Friday 16 December 2016

Different strokes for different folks

Yesterday, the Initiative's excellent policy analyst Jenesa Jeram squared off against the Ministry of Health's superb health economist Sarah Hogan for a fun Christmas debate for the Government Economics Network. The moot? "New Zealand needs a sugar tax to protect us from Christmas excesses".

The positions were assigned by the hosts; Sarah had to argue the case for a sugar tax. She did as good a job in doing so as is really possible, given the inherent indefensibility of the thing. And Jenesa's case against was very good as well. I really liked the introduction; one of our hosts suggested that the moot should have been "New Zealand needs a sugar tax like it needs a hole in the head."

I was less enthralled with one Wellington sugar-tax campaigner [lousy Chatham House rules] who zipped in at the end, not having caught the presentations properly, to ask Jenesa whether she were 'totally cool' with high diabetes rates since she argued against a sugar tax. Where a sugar tax has tiny effects on consumption, one can both not like diabetes and think that a sugar tax is a bad idea, as Jenesa pointed out to him more kindly than I'd have been tempted to in her place.

The attendees at the debate voted at the end to reject the moot (and so to reject a sugar tax) by about a 2:1 margin; Sarah won for best presentation - she did do an excellent job in presenting the far more difficult case. I had urged Jenesa to follow the example set by MoH economist Bronwyn Croxson when she debated against me on the merits of Christmas full-stop: she plied the audience with chocolate-covered almonds. Unfortunately, Jenesa's scruples are too binding for such things.

As I clear through the browser tabs at the end of the week, here's the New York Times with a reminder against One Big Thing approaches to obesity. Different diets work for different people - obesity and its treatment can be rather person-specific. Some can have massive success with one diet, which does nothing at all for somebody else, and appetite-suppressing drugs can also work for some people too.

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