Tuesday, 23 August 2016

In the end bans usually make things worse - the case of cigarettes

The problem with banning things is that it seldom stops them. Even when you take the sort of extreme and violent steps we've seen recently in The Philipines. Yet politicians, policy-makers and their friends in academia still champion bans - de facto or de jure.

One of those bans - although it doesn't look like one because no-one's passed a law with the word 'ban' in it anywhere except Bhutan - is that of tobacco. This is a ban by stealth implemented by steadily raising the price of fags to the point where more and more people can't afford to buy them. Or at least this is the theory.

The problem is that the bigger the gap between the cost of production and the post-tax retail price, the bigger the incentive for people to (illegally) arbitrage that gap. Why take the risk smuggling heroin or cocaine when you can smuggle tobacco! Check out your local paper and you'll see a steady stream of stories about illegal cigarettes (interspersed with stories about cannabis factories). With each increase in tobacco duty, we see an increase in criminal activity around tobacco.

And this is where it ends up - with violence:

The BAT manager was stabbed and bashed by at least three men, after he refused their order that he get into a car. The kidnappers arrived at the man's Sydney home at around 10pm on Saturday June 4.

A source said the manager was forced to "fight for his life" to ward off the kidnappers, who have not been identified. He was rushed to hospital after the attack.

The attack appears to be an unprecedented escalation in the struggle between policing agencies and the syndicates driving the illicit tobacco trade. Evidence suggests the attack was linked to BAT's support of police inquiries.

The manager in question was employed (by that source of all evil, a tobacco company) to support the police in investigating smuggling and illegal tobacco. Why? Quite simply because it's a billion dollar plus criminal business.

Right now, our one-eyed approach to smoking is creating a new international criminal business smuggling cigarettes and tobacco. In the UK, trading standards departments are advised that tobacco companies are the bad boys:

Tobacco companies continue to approach local authorities and local Trading Standards teams in particular with offers to support their tobacco control strategies primarily around tackling illicit tobacco but also in relation to other areas of enforcement including age of sale regulations. Local Authorities are recommended to examine such offers critically in the light of Article 5.3 and its guidelines and only engage in any collaborative work with the industry where this is considered strictly necessary.

That's right folks - the Tackling Illicit Tobacco for Better Health Partnership (essentially a bunch of trading standards officers) thinks it just fine to refuse to work with tobacco companies - businesses selling a legal product - in catching criminals.

So what we have is a new and lucrative business for organised criminals created entirely by policies designed to promote public health. And, rather than recognise the problem, public health and its agents refuse to co-operate with the tobacco companies in reducing the criminal impact of their (public health that is) policies.

Now I call this stupid.

Monday, 22 August 2016

Stuff to read: Driverless buses and trucks, night parks, stupid planning rules and Tokyo's housing

Driverless buses in Finland:

Residents of Helsinki, Finland will soon be used to the sight of buses with no drivers roaming the city streets. One of the world's first autonomous bus pilot programs has begun in the Hernesaari district, and will run through mid-September. 

Finnish law does not require vehicles on the road to have a driver, making it the perfect place to get permission to test the Easymile EZ-10 electric mini-buses.

The buses look cute too:

And self-driving trucks are on the way too:

By joining forces with Uber we can fast forward to the future. Together, Otto and Uber can build the backbone of the rapidly-approaching self-driving freight system. We can help make transportation as reliable as running water, everywhere for everyone, whether you’re talking people or packages.

All web-enabled too:

Veniam, a startup coming out of the University of Porto with offices in Silicon Valley and Singapore (besides its homebase in Portugal), turns moving vehicles such as cars and buses into live networks that allow people to be online without being dependent on a cellular network. The platform is also capable of using the data it collects to keep track and better manage traffic flows and alternate routes. Veniam’s technology was launched 18 months ago in Porto, where its hardware has been installed onto the public transport system. The company claims that about 73% of the city’s bus riders are using Veniam’s free Wi-Fi. The next market for the company this year is Singapore.

