Monday, 22 August 2016

The Fruits of Believing The State is as God

No Surprises There

We have oft stated in this blog that statism is the prevailing religion throughout the West.  Each and every problem can be solved by the State--acting, reacting, ruling, punishing, pushing, directing, funding, defunding, taxing--always taxing.  Mark Twain was right: there are only two certain things in a statist world: death and taxes.

One prosaic example will suffice.  New Zealander's diets are pretty bad in some quarters.  We are now learning that, contrary to decades of bad science and advice, the real dietary problem is sugar, not fat.  We are facing an obesity epidemic that has a long road of multiplying diseases that will play out over generations.  For example, in New Zealand we are now seeing young children develop Type II diabetes--which is entirely diet caused.  This is not a hereditary condition, but a result of the amount of sugar the children ingest as part of their daily diet.  The list of ailments and diseases which flow from having diabetes is as long as can be imagined, with more coming to light as the epidemic worsens.  But, let's repeat.  This is an epidemic plague that is inextricably lifestyle related.

What has been our response?
 In typically statist fashion, true to our dominant religious belief, the cry goes up, "The gummint must do something?"  What? pray tell.  Put a tax on sugar.  That will do the trick.  Once sugar is taxed, people will consume less of it; the epidemic of diabetes will attenuate.  What a relief.  The gummint will put all things to rights.

Ireland's The Journal recently did a fact-check on this statist solution:
Welcome to one of the most hotly-contested debates in public health and fiscal policy around. With the sugar tax due to be announced here in October, we’ve decided to take a stab at answering the question: has it worked elsewhere?

Claim: Taxes on sugary drinks have not achieved their public health aims

Verdict: Mostly TRUE.  There is some evidence that the tax precedes a moderate decrease in consumption, but also that this effect tends to fade quite quickly.  There is no significant evidence that sugar taxes cut body mass index (BMI), or rates of obesity, diabetes or heart disease, but there is evidence that they have not achieved such desired and promised public health gains.

However, most sugary drinks taxes were implemented quite recently, and subsequent research may yield different results as the effects of the taxes develop.
The article then surveys the impact of sugar taxes introduced in a number of countries.  The statist propaganda is that sugar taxes will raise the price of sugared food and drink, leading to less consumption, which will reduce the diabetes epidemic.  How is this working out?

10% tax on sugar-added soft drinks came into effect in January 2014.   According to figures from the Mexican government’s National Institute for Public Health, sales of beverages affected by the tax actually increased, in comparison with the six-year period before it was introduced. . . . In 2014, sales increased by 6.4%, and in 2015, by 7%.  However, after adjusting for population growth, the relative increase in sales was 1.6% in 2014, and 1.1% in 2015.
The Mexican pattern is not atypical.  It shows up in other jurisdictions where sugar taxes have been imposed.  Why do sugar taxes appear so aenemic--promising an obvious, easy solution yet delivering so little.  The answer lies in the complexity of human actions and reactions--which statists always ignore, or, at lest, underestimate.  Why do sugar taxes not work?
Sara Petersson, a Nutrition Analyst at Euromonitor, summarises much of the research with this breakdown, which we’ve paraphrased here.

-Companies can decide to absorb the tax increase at source themselves, and leave the price of their product untouched.
-Consumers can find cheaper substitutes to the taxed product to “satisfy their sweet tooth”.
-The taste of sugar is naturally addictive, so those habits are hard to break, and consumers may simply adjust to paying more for it.
-Consumers can just choose cheaper brands of the same product, meaning their intake of calories remains the same as before the tax.

Mike Gibney, Professor of Food and Health at UCD made this point to FactCheck, saying:  It doesn’t matter what the balance of calories is, it’s the amount of calories that counts.
In other words, you can eat lots of healthy foods, but if those foods are laced with sugar, the bad health impacts remain.

Thus the problem is far, far more complex than asinine calls for a "sugar tax" on fizzy drinks.  Human beings and their behaviours are more complex, involved, and subtle than passing a few laws, bans, prohibitions will admit.  But such concepts verge on blasphemy to the devotees of statism--which accounts for most of the population.

The religion of statism would make the State a demigod.  It is a necessary attribute of a god that it be powerful, able to effect massive change for the good.  So, the authorities and movers and shakers--faced with a lifestyle plague--look to their god to bring about real, substantial change.  They plead.  They invoke. But the god is actually powerless in so many ways--limited, in fact, to a bumbling, general incompetence.

It is not unexepcted, then, that so much of life in Western countries is increasingly coloured with anger, bitterness, sarcasm, and roiling conspiracy theories.  What else could we anticipate when the deity proves impotent and incompetent?  No surprises there.

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