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Posts Tagged ‘public health’

A small victory for freedom and common sense, though for the wrong reasons:

A court in Breda, Netherlands has overturned the smoking ban the government imposed last summer. The judge ruled that the ban violates Article One of the Constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights.

The judge argues that the ban disproportionately affects the owners of small establishments with no additional staff.

The correct reason why the smoking ban is doubly absurd is that it targets private, not public places and in particular ones where most customers come specifically for smoking. The fact that passive smoking can lead to cancer is quite irrelevant here because no one is forcing a non-smoker to go to these places. 

A similar law in the US, for instance, would immediately ban most hookah bars. I would think anyone would see the underlying absurdity and inherent dangers immediately but apparently that is not the case.

I am also surprised — as when I read the linked comment above — at most people’s amazing lack of understanding of the basic libertarian principles and their propensity to attribute positions to their opponents that they do not hold. (For the uninitiated, this is usually referred to as a strawman argument)

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Ashutosh points me to this fine article by Atul Gawande on healthcare reform in the US. While the overall viewpoint of the author is pragmatic liberal, the emphasis is definitely on the pragmatic — indeed, his insistence on the value of building upon existing institutions rather than attempting a drastic overhaul gives the piece a slightly Burkean conservative flavor. In any case, it is an article worth checking out, even if you, like me, don’t agree with much of what he says.

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I missed this post by Andrew Sullivan from a while back.

One reason I’m a conservative is the British National Health Service. Until you have lived under socialism, it sounds like a great idea. It isn’t misery – although watching my parents go through the system lately has been nerve-wracking – but there is a basic assumption. The government collective decides everything. You, the individual patient, and you, the individual doctor, are the least of their concerns. I prefer freedom and the market to rationalism and the collective. That’s why I live here.

Andrew, of course, is a British citizen, who was born and raised there but has been living in the US for a long time now, so his perspective is certainly worthwhile.

Now I’ll be the first to admit that this is mere anecdotal evidence which does not prove anything. Andrew Sullivan’s healthcare experience has been better in the US; there are obviously British citizens who prefer their system. However as long as we keep the anecdotal nature of this statistic in mind, there is nothing to lose by considering it. Indeed, I get the idea that a lot of dyed-in-the-wool liberals who have lived in the US all their life automatically assume that everyone who has lived in single payer prefers it. Quotes like these may at least help them open their minds to the truth.

For the truth is much deeper than that little quote by a popular blogger. Yes, the US healthcare system sucks in many ways. However any system of government mandated healthcare has fundamental drawbacks. Excessive regulation adversely affects medical research and the quality of healthcare provided. It encourages the passage of nanny-state laws designed to compel people to stay healthy. Even the claimed reduction in costs does not necessarily happen in all cases; see this article on the Massachusetts mandate. Above all there is a moral issue — a government mandate involves coercive takings and elimination of choice.

My personal preference leans towards “freedom and the market”, as Sullivan puts it. If the government has to be involved it should do so in the following ways:

1) Change the nature of regulation to light, smart ones designed to reduce costs (those associated with litigation, inefficient record keeping, bureaucratization, compliance with unnecessary rules), increase transparency/information disclosure and foster competition.

2) Replace Medicare etc. with a system of vouchers that can be spent on any health provider.

3) Retain one catastrophic government run health insurance system with a high deductible that would cover everyone in case of emergencies and other catastrophes and deal with the free-rider problem in those situations; eliminate all other government insurance schemes.

These measures are influenced by Milton Friedman’s views, espoused among other places in this article.

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The Center for Science in the Public Interest is an interesting organization. Ostensibly, its purpose is to be a “strong advocate for nutrition and health, food safety, alcohol policy, and sound science”. It publishes a health newsletter and has several programs to educate the public on various issues related to science, nutrition and public health.

Scratch deeper, and a frightening picture emerges. The CSPI is one of those entities that believes in science but not in freedom. It believes in equating the nutritious and the safe  with the universally good, and is happy to enforce these value judgements on others by any means at their disposal.

Their latest target is “alcoholic energy drinks”. This is from their website:

The nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest today filed suit against MillerCoors Brewing Company, formerly Miller, over its alcoholic energy drink, Sparks. The product has more alcohol than regular beer and contains unapproved additives, including the stimulants caffeine and guarana. The lawsuit is asking the Superior Court of the District of Columbia to stop MillerCoors from selling the controversial drink, which is also under scrutiny from state attorneys general.

Drinkers of caffeinated alcoholic drinks are more likely to binge drink, ride with an intoxicated driver, become injured, or be taken advantage of sexually than drinkers of non-caffeinated alcoholic drinks, according to a 2007 study conducted at Wake Forest University.

Sparks products contain 6 to 7 percent alcohol by volume, as opposed to regular beer, which typically has 4 or 5 percent alcohol. Also unlike beer, Sparks’ appeal to young people is enhanced by its sweet citrusy taste, redolent of SweeTarts candy, and the bright color of orange soda. (Sparks Light also contains the artificial sweetener sucralose). In October, MillerCoors plans to release Sparks Red, which will have 8 percent alcohol by volume.

They have already stopped Anheuser-Busch from selling a similar product. Shockingly, they do not have an action project to ban the serving of coffee to a customer who has had a glass of wine — yet.

The rest of their website contains arguments in a similar vein. They go on about how the raising of the drinking age has saved lives, how alcohol is a terrible drug that deserves to be severely restricted from just about every place imaginable, how the trans fat ban will save fifty thousand lives a year and so on. They want to employ every coercive technique imaginable to stop such horrors from happening.

It always surprises me when I read this kind of analysis.

In the CSPI worldview, the only negative costs are those that are directly measurable, such as death and disease. Any action that reduces these figures is good. But clearly extending this reasoning to everything leads to absurdities. For instance, ban all cars today and the number of speeding related deaths will become zero. No one advocates such a thing because the costs in terms of inconvenience, quality of life and — may I mention it — freedom will be too high. How is it that when they rile against unhealthy or unsafe foods and drinks, they completely neglect the intrinsic cost of taking away from millions of users something that they enjoy? How is it that they put absolutely no weight in their analysis upon the fact that they are taking away my basic right to live my life the way I deem fit?

It is possible that CSPI is acting in good faith and in their moral code, these intrinsic costs are negligible or at any rate, low enough to merit coercive regulation.

But everyone has a core, inalienable ethical belief and here is mine. There’s only one word that accurately describes actions such as those of CSPI. That word is “evil”. It is irrelevant to my moral code that they may not view things the same way. There is simply no other way I can think of people who believe in imposing their personal choices on others. And unlike bandits or robbers who commit crimes for their gain, the evil that such organizations do never stop.

(Hat Tip: Reason Hit and Run)

Also read:

Jacob Sullum’s old article on CSPI and their pseudoscience.

My post on smoking bans in San Francisco.

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After successfully combating the menace of smoking, he is now on a mission to eradicate the other great vice — alcohol.

Sometimes I wonder where we Indians would be without Ramadoss. It is abundantly clear now that we are simply incapable of taking good decisions for ourselves. We masturbate, smoke, drink, maintain poor personal hygiene and consistently elect the wrong politicians. Without his fatherly protection and control, we would soon become a bunch of wastrels.

There is only one thing I fear — what if Ramadoss gets tired of his mission and stops taking care of us? What will we do? Who will we turn to?

But, in my heart of hearts, I know he will never stop. His conscience will prevent him from doing so.

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Read about it here.

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Good for them.

“If I don’t want to pray, I don’t go to church. If you don’t want to smoke, don’t come in here.”

(Hat Tip: The Agitator)

Also read: San Francisco may tighten smoking ban

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