And yet again Singapore is at the forefront.

Anyway. Should parks be open at night?

A couple weeks ago, it was a beautiful summer evening in Milwaukee and some friends and I decided to meet up at our favorite park to toss our light-up frisbee. It was about 9:30pm when we finally gathered, so we spent the next couple hours tossing the disc. We also spent the next couple hours keeping a constant eye out for the police. This is because all the parks in our area “close” at 10pm and it is technically illegal to be in this public space at night.

Singapore embraces new technology the disruption of existing market models - Spain on the other hand:

A month ago, Barcelona City Hall introduced a €1.3 million raft of measures to crack down on owners letting out apartments using sites like Airbnb, but without a license. The authorities set up a website and called on residents to report apartments being rented out illegally. So far, some 500 complaints have been made.

And you wondered why Europe was falling behind?

Mind you it's not just Europe with daft planning rules - here's New Zealand:

Just look at the mess in Auckland where a developer wanting to build housing for 1500 households in an old gravel pit at Three Kings, turning much of it into parks and open spaces, has bought almost a decade’s worth of objections and processes and hearings. How can anybody build anything to scale under those conditions? In the middle of a housing crisis, with daily news stories about the number of children having to live in cars with their parents because there are not enough houses to go round, NIMBY activists block new construction.

This consultation has been going on for eight years - helps explain why Auckland is one of the world's least affordable cities.

It doesn't have to be that way - here's Tokyo as an example:

As FT’s Tokyo bureau chief Robin Harding wrote in the article, the city had 142,417 housing starts in 2014, which was “more than the 83,657 housing permits issued in the state of California (population 38.7m), or the 137,010 houses started in the entire country of England (population 54.3m).” Compare this, also, with the roughly 20,000 new residential units approved annually in New York City, the 23,500 units started in Los Angeles County, and the measly 5,000 homes constructed in 2015 throughout the entire Bay Area.

And this is in a city with no empty land. This is what laissez faire planning policies get you. Take note London.


Sunday, 21 August 2016

Abolishing the Corn Laws again - the case against 'food security'

It's not every day that you read an article saying that it was a mistake to repeal the Corn Laws:

The situation created by the British vote to leave the European Union is momentous for UK food. It is on a par with the Repeal of the Corn Laws of 1846 when Britain decided its Empire could feed it, not its own farmers.

The point about the Corn Laws was that they existed for the sole reason of keeping grain prices high so as to sustain marginal British agriculture. With the expected effect of making food prices higher:

The high price caused the cost of food to increase and consequently depressed the domestic market for manufactured goods because people spent the bulk of their earnings on food rather than commodities. The Corn Laws also caused great distress among the working classes in the towns. These people were unable to grow their own food and had to pay the high prices in order to stay alive.

By opening British farmers up to competition, the repeal of the Corn Laws resulted in cheaper grain and, therefore, cheaper bread (and beer). We forget, however, that the main justification for the corn laws wasn't landowner self-interest but the belief (at the end of a long war and a series of poor harvests) that what we'd now call food security was more important than open trade. At the heart of the food security concept is the idea of self-sufficiency.

My concern is that the security of food might get lost in the debacle. The UK must not let that happen. Food stocks are low in a just-in-time economy, an estimated three to five days’ worth. The UK doesn’t feed itself. It has dropped to 61% self-sufficiency, Defra reported last month.

Now leaving aside how the UK being self-sufficient in food is compatible with membership of the EU, let's ask instead what the consequence of self-sufficiency might be - here Professor Lang's article is helpful. The consequence - a policy aim in the professor's world - will be more expensive food:

Part of the challenge now is the UK’s love of cheap food. This was the legacy of the Repeal of the Corn Laws which sought cheap food for workers. Cheapness as efficiency is still central to the neoliberal project today, as Michael Gove stated in the referendum campaign. But in food, cheapness encourages waste and makes us fat. Good diets are too expensive for the poor.

