Wednesday, October 17, 2007

"It's not your fault you're fat" says British nanny-state out of protruding, distended anus-mouth

Or rather, "obesogenic".

The British government, which has been spiraling ever closer to outright 1984 style communism recently, has officially decided to bin the notion of personal responsibility, and a hefty chunk of freedom along with it.

"Obesity, the authors concluded, was an inevitable consequence of a society in which energy-dense and cheap foods, labour-saving devices, motorised transport and sedentary work were rife.

Dr Susan Jebb of the Medical Research Council said that in this environment, it was surprising that anyone was able to remain thin, and so the notion of obesity simply being a product of personal over-indulgence had to be abandoned for good.

"The stress has been on the individual choosing a healthier lifestyle, but that simply isn't enough," she said."

Ooh, that last line gives me shivers. Ominous isn't it? Read that again: letting individuals make their own choices about what to put in their bodies and how to spend their spare time simply isn't enough. Subtext: the government must intervene and force people to behave a certain way, no matter what they'd rather do.

Now realistically, I agree with most of the above quote. It is hard to be healthy today, and it is a wonder anyone manages to stay thin, and it does go a little beyond personal choice because an unhealthy lifestyle is the default. However, the study is not passively relating this information to the public. It recommends that government step in and take control.

There is a small offhand remark about getting the public's consent to limit their freedom, but this is always a ridiculous sentiment. If the public wanted to eat healthier, wouldn't they choose to on their own? That's called the free market. They want us to think that every citizen will agree equally with letting the government control what they eat. That's called sanction of the victim. What they really mean by public consent is getting the consent of the majority to control the minority of fat people who choose to eat cheeseburgers. That's called oppression.


Peter said...

This has got to be your worst blog post to date. I find it almost disturbing.

You've managed to mix an incredible degree of knee-jerk reaction, paranoia, and some sort of irrational fear into one blog post.

I continue to not understand why the government is not allowed to take certain actions which are in the collective welfare. Nowhere in that article is it stated that people will be forced to behave in any way whatsoever.

"letting individuals make their own choices about what to put in their bodies and how to spend their spare time simply isn't enough" - thats a hell of an extrapolation to make from that article. Governments have a lot more things they can do that will not force anything on anyone. Increase the cost of health care insurance perhaps? Provide incentives for eating healthy? Just two of a myriad of options.

Sanction of the victim? What the hell?! Getting thin people to rule over fat people?! Ok. I'm going to stop here. Maybe some other reader of yours will take this up further.

To recap: to me it seems that you've overreacted in silly and unreasoned manner.

Dave Foree said...

I'll take it up, but in reverse:

While I'd disagree with Peter, I think the article's main points really did beat around the bush when it came to coercing the public into anything... There wasn't much in there to suggest people's freedom to get fat might be limited at any point...

What it DID suggest, though, is that 46 billion GBP would be the public cost of obesity in the future, which leads me to conclude one thing: The government will clearly do everything in its power to limit your ability to become unhealthy as long as you're getting free/subsidized health care.

That, I think, is the coercive part; the part that your Bloge [sic...?] post was "nipping in the bud," if you will - while nobody said they're going to implement a government no fat chicks/dudes policy, the threats against revealed public preferences were pretty clear in the article, I think.

Defaulting, as you seem to have done in your post, to the worst case scenario apparently is alarmist, or "irrational" according to Peter, but I'd say it makes for excellent reading. All things considered, your point is very valid, even if the BBC article was only a relatively small threat...


Stop me if I'm misreading you, Peter, but I think you might be disconnecting the cost of government intervention from its benefits, specifically in this phrase: "I continue to not understand why the government is not allowed to take certain actions which are in the collective welfare."

Of course they should do that kind of thing - that's what governments are for. The point, though, is that it's the people's preferences and wallets that dictate what the government is allowed to do, not the other way around. When the British government - which controls public health care - starts talking about "convincing" the populace to accept a policy, the government has, by definition, become a coercive power rather than one that acts in the public interest.

We could all agree that being fat has public costs, but individual choices should not be limited just because the government happens to pay for health care costs. Your alternatives, Peter, such as incentives or health care reform are good ideas, except I'd say an incentives program is a tax on the healthy, and "increasing the cost of health care" wouldn't be quite as good as just letting people choose their own health programs in the first place.

Regardless, that's why I'd say a tough stance against things like that article are not uncalled for - I see a definite purpose for "irrational fear."


I apologize: I really only meant to write a paragraph or two in defense, not a novel... Deep down, I think I secretly want to start a debate about libertarianism...

