Monday 9 July 2012

No slippery slopes, nothing to see here

Never a slippery slope to be found.
The Health Select Committee, which is to hold an inquiry into the UK Government’s recently published alcohol strategy, will look into a series of proposals including plain packaging for alcohol sold in shops, similar to a plan being considered for cigarette packets. Yesterday MPs were warned that removing well-known trademark images such as Johnnie Walker’s striding man and the Famous Grouse on bottles, could damage the Scotch whisky industry, which is worth £4 billion in exports alone. Labelling of alcoholic products is currently reserved to the UK Government, which means that if Westminster eventually agreed a ban it would affect shops and products across the whole of the UK, including Scotland. It would hit all parts of the alcohol industry, but whisky producers believe it would be particularly damaging for them.
Chris Snowdon helpfully points to assurances that they're not planning plain packaging for food.

As I'd said a couple years ago, in a different context:
I always find it depressing how folks like NORML think beating up on alcohol makes marijuana legalization more likely rather than just making for tighter regs. The hospitality industry lobbies for more restrictions on supermarket-bought alcohol to boost sales in bars; small brewers push for more punitive tax rates on big brewers... the only winners are the healthists who get support bit by bit for more regulations on everything. It's like a bunch of folks on the scaffolds complaining that the other guy's noose isn't quite tight enough. Y'all might instead direct your attention to the hangman sometime and try helping each other cut those ropes.


  1. Though there is a valuable thought-experiment in asking: what would be the welfare consequences of banning non-plain packaging from all retail goods?

  2. As someone currently in the market for a rather expensive bottle of peaty, maltly goodness, I can confirm this is the point at which I'd begin rioting in the streets.

  3. Agree. There is something nastily Marxist about trying to
    Part of the pleasure of collecting scotch is the distinctive bottles and labelling. Like many other consumer products, their design is a work of art. There is something nastily totalitarian about mandating bland, plain packaging; something that unites fictional dystopias (Victory gin anyone?) with real life ones (CCCP, nyet?)
    (btw, Ardbeg is my favourite in the highly-peaty category. A good malt for cold winter nights).

  4. Eric: Totally agree. My understanding (I'm not a logician), is that a "slippery slope" is an "informal" (rather than formal logical fallacy), and is only a fallacy because it conceals unstated premises, and the unstated premises ignore a limiting principle. But here there isn't really a limiting principle: once the healthists have established the rule that a certain type of intervention is legitimate in reducing demand for certain "demerit goods" (regardless of whether it causes genuine externalities) they will expand it to the other demerit goods. Other than simple inertia, there is no limiting principle.
    Re NORML/alochol infighting: as Lenin is apocryphally said to have quipped "the capitalists will vie with one another to hang the rope with which they will be hanged."
    @James: good point; but the healthists don't really care about the utility of the proles as much as they care about their own goals.

  5. Hard to
    know what effect plain packaging would have, but it seems fairly certain that big fat
    taxes will lower consumption. We New Zealand are now on the way to pricing
    tobacco to a
    cruel rate on those still addicted. This price
    business on undesirable products is outside Eric’s current post but familiar to
    his other posts. .... Apparently that there is compelling evidence that an increase
    the price will reduce demand, even with addictive
    Thailand wine attracts a much higher tax than whisky or beer. You only rarely see wine in the little eating
    houses,and the street
    tables, but lots of whisky for the drinkers who need a better kick than beer can give. The cost of say a Wolf Blass Cabernet will be about 800 to 1000 baht in the wine shop, and alongside it a reasonable whisky at the same price. So it's at the
    higher end restaurants and hotels you will see wine on the tables.
    constant pressure in New Zealand I can easily see soon that alcohol will
    attract big tax, and I
    say big fat taxes because if cigarettes why not alcohol, and then why not
    sugar, and why not coke. ... Now, I was a
    drongo before and elsewhere in Eric’s
    columns when I said we should rub out Doug Sellman [his ideas] because they are coming at us.
    The health police are here now . And Parsnips
    have a high glycaemic index, so why not parsnips also.

    While we
    are at it how long will it be before airlines weigh you and your travel baggage together. Total weight= X. Cost =Y Here is
    your ticket with plain markings, policy in small writing,no advertising, please do not blame Emirates.
    And also
    Insurance companies. Age =X, Weight=Y blood pressure = Z drinks
    alcohol = No Life insurance high risk, Live in
    Christchurch = sorry no home insurance
    either .
    Here is your plain unwrapped paper no
    insurance policy, don’t blame us, it’s the American bankers stupid

  6. Eric, and readers, I am sorry.
    When I cut and paste a word file across. it goes all over the place. Even when I try to edit afterwards inside the box given. From now I will re write from the word file.
    I want to post from a word file , because that way I can run the stupidity, arrogance,,blaspheme filter over it before posting

  7. Ok, now I better understand why you're having problems with Disqus. I always just do stuff up in the comment window, and the comment window expands as I type. I don't know how common the "past into comments window" technique is. But if lots of folks are doing it, then that's a strike against Disqus.

  8. It doesn't bother me as much if insurers want to get more details on the folks they're insuring - at least you get to choose among insurers, so if one is being obtuse, then they'll lose out in the market. Governments don't face that same constraint. Agreed that people respond to prices. It's just that harmful drinkers don't respond very much relative to others.

  9. Snowdon is excellent.

  10. First cut answer: branding is one mechanism that helps solve asymmetric information problems around product quality and reliability. The temptation of one-off gains by eroding quality in the short term are diminished to the extent that reputation attaches to brands. Plain packaging erodes the effects of brands. So we'd expect lower quality overall and more problems with standard consumer protection issues.

  11. _Repo Man_ was more prophetic than I gave it credit for being.

  12. Thanks for the tip - It's currently a toss-up between Ardbeg and Laphroaig. Local Wine Store has Ardbeg so will probably go with that.