Again, we'll ignore that Professor Lang also tells us in his article that Brexit will make food more expensive, and ask instead whether there is any practical basis for deliberately making food more expensive (for there surely isn't any moral basis). We'll note the negative impact on the economy from people spending more of their income on food - a huge and unnecessary opportunity cost. The main - probably the only - case is a health one:

The researchers found that healthier diet patterns—for example, diets rich in fruits, vegetables, fish, and nuts—cost significantly more than unhealthy diets (for example, those rich in processed foods, meats, and refined grains). On average, a day’s worth of the most healthy diet patterns cost about $1.50 more per day than the least healthy ones.

The problem here is that we have to accept the premise - Diet X is healthier than Diet Y - and to agree that there is a reason for government to intervene in food pricing (for example by making grain more expensive). And to understand just how much more expensive. Plus of course, we have to agree with the researchers that the price differential is so substantial remembering that these are extreme measures - the 'most unhealthy' diet set against the 'most healthy' diet.

So instead we get food policy planning that uses the idea of 'food security', on the assumption that there is a genuine threat to the supply of food meaning that, in the worst case, we get food riots. Indeed, Professor Lang thinks these are on the way because of Brexit:

But given that the WTO rules are “the lowest common denominator” and the Codex Alimentarius is determined in meetings that are “dominated by big business and lobbies [making] the EU look like the most democratic organisation in the world”, this is far from ideal. The result would be food riots, says professor Lang.

The agricultural sector is very keen (especially the bit that actually owns the land) to get this idea of food security high up on the agenda when food is discussed. It is the biggest justification for the continuance of agricultural subsidy post-Brexit and for the sorts of high-tariff models loved by the EU, USA and Japan. We should be resisting such a model (subsidy plus tariffs) since - as we can see from the corn laws experience - the result is more expensive food acting as a drag on the economy to the benefit of a tiny proportion of the UK's population. Smaller even than you think:

Each year we’re seeing a further concentration of benefits in the hands of fewer,
larger landowners, who seem to use their subsidy cheques to buy up more land and more subsidy ­entitlements,” Jack Thurston, the co-founder of farmsubsidy.org, told the Scotsman. “Most people think farm subsidies are there to help the small guy but we’re seeing it’s quite the reverse. The bigger you are, the better your land, the more public aid you get,” he said.

So we've a system of support (as, unintentionally, Professor Lang shows) not far removed from those 19th century corn laws. We know also that the main impact of subsidy comes in raising land values meaning that those agricultural subsidies and supports are doing little or nothing to maintain food security but represent a straight transfer of money from the taxpayer to the owners of agricultural land.

We should explore whether there is a model that works rather than promising to stay in the warm bath of subsidy after we've left the EU. Perhaps starting by asking how New Zealanders can grow onions that sell in a Kentish farm shop for the same price as locally grown onions. And why those Kiwis can produce lamb, ship it to the UK, sell it for less than British producers and make a profit:

New Zealand is the largest dairy and sheep meat exporter in the world, and a major global supplier of beef, wool, kiwifruit, apples and seafood. New Zealand-grown produce feeds over 40 million people, with 7,500 animal products and 3,800 dairy products going to 100 countries every month.

All of this without any subsidy:

New Zealand agriculture is profitable without subsidies, and that means more people staying in the business. Alone among developed countries of the world, New Zealand has virtually the same percentage of its population employed in agriculture today as it did 30 years ago, and the same number of people living in rural areas as it did in 1920. Although the transition to an unsubsidized farm economy wasn’t easy, memories of the adjustment period are fading fast and today there are few critics to be found of the country’s bold move.

So ask yourself a question. Do you want the sort of protectionist, subsidy-hungry food security that sucks up over £10 billion each and every year. Or an agricultural sector that contributes to a growing and successful economy? For me food security isn't about self-sufficiency but is about diversity and choice - we're more at risk if we've only one supplier of grain than if we've 50 suppliers. Yet the advocates of policy based on food security still argue that protectionism, trade barriers and expensive food (plus rich landowners) is the way to provide that security. The argument we thought we'd won back in 1846 when those Corn Laws were scrapped is still here today and we have to make the case for open trade in food all over again.


