39 comments on “Questions in the Observer we can answer

  1. Progressivism (as opposed to Old Socialism) is predicated on the impoverishment of the poor to prevent them harming themselves morally by indulgence. The ideal is that everyone have enough to live a simple, moral life, but not enough to enjoy themselves with. It’s basically the quest to put everyone on a kind of Ricardian subsistence income.

    Persons of superior moral character- the Elect- on the other hand should be extravagantly rewarded for their contribution to the public moral good, examples being Guardian writers, social activists, etc.

  2. The health secretary’s tardiness in tackling childhood obesity is shameful

    And yet, if he went around poking random fat kids in the belly, making insulting (whomp!) (whomp!) (whomp!) noises when they walk past, and taunting them as “fatty boom-booms” then laughing uproariously at their sweet, buttery tears… Barbara Ellen would be calling him a complete Jeremy Hunt.

    The Thick Of It was right. Government ministers can’t win.

    Sugar doesn’t make children fat. There was no such thing as childhood obesity when I was a lad, and we gorged ourselves sick on sweeties and cheap off-brand cola. When we ran out of sweeties we’d nick rhubarb from someone’s garden, dip it into a bag of Tate & Lyle, and mainline some more sugar.

    The difference nowadays is that children have ipads and televisions and playstations and parents who are scared shitless of paedophiles, so they don’t go out to play any more.

    They’re a generation of shut-ins who don’t know the freedom of roaming the streets with your mates without a helicopter parent hovering fussily overhead.

    No more playing football in the park till dusk, following the river just to find out where it goes, climbing trees and collecting knee scrapes and conkers.

    No wonder students these days are little sissies who’re offended by everything.

    It’s sad.

  3. Progressivism (as opposed to Old Socialism) is predicated on the impoverishment of the poor…

    Socialism in action is everywhere and all times predicated on a lower standard of living.

  4. Theo-

    That’s the inevitable result of economic socialism, but not the intention. The Proggies on the other hand actively seek to impoverish, rather than it being an unintended consequence.

  5. Are we certain that food prices are elastic? Food had crashed in price relative to incomes in the last few decades, yet we don’t eat significantly more than we used to.

    I doubt this thoroughly-illiberal proposal would even work.

  6. @Steve
    “And yet, if he went around poking random fat kids in the belly, making insulting (whomp!) (whomp!) (whomp!) noises when they walk past, and taunting them as “fatty boom-booms” then laughing uproariously at their sweet, buttery tears….”

    Do you not remember the fuss when schools sent home letters telling the parents their little butterballs were obese?

    As an aside, I’m still puzzling about the health visitor who told me my son (aged 2.5) would be obese “if he wasn’t so tall”.

    I was sorely tempted to suggest that she’d be slim if she was seven feet tall…

  7. As an aside, I’m still puzzling about the health visitor who told me my son (aged 2.5) would be obese “if he wasn’t so tall”.

    Presumably she didn’t realise that a ‘high’ BMI reading was more likely because he was “so tall”?

  8. “Why is Jeremy Hunt running scared of a sugar tax?”

    I think a better question is why The Guardian and all the other Progressive lunatics have been swept up in an absurd moral panic generated by obvious cranks?

  9. John – “I was sorely tempted to suggest that she’d be slim if she was seven feet tall…”

    That would have been epic. The verbal equivalent of King Leonaidas kicking that Persian emissary into a bottomless pit.

  10. “No more playing football in the park till dusk, following the river just to find out where it goes, climbing trees and collecting knee scrapes and conkers.”

    Indeed. As I remember my school days, 1960s and early ’70s, there was always at least one child in each year group with or in a plaster caste and numerous others with all sorts of bandages and plasters on the rest of the body. I was usually among the walking wounded.

  11. P.S. I’m so old that I can remember when The Observer was a decent newspaper. The idea that a paper could be both left-wing and worth reading seems very exotic now.

  12. Blue Eyes
    “Are we certain that food prices are elastic? Food had crashed in price relative to incomes in the last few decades, yet we don’t eat significantly more than we used to”

    This is looking at the wrong data point, whatever the demerits or merits of a sugar tax.

    There aren’t many alternatives (substitutes) to food qua food. A man’s gotta eat, women and children too. Food as a category is likely pretty inelastic on that score alone.

    But there can still be cross-price elasticity of one subcategory of food vs another. If not, the face of retail would be quite different. This isn’t specifically a food issue – broad categories can very often be inelastic even though their subcategories are quite elastic, because the subcategories can be substitutes for one another.

