can start the whole vicious cycle all over again.

The idea that 'public health' wishes to be honest and cares for our welfare and enjoyment of life is betrayed when Snowdon highlights the outrage that ensued after the US government decided to place a value on consumer surplus - that is, the value of enjoyment lost when illiberal regulations are placed on consumer products. Quantifying the benefits of lifestyle products has been something 'public health' has avoided for decades, simply because it would destroy their entire prohibitionist agenda. Only costs must be counted, benefits must always be ignored.

The reader is also invited to consider that the real damage to the public of unhealthy choices are not the much-vaunted ones on costs to the NHS, which are entirely fictional, but instead those imposed by 'public health'. As I have said many times, if smoking was banned tomorrow, no taxpayer would get any kind of refund or decrease in their taxes, in fact they might even go up. However, shifting resources from traditional public health matters which we have no choice over and instead directing them to areas where we do threatens to take away funding from real healthcare. If you're not getting an operation you really need, that is a real cost to you; it might make you feel warm and fuzzy that some hospital is banning vaping in the car park but you still ain't getting that hip replacement.

Likewise, anyone who is irritated at having to wait another few years till they get their pension might reflect on why there is a multi-billion pound industry fixated on increasing costs to the welfare bill (pensions are the biggest public expenditure) when the only drivers behind 'public health' campaigns are snobbery and self-enrichment.

In short, 'public health' serves not to inform the public and cater for our well-being, but instead to alarm us and cater for the bank accounts of public health professionals, at the expense of the poor, pensioners, and the health system as a whole. It's something legislators might do well to look into.

Chris finishes with some very optimistic policy suggestions in different areas which - although perfectly sound and which would lead to a happier, more prosperous, less costly and better educated Britain, with the public's health not noticeably being any different than it is today - might bring some politicians out in a cold sweat.

I can imagine their horrified faces as they clutch their pearls at the thought of legislating for public well-being rather than morality, but if they truly cared about the good of the country that's exactly what they should be doing.

The book is a cracking read, only 160 pages and will make you think differently about 'public health' from whatever angle you started from. It is available free online from midnight tonight at the IEA website, I heartily recommend you go read it. 

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