Saturday, 20 August 2016

Scribblings II: On pubs, smoking bans, perdigree dogs, political donations and Brexit

We're back with another dose of great writing from Martin Scriblerus bloggers. I did get called out for calling it 'scribblings' - but what else could I choose! Well here we go:

There are a lot of beer bloggers who talk about beer. Old Mudgie talks about pubs and his blog is a paean to their wonders, a wistful look at the memories of pubs gone and a poke at those who get too precious about beer. Here's he looks at why old pubs just sit empty:

Assuming the building has no future as a pub, it is going to cost money to convert it to anything else, and that will need both someone willing to take it on, and planning permission. In many cases, the owners are probably hanging on to get planning permission to demolish the building and redevelop the site for something else, typically housing.

Up and down the country, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of derelict pubs that have been in that state for years, many of which are featured on my Closed Pubs blog. Fortunately there aren’t too many in Stockport, but two exceptions are the Royal Mortar on Higher Hillgate and the Bow Garrett on Brinksway, both of which must have been closed for over ten years.

Dick Puddlecote, when not running some sort of transport business, writes passionately about the fussbuckets - charmless, judgemental folk who hate us having pleasure. Here he cites a fellow 'jewel robber' (and he calls those challenging the anti-smoking, temperance and diet fanatics) and comments that:

This is what happens when you have a colossal state-funded machine which views life solely through the lens of health. Other pleasures and benefits in consuming the products in question are completely ignored, therefore the prohibitionists simply cannot comprehend the huge social and financial damage their rancid policies are causing ...

Julia has been a loud, uncompromising and essentially conservative voice in the blogging world for a long while. Here's a typical sample of her blogging as she comments of a story about a lefty who bought a pedigree dog - first the quote from the story:

"...Colleagues and friends have accused me of abandoning my longstanding centre-left principles in favour of eugenics, arrivisme and trying to suck up to the ruling classes..."


Might I suggest you find new colleagues and friends? It should be quite easy, now you have a puppy!


Mark Wadsworth is best known for writing about land value tax but he's not a one-trick pony and here's a cracking post about donations to political parties (that may or may not be a good idea):

...it has been suggested that parties should either be funded out of taxation or there should be a cap on the amount each donor can give.

I don’t think either of those two are satisfactory, and would like to suggest another alternative. Legislated anonymous donations.

Anyone wishing to donate above say £500, would have to send their cheque to the Electoral Commission nominating to whom it should go. Once a year, those donations would be passed on to the relevant party aggregated and without the names of the donors.

Raedwald's another blogger who takes few prisoners and doesn't bow to political correctness. Here he compares a map of 7th century East Anglia to the devastating effect of ice caps melting on the region:

The Indie prints a map of how East Anglia could look if the giant ice sheet did melt; it's exactly the same as the historic Anglian coastline in the 7th century.

Finally -for this week - Frank Davis compares the experience of Remain voters after Independence Day with the shock smokers like Frank got on 1 July 2007 when they were banned from pubs:

But for those who voted to remain, their experience that day was probably one of shock and dismay and disbelief. They are probably feeling something very like what we smokers experienced on 1 July 2007. For they also had just been expelled from a club in which they had come to believe that they were full members – just like smokers and their pubs. They had become exiles. Their world had been turned upside down. They are probably filled with the same disbelief and rage as many smokers were on 1 July 2007.


Friday, 19 August 2016

Friday Fungus: Squatting on Planet Mushroom

Us humans think the planet we live on is ours. A plaything gifted to us by gods filled with good things for us to use. We've colonised much of Earth, built great cities, roads, walls, canals - the world is shaped by humanity. We dominate. Or that's what we believe.

