Published on 29 Dec 2014
Our nation’s control freaks got even freakier in 2014 – from jetpacks to parking apps, eco-ATMs and powdered alcohol, they were determined to kill anything cutting edge.
They targeted everything from dogs in parks to births at home, and they’ll sic cops on you for hoarding or smelling bad. You might even get busted for doing things that are legal–like vaping while driving, warning motorists about speed traps, or putting up Christmas lights.
And whether it’s yanking chocolate milk, boogie boards, homemade libraries or sunscreen(?!), the control freaks are (all together now!): Doing it for the children.
It’s fitting, then, that 2014’s Nanny of the Year recipients justified their power grab on the same grounds (although the real reason may have more to do with protecting city officials from future caught-on-tape embarrassments).
Check out how one cop’s rant (“Obama has decimated the friggin’ Constitution”) embarrassed a city council into taking home this year’s top dishonors!
December 29, 2014
November 20, 2014
In The Federalist, Rachel Lu says that Neanderthals were better at parenting than modern humans:
Is it just me, or has the world gone completely crazy when it comes to childrearing?
You know what I’m talking about. Once upon a time, people expected to get married in early adulthood and have kids at reasonable intervals. Parents stayed married and paid the bills, while kids played in front yards and freely opened sidewalk lemonade stands. Children fit naturally into the rhythm of American life.
Nowadays, we treat children like a deathly plague, unless of course you’ve decided you want one. Then they become a luxury good worth tens or even hundreds of thousands. Once acquired, they must be treated like prize poodles, feted and protected at every turn.
The traditional family model has largely been put through the shredder, much to the detriment of children. We try to make up for this by hovering over our kids every second, and sending the police after parents who still think it’s fine to take their grandparents’ more laid-back, “let the kids play” approach.
In other words, our ideas about family are a huge, hairy mess. It’s strange we would have so much trouble figuring out a thing that’s been done since Neanderthal times. Then again, maybe that’s the real problem. Unlike Neanderthals, we’re obsessed with figuring out how to do this. We’ve fought tooth and nail to free ourselves from the natural implications of our biology and, as a reward, we now have to plan every detail of family formation. There’s no taking comfort in “the done thing” anymore. Parenthood today is all about doing it right.
November 12, 2014
In The Federalist, Daniel Payne explains what the food nannies really mean by the term “national food policy”:
In the past I have used the term “food system” as shorthand for the industrial paradigm of food production, but for Bittman et al. to talk about the “food system” in such a way exposes it for the ridiculous concept it really is. There is no “food system,” not in the sense of a truly unified body of fully interdependent constituent parts: the “food system” is actually composed of millions of individuals acting privately and voluntarily, in different cities, counties, and states, as part of different companies and corporations and individual businesses, in elective concert with each other and with the rest of the world. To speak if it as a single “system” is deeply misguided, at least insofar as it is not a single entity but an endlessly complex patchwork of fully autonomous beings.
Thus when the authors write about “align[ing] agricultural policies,” they are not speaking in some ill-defined abstract about government policy; they are talking about forcing actual farmers to grow and do things the authors want. When they write of the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Agriculture monitoring “food production,” they are actually advocating that these federal agencies go after and punish people who are not farming in the way the authors want them to farm — and all this without Congress having passed a single law.
The authors are advocating, in other words, for a kind of executive dictatorship over the nation’s farmers, farms, and food supply. While it is unsurprising that they would use this dictatorship to attack the people who grow the food, it is also undeniable that this “national food policy” would target consumers as well. Such a “food system” cannot exist, after all, without people who are willing to purchase and consume its products.
The authors are not merely fed up with their big agribusiness boogeymen; they are also fed up with you for buying agribusiness products, and they want to use the government to make you stop. That you have broken no laws now, and will have broken no laws even after this “policy” goes into effect, is immaterial. They wish for the government to boss you around simply because your shopping purchases displease them. That they are too cowardly to come right out and say so is very telling of who they are—as men, and as advocates of the “public health.” Shame on them for being too spineless to tell the truth of their motives.
November 10, 2014
Patrick Basham on the nanny staters’ need to nag us about our food choices, even though most of their efforts are counter-productive:
Calorie counts on menus and menu boards are the food police’s unsubtle attempt to educate us into making ‘better’ choices. Most of us neither need nor appreciate this bureaucratic nudge.