Peter said...

And my good friend and his blog are all about the liberterianist debate (see Wikipedia link to Atlas Shrugged).

Anyway, while I will not discount the fact that there is certainly a valid argument to be made against 1. government provided (universal?) health care, 2. the rights of the individuals (willingly?) partaking in that system 3. etc, I think that the alarmist and knee-jerk tone of the post was uncalled for. It really reminded me of how the current US administration pretty much reacts to anything they disagree with by calling it "anti-American". This is the same idea, but replace American with freedom.

"talking about "convincing" the populace to accept a policy, the government has, by definition, become a coercive power "
I don't think coercive power is at all the same thing as attempting to change attitudes. Coercion involves force, intimidation or threat. A public campaign against obesity is none of the above. If you say that it is, then so is a government-funded campaign against unprotected sex, for example.

Even then, I'd argue that its not so much about convincing people that being obese is a bad thing. I think its more about educating people that don't realize that eating potato chips non-stops will have bad effects on their health. I really think that's the problem... people don't internalize the true cost of each potato chip. Just because they're cheap to buy, doesn't mean they're cheap to eat. The government is realizing that and so they're moving toward making them (unhealthy foods) more "expensive" via revealing the true cost.

Its really much the same process that has gone into the background of all the green policies, parties and etc of late. In short: polluters (consumers of bad food) don't realize the full cost of their pollution (eating). How to remedy that is an open question, but I think you'll agree that its a situation that needs a remedy.

Dave, you also say "which leads me to conclude one thing: The government will clearly do everything in its power ". I don't think that's a very fair or justified criticism either. The government has said it will look into doing something about the matter. That is far from declaring martial law and physically imposing dietary restrictions (which is within its power to do). So really, I don't think that statement holds water. You're going to extremes, much like my friend constantly does. Just because the government say that it supports idea A, doesn't mean that it does so completely, totally and forevermore.

Further, its not the people's wallets that dictate what the government is allowed to do. Not at all. Fortunately , we live in a society which is not an aristocracy (rule of the rich and talented nobility), or some other plutocracy where money would determine government actions. Instead we live in a democracy where people go to the ballots every X years and express their preferences that way. If they don't like what the government is doing, they can pick a different government.

If you're going to counter with "but that oppresses the minority" (ie. rich, or elites or the few), then you're out the deep end. If you're going to advocate a system where wealth is exclusively used to determine preferences and priorities, then you're not going to be able to make a valid case as to how that is any less oppressive toward a minority (ie the masses). I mean... be reasonable! With 10% of Americans owning 90% of the wealth, do you honestly think that we're going to have a just and fair society that is governed exclusively by pure supply and demand?

"I'd say an incentives program is a tax on the healthy, and "increasing the cost of health care" wouldn't be quite as good as just letting people choose their own health programs in the first place."
That you think so is just fine. However, it would seem that most Brits disagree with you. They value public health care more than you do. Thus, collectively, they are willing to pay a cost for that "good". You see private health care as being more "good" than their public system... well, they disagree and that's their prerogative.


I too apologize for the length of this. :)

Jolly Bloger said...

Ok, attempting to change public opinion is not as bad as violent oppression, but as Dave said it is still not the role of government, at least not as I see it. You say its up to the brits to elect their own government and I agree, so I'll clarify that when I say what government 'should' do I'm talking about my own ideal.

Government should reflect the public zeitgeist, not author it. Ideally, government would stay out of peoples' private business no matter how unpopular it is, as long as it doesn't hurt anyone. Everyone is in the minority on something, so if the government goes around regulating everything that even 95% of the people don't like, eventually you're going to find yourself in that 5%. That aside, when the government tries to influence public opinion or modify behaviour even slightly, they are saying that the individual is not able to live their own life properly, and further, that the legislators know what's best for the citizens. I don't know about you, but even in the most minor case I find this incredibly insulting. I do not need a babysitter to look out for me.

Moreover, government has never shown itself to be terribly efficient at solving the social problems it tackles (war on drugs?). It is possible that lowering the rate of obesity enough will raise the standard of living for everybody such that it is worth the minor loss of freedom. Even if you go so far as to accept that, is it reasonable to assume that the government will be able to lower the obesity rate that far? Will they be able to do it cheaply? My guess is that it will cost so much to reach the target obesity rate that any gains to standard of living will be negated by increased taxes.

I'm sorry you don't like the irrational knee-jerk reactions, but that's kind of my style. I read something on the Internet, it sets off my anger alarms, and I rant about it here. I'm not interested in boring give and take essays. Thanks for joining the conversation though!