Think again. We're squatters on Planet Mushroom:

Fungi are present almost everywhere, in a spectacular array of shapes, sizes and colours, and performing a wide variety of different activities. In 1991 David Hawksworth, a mycologist at Kew estimated the world's fungal diversity at 1.5 million species (equal to the estimated number of all known other living organisms). This was thought at the time to be a radical over estimate, but now other researchers have proposed figures in excess of 13 million. Fungi perform essential roles in every terrestrial, and many aquatic, ecosystems, eg. decomposing dead organic matter to release nutrients, supporting plant life on poor soils by improving the absorption of nutrients when they form mycorrhizal associations with roots, living inside plants as endophytes and forming symbiotic partnerships with algae to form lichens. Any deterioration in fungal populations and diversity can therefore have a considerable impact on ecosystem health, in fact, the loss of lichens from an area is often used as an indication of poor air quality.

We wouldn't be here - there'd be no life - if it weren't for fungi. Plants and animals depend on fungi - without mycorrhizal symbiosis many of our tree species would die. The forests, the grass steppes and even our gardens are grown atop a network of mycelium. The grandest example of this mushroom world is Oregon's honey mushroom:

Next time you purchase white button mushrooms at the grocery store, just remember, they may be cute and bite-size but they have a relative out west that occupies some 2,384 acres (965 hectares) of soil in Oregon's Blue Mountains. Put another way, this humongous fungus would encompass 1,665 football fields, or nearly four square miles (10 square kilometers) of turf.

The discovery of this giant Armillaria ostoyae in 1998 heralded a new record holder for the title of the world's largest known organism, believed by most to be the 110-foot- (33.5-meter-) long, 200-ton blue whale. Based on its current growth rate, the fungus is estimated to be 2,400 years old but could be as ancient as 8,650 years, which would earn it a place among the oldest living organisms as well.

We have a pretty negative relationship with our mushroom masters - they cause disease, they rot things, they poison us and are a symbol of dark, unpleasant places. If you set a google alert for fungi, you'll get a pile of stories about fungal infections complete with gory detail and hard-to-look-at pictures. Plus stories about how bats, frogs and bananas are heading for extinction - destroyed by fungi.

But then without fungi there's no bread and no beer, no blue cheese and your salami rots. Wherever we look, inside and outside, there are members of the fungal kingdom - molds, lichens, yeasts and mushrooms. They are the dominant and most significant lifeform on the planet, they clean stuff up, cure illness and keep plants alive. They even help store carbon:

"Natural fluxes of carbon between the land and atmosphere are enormous and play a crucial role in regulating the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and, in turn, Earth's climate," said Colin Averill, lead author on the study and graduate student in the College of Natural Sciences at UT Austin. "This analysis clearly establishes that the different types of symbiotic fungi that colonize plant roots exert major control on the global carbon cycle, which has not been fully appreciated or demonstrated until now."

We truly are living in a world filled with fungi yet we know so little about them and treat the presence of this great kingdom as something to be fought against rather than something to be understood. Sadly there are no undergraduate courses in mycology and precious few postgraduate courses (mostly medical mycology - pretty damned important given the issues with antibiotics). With the result that we're literally running out of mycologists.

Here we are squatting on Planet Mushroom and we know next to nothing about our kindly hosts!


Thursday, 18 August 2016

Baby Boomers - living out the great binge!

The human race has not devised any way of dissolving barriers, getting to know the other chap fast, breaking the ice, that is one-tenth as handy and efficient as letting you and the other chap, or chaps, cease to be totally sober at about the same rate in agreeable surroundings.
So said Kingsley Amis and for once he was right. Yet we're collapsing again into the stew of temperance by allowing the obsession with living forever to dictate to those who make the rules. And it seems that us Baby Boomers are the last bastions of sense and decency - OK call it hedonism - in this world. We created the great binge!