    Suppose you could split food into “sugary” and “healthy” categories. There is nothing economically insane about the claim that higher tax on the sugary category will reduce consumption of sugar and increase consumption of healthy food … the madness really lies in the original supposition that food lies on a spectrum of “sugary” to “healthy” and doesn’t also look at broader lifestyle factors.

  13. One could be cynical and suggest the government doesn’t favour a sugar tax because demand for it is elastic. Revenue would fall.

    However, fat and sugar taxes around the world consistently demonstrate that the demand is inelastic. People keep on consuming. This confuses the Progressive Hive Mind which believes that to ban or to tax something is to solve it. Then again, they will be funded by tax revenues so there’s a silver lining for them.

  14. The madness is in buying into the idea that it’s a government’s job to force people to be “healthy”.

  15. interesting… so they’re also going to tax bread, potatoes, pasta, rice, ….? Those are very much made of sugar..

  16. Grikath, indeed indeed. Some blame the “low fat” movement’s encouragement of pasta etc
    for the fatness epidemic.

    People already know that pizza, paninis etc. are “unhealthy” foods; whacking a bit of extra tax on them won’t make the slightest bit of difference. Do people eat fewer puddings when they eat out, due to the cost?

  17. Two points:

    a) What Steve said, plus the fact that everyone lives in centrally heated houses nowadays, usually turned up to one notch below bacon grilling temperature. When I was growing up my bedroom was freezing cold (literally – ice would form on a glass of water in cold weather) as were most of the rooms of the house, apart from the two with actual heat sources in them. We shivered a lot, meaning a lot of calories were being consumed just existing.

    b) Watching my Father in a hospital struggling with the problems of a knackered body, having been kept alive by modern medical technology at times in the past when he would have died, leads me to think that living a long time is hardly a good idea. The body wears out by about 80, far better to eat all the food and drink/drugs/tobacco you like during your healthier years and then keel over from a massive coronary or cancer aged 65-70 (no resuscitation thank you) while you still have the majority of your faculties. What is the point of keeping people alive longer if their quality of life is utter shit?

  18. Jim. One could argue that by charging vat at the lower rate on home fuel, the government is doing more to contribute to the “obesity epidemic” than anyone else.

    One government or another will eventually cave in to calls for a sugar tax it’s inevitable, then the sjws can mount a campaign against bourgeois central heating.

  19. Consensus Action on Fruit is coming. “There is no safe level of fruit”, etc. Fruit is a toxin. A Fruit Tax.

    Nothing is too mad to become reality these days.

  20. @Rob

    One could be cynical and suggest the government doesn’t favour a sugar tax because demand for it is elastic. Revenue would fall.

    Hardly cynical. Surely it is the exact truth. Once they’d got massive taxes on tobacco accepted even by smokers, the rest was certain to follow. Demand for tobacco, alcohol, petrol, energy in general, sugar, is very inelastic, and so there is first a campaign of demonisation, to put them in the same category as cigarettes, and then the taxes go up and up

    Tobacco is certainly unhealthy for the smoker, and unpleasant for those around him, probably not as much as we keep being told, but it is, but alcohol has a very important social function, petrol literally drives the modern world, and sugar and salt make the body work. These things are taxed precisely because people don’t, indeed can’t, stop buying them just because the price is artificially, ridiculously high.

  21. “keel over from a massive coronary … aged 65-70”: I’m sorry to have to tell you that the rate of heart attacks has plummeted since about 1970. (Nobody knows why, though lots of people are keen to claim credit.)

  22. IanB

    “…but not the intention.”

    You are wrong about that, as about so much else. Like Kim il dingbat today, both Stalin and Mao knew that their policies would impoverish their people. See Robert Service’s ‘Comrades – a world history of Communism’

  23. Theo, have you ever tried being polite, you twat?

    I wasn’t referring to specific communists, or communists at all in fact (socialism, I said), but the ideals of socialism. We all know how the implementation always goes, and what kind of people end up in charge of it.

    Now you run along and plan your next vote for a party who are gearing up to impoverish everyone a bit more with a Cake Tax, have ruthlessly pursued impoverishing the poorest with mass immigration, and give away £12 billion every year, ring-fenced, to left-wing NGOs committed to impoverishing the rest of the world with Green anti-capitalist policies.

  24. “Theo, have you ever tried being polite, you twat?”

