Friday, 29 November 2013

Slippery slopes: Gareth Morgan edition

Slippery slopes are only a logical fallacy if you don't have a plausible mechanism by which the move to A makes B more likely, and how that then in turn makes C more likely. If you have a mechanism, and if you have repeated real world observations consistent with the theory, it's not a fallacy. It should be the new null unless there's some better theory explaining the data.

A few years ago Chris Snowdon documented the repeated calls from anti-tobacco campaigners claiming that any invocation of that restrictions on tobacco would beget restrictions on other things.

A few plausible mechanisms by which restrictions on one product beget restrictions on another:
  • Public health campaigners move on to the next target down the line as grant funding on past targets dries up.
  • Marginal cost of extending a control mechanism to a new domain is lower than establishing it in the first place so it is likely that when it starts, it will extend.
  • Where the public would oppose the full suite of controls if offered at one go, they're less likely to oppose many small steps leading to the same goal. So if you want to ban tobacco and it is 1978 you only ask for voluntary non-smoking sections as a sensible moderate position. Then mandatory ones. Then smokefree restaurants and public buildings. Then smokefree anywhere a kid might be. Then Smokefree NZ by 2025. Anti alcohol campaigners have already started talking about a .03 BAC limit.
I don't think it is nuts to believe that public health campaigners want far more control over our consumption decisions than they're letting on. It's consistent with the evidence of incremental ratcheted increases in control over each product, and extensions of controls from one product to another.

In today's edition, Gareth Morgan continues his campaign to leave no shark unjumped.* After a few reasonable suggestions for addressing obesity, like teaching basic cooking skills in school, we get:
  • Bans on junk food advertising to kids;
  • Zoning regs on placement of "junk food outlets"
  • Regulating transfat and salt content
  • Tax junk food, subsidise healthy food
  • Stigmatize "junk food". What does that mean?
    This is the hard part. Like smoking, we have to be careful not to target the addicts who have been sucked in by marketing. The same goes for the overweight who may well be the victims of their own genes and upbringing. Instead we have to work against the tide of marketing and make eating fake food uncool. The watershed in the cultural war against smoking was probably banning it in pubs sending smokers outside to satiate their addiction. This stripped smoking of the sheen it had when front and centre on the movie screen.

    Right now, eating unhealthy food is the easy choice. That needs to be flipped on its head. We’ll need to change fundamental things from fundraisers to rewarding good behaviour in our kids. Sausage sizzles and selling chocolate bars for a school trip, even free treats in airline lounges will all one day be shown up for they are – cheap and nasty ways to feed an addiction.

    Of course, such a plan will take time and political will to implement. However action is needed, otherwise we truly are facing a zombie apocalypse of diabetes sufferers hitting our hospitals over the next two decades.
Emphasis added above.

Modeled on anti-smoking efforts?
Fake food now kills as many people as cigarettes, and it is time to apply the same solutions as we did to that problem. There is a tried and tested formula to crack this problem – education, regulation, taxation and stigmatisation.
A month or two ago, I tweeted wondering when Otago was going to call for bans on sausage sizzles. Instead the call comes from an economist.




  1. That doesn't go far enough. All meat should be banned - it's unhealthy for us and even unhealthier for the animals.

    And we have to wean off dairy products! How would you like someone pulling your tit?

  2. You need not look very far to see the glaring examples how these public health zealots will move to others to victimize as has Robert Lustig (buddy of Stanley Glantz) in his CSPAN lecture, "Sugar Pandemic":