Between 1992 and 2006, the average weekly alcohol consumption for people aged 45–64 (capturing the majority of baby boomers) rose by 85%, compared with a 50% rise in those aged 65 and over, and a 45% rise in those aged 16–24. As baby boomers have aged, follow-up studies with this cohort reveal similar findings. Between 2005 and 2013, the percentage of men drinking eight or more units of alcohol (the equivalent of four pints of normal strength beer) on any one day in the past week changed by only 5% in the over 65s. In contrast, this rate of drinking fell by 30% among 16–24s, 19% among 22–44s, and 12% among those aged 45–64.

They hate us for this those New Puritans with their temperance.  The cult of the NHS demands that any health problem that might be seen as 'self-inflicted' must be dealt with. Drinking, smoking, eating too many burgers - these things are not to be tolerated. And when you or I respond with "it's none of your business", the fanatics from the Church of Public Health peer down at you and say: "but it is, think of the cost to the NHS". The argument is closed, action must be taken to stop us from enjoying ourselves by drinking just a little more than they think we should. For some - egged on by the old temperance lobby - even the merest drop of the demon drink will lead to perdition and doom (defined these days as a 'cost to the NHS').

The latest in a long line of misperceptions is that we - the baby boomers that is - don't understand that boozing carries health risks:

Trying to change baby boomers’ behaviour and attitudes towards drinking and drug use is a tough sell to a generation now steeped in lifelong attitudes shaped by a lack of awareness of the harms of alcohol and substance misuse.

This is, of course, utter claptrap. Of course we know it's bad for us, it's just that we're happy with the trade-off implied by hedonism. We're no more victims of advertising than smokers or kids wanting sweets. If not drinking now means we live longer - maybe - can we be so sure that extra bit of life will be a pleasure too? Or will it be an uncomfortable, perhaps painful, few months dribbling slowly to death in a nursing home? Us boomers look around at our friends and neighbours and decide to live for now rather than for some possible future.

There's another aspect of this claptrap. All this high octane living doesn't seem to be killing us off (rock stars aside and even there most aren't dropping dead). The pubs are filled with people in their 60s and 70s living happy and fulfilling lives. Look down the seats on your holiday flight and check out all those boomers spending the kids inheritance on cooking themselves in the Spanish sun (skin cancer - bring it on) and meandering round Florence, Prague and Madrid lapping up the culture (plus the food and wine, of course).

For the po-faced, narrow-minded, judgemental folk at the Church of Public Health all this won't do at all. We (the Boomers that is) need to be stopped because we're killing ourselves and worse still, we're setting a bad example to the young. Think of the children! So they agitate for advertising bans, for higher taxes, for distribution controls, for watering down the beer, and for draconian licensing regulations. Only when we've been nudged with a large baseball bat into cutting down our boozing will these zealots be happy.

The problem is that we aren't budging. Why the hell should we forgo pleasure now for the sake of an uncertain future. We don't want to die but we do at least recognise that this is going to happen, that we aren't going to live forever. So in the diminishing years left to us, why shouldn't we drink and eat for pleasure? Don't expect us to limit our drinking to a couple of pints on a night out and our eating to a fat-free, salt-free, sugar-free, meat-free, taste-free, overcooked pap. We're not going to do this and the more you nanny us the louder we'll get and the ruder we'll get about the fussbucketry of public health. If they want to live a stressful, dull life without pleasure that's fine by me but, for the rest of us, hedonism rocks. We started the great binge and boy do we intend to finish it!

Monday, 15 August 2016

Foucault's Truth - or why most public heath spending is a waste of money

I don't like what's called public health very much. Not because I think there are no environmental contributors to poor health but because what we now call public health isn't about removing things like pollution, exterminating disease-carrying vermin or making the air more breathable. It's about adopting the view that, because government funds healthcare, you have fewer rights over what you consume.