In America, such mandates are included in the Affordable Care Act (‘Obamacare’) that kicked in this year. So, national restaurant chains are now required to disclose calorie counts in their menus. And three years ago in the UK, then-health secretary Andrew Lansley asked restaurants to ‘voluntarily’ label food with calorie counts.
Proponents of this policy believe that consumers are generally uninformed about their restaurant meals, especially the calorie counts. Therefore, providing consumers with this information will make a substantial difference to both what, and how much, people eat and, consequently, enable them to lose weight.
These assumptions are wrong. The scientific evidence strongly suggests that calorie counts are ineffective and potentially counter-productive for certain consumers. In fact, the vast majority of this evidence was available long (and in some cases, decades) before these regulations were rolled out.
Calorie counts do not produce the behavioural changes that their proponents envision. For example, over a decade of nutritional labelling, including calorie content, of processed food has failed to have any significant impact on obesity levels. Furthermore, studies have found that providing nutritional labelling brings about no net nutritional gains because consumers have a defined ‘nutrient budget’. This means that consumers tend to reward themselves for calorie or fat deprivation, for example, by increasing their calorie or fat content with another dish at the same meal or at a latter meal.
[…] consumers see labelling, particularly about calories, as a form of government warning: ‘Don’t eat this food, it has too many calories!’ The research evidence demonstrating the failure of such warnings is legion. In fact, such warnings can be profoundly counter-productive, as they can lead not only to the information being ignored, but to behaviour directly at odds with the health-based message. Identifying menu items as low-calorie or healthy can antagonise customers who see this as attempting to interfere with their freedom of choice.
This calorie count policy is also deeply inappropriate. The evidence suggests that it is not regulation designed to provide information for ‘informed’ choices, but regulation designed to change supplier and consumer behaviour based on the assumption that the regulator knows best.
Calorie counts are nothing more than a form of soft stigmatisation in which the government attempts to use calories to declare otherwise legal foods as, in some way, illegitimate. In effect, calories are really shorthand for the fact that certain foods are deemed ‘bad’.
August 14, 2014
In sp!ked, Rossa Minogue agrees with the Campaign for Real Ale that the British pub as a fixture of daily life is in rapid decline, but warns that CAMRA’s proposed remedy will not turn things around:
Britain’s pubs are in peril. In 1982, there were almost 68,000 pubs in the UK; today there are fewer than 55,000. They continue to close at a rate of 31 a week.
Pubs in the suburbs are said to be worst affected, with three per cent of all suburban pubs having closed in the past six months alone. A report by the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) blames the closures on lax planning regulations that allow pubs to be bought and converted into other kinds of businesses without having to seek permission from the local council. CAMRA’s answer is to call for more planning regulations that would make it difficult to convert your favourite boozer into a Tesco Metro. Publicans have blamed cheap supermarket booze for eating into their revenues and have backed calls for minimum pricing to make drinking at home less attractive. There are no doubt many other factors at work. The ubiquity of mobile phones, for one, makes it easier to arrange a meeting with a friend at short notice, which means the idea of being the ‘regular’ who pops into a ‘local’ unannounced in the hope of bumping into someone one knows is becoming a thing of the past.
Further regulation, however, is not the answer. In fact, as demonstrated by their enthusiastic support for the smoking ban, CAMRA has failed to see that regulations are one of the main things that are killing pubs. Stricter planning laws would do little to address the underlying reasons why pubs are closing. After all, if pubs were drawing the crowds they needed to be viable, why would they be selling up in the first place? Rising rents have been cited as a cause, but the businesses lining up to take over pub premises don’t seem to have a problem paying them.
Pub culture is under threat, but not by greedy property developers desperate to turn every suburban highstreet into a row of Costa Coffees. Rather, the threat comes from the degradation of public life, a process nudged along by a state that disapproves of our habits.
July 21, 2014
In The Week, Michael Brendan Dougherty wonders why so many parents are being arrested these days for letting their children do things that used to be utterly normal:
Last month, when the first wave of these stories came out, I suggested it was a problem of helicopter parents enforcing their notions of parenthood on others. But the number and variety of such incidents suggest that something more is at work. The communities that are happy to watch the kids in the neighborhood, and help parents with an extra set of eyes and a few caramels, are just gone. We’re arresting parents because civil society is retreating from children altogether.