    That suggests a Murphy-like lack of self-awareness on your part.

    “I wasn’t referring to specific communists, or communists at all in fact (socialism, I said), but the ideals of socialism.”

    Be honest, you don’t know what you were referring to. The ideals of communism and socialism generally focus on ‘liberating’ the proletariat from ‘exploitation’, regardless of impoverishment. And our tiresome modern day progressives want to improve, not impoverish, the lives of the proles.

  25. That suggests a Murphy-like lack of self-awareness on your part.

    That suggests a Murphy-like lack of understanding of humour on your part.

    Compare, “Pretentious? Moi?”.

    The stated intention of socialism, and indeed communism, is to improve the economic conditions of the proletariat, by ending exploitation (Marx’s entire theory is predicated on this).

    Progressives’ definition of “improvement” is moral improvement, which having a puritan basis is predicated on denying the proles access to corrupting luxuries. To quote Lord Leverhulme, founder of the model village Port Sunlight regarding his “profit sharing” scheme in which he actually spent the shares on their behalf rather than give them the money-

    It would not do you much good if you send it down your throats in the form of bottles of whisky, bags of sweets, or fat geese at Christmas. On the other hand, if you leave the money with me, I shall use it to provide for you everything that makes life pleasant – nice houses, comfortable homes, and healthy recreation.

    The Progressive nation is Port Sunlight on a national scale, basically.

  26. Blue eyes

    If bottled water was a perfect substitute for tap water it would indeed have a very different market than it does today. But it isn’t so it doesn’t. (I say that as someone who just refills bottles with tap water.)

    The idea that subcategories tend to be more elastic than their supercategories is not particularly difficult or controversial a point – it is in the A-level economics syllabus still, if I recall correctly.

  27. Ian>

    “The Progressive nation is Port Sunlight on a national scale, basically.”

    With one crucial difference: participation in Port Sunlight was voluntary.

    What’s really interesting about that project is the degree to which having someone like Lord Lever in charge actually changed the personal utility functions of the workers.

  28. “The stated intention of socialism, and indeed communism, is to improve the economic conditions of the proletariat, by ending exploitation (Marx’s entire theory is predicated on this).”

    Marx, yes; Lenin onwards, no – then the aim is to end capitalist exploitation, whatever the cost, and to make production moral.

    “Progressives’ definition of “improvement” is moral improvement, which having a puritan basis is predicated on denying the proles access to corrupting luxuries.”

    Some progressives, but not all – not even most. Your confirmation bias is showing again.

  29. Dave-

    On the other hand, we don’t know how much Port Sunlight attracted (and held onto) a particular type of person who it suited temperamentally.

    Theo-

    My intention in describing Socialism was not to disagree with how you see it, but its theoretical intention and focus. I’m just trying to draw a distinction between Socialism, an economic theory, and Progressivism, which is morally predicated.

    My contention is that Socialism attempts to improve the economic conditions of society, whereas Progressivism seeks to improve the moral character of society. Hence the current tsunami of morality stifling us (sexism, racism, homophobia, transphobia, environmentalism, public “health” and so on).

  30. @MBE

    “If bottled water was a perfect substitute for tap water it would indeed have a very different market than it does today. But it isn’t so it doesn’t. (I say that as someone who just refills bottles with tap water.)”

    My wife does that: she sees the price of a bottle of water as being a cheap water bottle plus a convenience charge for it coming pre filled.

    Actually assuming the specific kind of water inside it is any better or any worse than any other brand is surely daft.

  31. Politics.
    First, urinate on the other guy.
    Then ignore what he/she said
    Then ignore the facts.

    Easy life.

  32. I think a tax on sugar is a good idea: better to tax things which are not good for people .Like out of control land price inflation. PS Ricardian subsistence, mentioned by Ian B at outset, is the result of rent capturing profits and wages .Land prices rule; not socialists; not capitalists.

  33. IanB

    Socialism and Marxism are moral theories. Have you missed the moralising in Marx’s denunciations of capitalism? Marx can sound like an Old Testament prophet. So, I’m afraid your distinction between socialism/marxism and progressivism doesn’t work because both are moral theories. Indeed, I suspect all economic theories make some unspoken ethical presuppositions.

  34. To avoid substitution any serious sugar tax would need to also cover other sweet products e.g. honey.

    I can just see the reaction to a honey tax from environmentalist (scared of having fewer bees) and farmers (needing bees to pollinate crops). Hardly your usual bedfellows.

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