Yesterday I clicked through to a more-or-less incomprehensible blog post written (I think) by a chap called Robert Dalziel*. The post is titled "Nudge, Nudge, Public Health England and Behaviour Change" so is positioned right at the heart of what ought to be the public health debate. It even quotes a critical review of Thaler and Sunstein's 'Nudge':

Though costumed in the guise of pop economics, complete with a cute logo – Nudge is, in fact, a manifesto for the new paternalism… don’t be fooled.

So far, so good. We've a critique of nudge - what I call the sledgehammer approach to implementing behaviour insights - and the hope that the writer is going to reject such paternalism, cast aside the nannying fussbucketry of today's public health, and return the idea to its roots in making our environment more healthy. Sadly, this appears not to be the case:

So what is ‘dispiriting’ you and me Mark is an ostensibly ’arms length’ PHE resourcing and implementing a paternalistic libertarian approach to health improvement driven by the Behavioural Insights Team based on nudge theory and clearly supported by senior Tory politicians and Civil Servants.

Our writer's objection isn't a liberal objection to 'nudge' but is a belief that it's all a cunning Tory plan to undermine what's described in the previous paragraph as an "old-fashioned finger wagging approach to health behaviour change". The unmentioned issue here is the familiar one of more intervention - more bans, more taxes, more compulsion, more mandatory lessons in schools, more forced diets, more 'othering' of people who make the 'wrong' choices. All wrapped up in the cuddly pseudo-sciences of psychology, sociology and ethnography. The sneering use of the word 'libertarian' is a classic illustration of the author's ideological baggage.

This is further illustrated by the author's quoting of Foucault as his philosopher of choice:

“predicated on our societal regime of truth, the types of discourse it accepts and makes function as true; the mechanisms and instances that enable one to distinguish true and false statements; the means by which each is sanctioned; the techniques and procedures accorded value in the acquisition of truth; the status of those who are charged with saying what counts as true.”

Strip away the flash language and we have a definition of relativism. Truth isn't defined by scientific equiry but is determined by society and those who have the status to say what is true. Suffice it to say that you can't - as this author does - criticise others for using 'policy driven evidence' rather than 'evidence driven practice' and then use a post-structuralist philosopher as the supposed source of your ideology. The whole point about Foucault is that truth is defined by the prevailing ideology not vice versa - he says change the ideology not change the truth.

Looking at this, however, and we can see yet again that real scientific evidence is of no consequence to much of public decision-making in health (nudge theory, for all that I find it morally dubious, at least has the merit of some practical scientific basis). As I wrote the other day ideology - the received wisdom - is everything and no evidence that challenges this orthodoxy can be admitted:

The limited evidence we actually received was ignored in favour of signalling that we are "doing something" about obesity. This is despite that "something" being a strategy based on things like planning controls over fast food takeaways, fussing about portion sizes in restaurants and promoting inadequate dinners for primary school children. None of which ideas has any evidence demonstrating its effectiveness in reducing rates of obesity.

Put bluntly, we will (well not me but a majority of the Health & Wellbeing Board) agree to waste over £2 million of public money every year just to indulge an ideological, all-population approach to obesity that isn't justified by the data or supported by evidence. And if this is repeated across England that probably means over £200 million of your and my taxes spend to indulge the ignorant ideological vanity of public health.

When you strip public health back to its basic objectives, we're really left with one fundamental truth: the richer the society the better the health outcomes and the lower the health inequalities. Therefore, the right way to improve those health outcomes isn't nannying the hell out of us about smoking, drinking, bad sex and too many burgers but to invest in those things that make society richer. Suffice it to say that current public health spending (by local government especially) does not contribute to making us richer and is probably a complete waste of money.

I'll grant you a case for looking to improve things such as air quality and providing the means to respond to epidemics (although you'll note that epidemics are also much rarer in richer societies). Everything else. All of it. The last scrap of that nagging about salt, fussing about fags, bothering about booze and flapping about fat or sugar - all the 'interventions' beloved of the fussbuckets who make up public health. It is a waste of money.


*The post is on Mark Gamsu's blog but it's clear it's a guest posting.