Timothy Carney, a columnist for The Washington Examiner and a father of five, attributes it to a decline of “neighborliness.” And that’s certainly true. People see a kid, imagine a bad thing could happen to them, and then think they should call the cops. Whereas “neighborly adults look after other adults’ kids when the parents are unavailable.”
Gracy Olmstead, in a very smart article for The American Conservative, says that all of this waning of society and waxing of the state was predicted by communitarian libertarian Robert Nisbet:
Nisbet predicted that, in a society without strong private associations, the State would take their place — assuming the role of the church, the schoolroom, and the family, asserting a “primacy of claim” upon our children. “It is hard to overlook the fact,” he wrote, “that the State and politics have become suffused by qualities formerly inherent only in the family or the church.” In this world, the term “nanny state” takes on a very literal meaning.
But today those communities seem rarer, and so, too, those shared premises about how kids should behave. More than that, there’s a fear of taking responsibility for kids in the neighborhood. Deliver a short report on a child’s behavior and his parents may snap back, “Don’t tell me how to parent my child.” A neighbor’s interest may seem invasive or even creepy. Lacking church or community, bystanders in a neighborhood refer their concern about a suboptimal parental situation (one they usually know little about because they are not very neighborly) to the only other institution empowered to look out for the welfare of children: the state.
Update: Scott Greenfield on the whole “see something, say something (to the authorities)” situation with parents and children.
[…] the most fundamental cause for some people to feel empowered to rat out a parent [is] because they just aren’t managing their children the way I think they should!!!
Everything that fails to comport with the way the most sensitive soul in the neighborhood feels it should must now be a crime. Do it for the children. Do it for the women. Do it for … just do it.
Parents always question other parents’ parenting skills and choices. We naturally believe with all our heart and soul that whatever choices we made were better than theirs, whoever they may be. This is human nature, given our own belief that we are right and anyone who disagrees with us is wrong. Conversely, everyone who agrees is brilliant, confirming that we, too, are both right and brilliant. These thoughts are nothing new.
But the problem in Douthat’s parade of bad parenting isn’t merely some prissy busybody’s decision that some parent has inadequately bubble-wrapped their kid. The problem is that they conflate their parenting choices with righteousness, such that anyone who doesn’t share their sensibilities has committed a crime. It’s a crime to neglect your child, with neglect defined as doing anything less than providing absolute safety and comfort to children as the most delicate flower perceives it.
Years ago, there was a saying in the parent’s handbook, “spare the rod and spoil the child.” Today, that’s Endangering the Welfare of a Child in the First Degree. This isn’t to suggest that beating kids is a great method of child rearing, but to remind all the self-righteous that their beloved nanny used to beat their mother to a pulp when she misbehaved. Are you ready to lock granny up? If not, what moral authority do you have to call the cops on someone else, whose crime is not meeting your expectations of safe enough?
The criminal law is not a child-rearing tool. If you spent a few seconds thinking beyond your overly passionate feelings, you might consider whether a child would do better to be reared by a loving parent who isn’t inclined to keep them locked in protective custody throughout the formative years, than as a ward of the state. How does turning a parent into a criminal, losing a job, perhaps even a home, make a child’s life better?
June 10, 2014
First, let’s talk about the evils of the free market and how God wants to abolish free exchange of goods for our spiritual and moral welfare, shall we?
Something strange happened in Washington last week: A panel of Catholic intellectuals and clergy, led by His Eminence Oscar Andrés Maradiaga, was convened to denounce a political philosophy under the headline “Erroneous Autonomy: The Catholic Case against Libertarianism.” The conference was mainly about free-market economics rather than libertarianism per se, and it was an excellent reminder that the hierarchy of the Church has no special grace to pronounce upon matters of specific economic organization. The best that can be said of the clergy’s corporate approach to economic thinking is that it is intellectually incoherent, which is lucky inasmuch as the depths of its illiteracy become more dramatic and destructive as it approaches coherence.
The increasingly global and specialized division of labor and the resulting chains of production — i.e., modern capitalism, the unprecedented worldwide project of voluntary human cooperation that is the unique defining feature of our time — is what cut the global poverty rate in half in 20 years. It was not Buddhist mindfulness or Catholic homilies that did that. In the 200,000-year history of Homo sapiens, neither of those great religious traditions, nor anything else that human beings ever came up with, made a dent in the poverty rate. Capitalism did. One of the great ironies of our times is that so many of the descendents of the old Catholic immigrant working class have found themselves attracted to an American Buddhism that, with its love of ornate titles, its costumes, its fascination with apostolic succession, and its increasingly coddled professional clergy, is a 21st-century expression of Buddhism apparently committed to transforming itself — plus ça change! — into 15th-century Catholicism. Perhaps it should not be entirely surprising that it has embraced the same intellectual errors.
Cardinal Rodríguez Maradiaga and likeminded thinkers, stuck as they are in the hopelessly 19th-century distributist model of economic analysis, apparently are incapable of thinking through the implications of their own dogma. The question of how certain goods are “distributed” in society is a second-order question at best; by definition prior to it is the question of whether there is anything to distribute. To put it in Christian terms, all of the great givers in Scripture — the Good Samaritan, the widow with her mite, Joseph of Arimathea — had something to give. If the Good Samaritan had been the Poor Samaritan, with no resources to dedicate to the stranger’s care, then the poor waylaid traveler would have been out of luck. All the good intentions that we may muster are not half so useful to a hungry person as a loaf of bread.
Those who put distribution at the top of their list of priorities both make the error of assuming the existence of some exogenous agency that oversees distribution (that being the Distribution Fairy) and entirely ignore the vital question of what gets produced and by whom. Poverty is the direct by-product of low levels of production; the United States and Singapore are fat and happy with $53,101 and $64,584 in per capita economic output, respectively; Zimbabwe, which endured the services of a government very much interested in the redistribution of capital, gets to divide up $788 per person per year, meaning that under circumstances of perfect mathematical equality life would still be miserable for everybody. Sweden can carve up its per capita pie however it likes, but it’s still going to be 22.5 percent smaller than the U.S. pie and less than two-thirds the size of Singapore’s tasty pastry. You cannot redistribute what you don’t have — and that holds true not only for countries but, finally, for the planet and the species, which of course is what globalization is all about. That men of the cloth, of all people, should be blind to what is really happening right now on the global economic scale is remarkable, ironic, and sad.
May 27, 2014
May 20, 2014
Last year, the Scottish government introduced legislative proposals to nominate state guardians for all Scottish children, to be called “named persons” and to exercise rather Orwellian powers over the child and the child’s parents. The legislation is now in force, and Stuart Waiton explains why it’s such an intrusive step:
The children’s minister, Aileen Campbell, has been dismissive of those people who have criticised the act as state snooping, or, as many Christian groups have put it, an ‘attack on the family’. For Campbell, the new powers and duties being given to the state guardians are simply another service to help families in trouble and further ensure that children are protected in society. Indeed, Aileen Campbell at times appears to be nonplussed by her critics, incapable of seeing why her caring approach is not instantly celebrated. The claims of state snoops undermining the family, she argues, are simply ‘misunderstandings’ and ‘misrepresentations’ of the new law. When someone raised the point that this act undermined the role of parents in child-rearing, Campbell, somewhat comically, replied, ‘we recognise that parents also have a role’.
However, given the increasing ways in which all children are being categorised as ‘vulnerable’, the way in which all professionals are being educated to put child safety at the top of their agenda, and at time in which ‘early intervention’ is promoted as the only rational approach to solving social problems, there is a serious risk that the relationship between the ‘named person’ and parents will become one predicated on suspicion. Given that the red line for when it is appropriate to intervene in a child’s life is also being downgraded, from the child being seen as at serious risk of harm to mere concerns about their ‘wellbeing’, the potential for unnecessary and potentially destructive state intrusion into family life with this law is significant.
[…] There is also a great danger here that by incorporating every single child in the child-safety rubric, the few children who need state intervention in their lives will get lost in this vast system and not get the support they need. As one concerned parent has noted, when you are looking for a needle in a haystack, why make the haystack bigger?
January 17, 2014
At the Adam Smith Institute blog, Tim Worstall talks about the way regulatory agencies approach problems:
It’s claimed as one of the great victories for enlightened (sorry) regulation, the way that the EU and US have both banned the incandescent light bulb through bureaucratic action. The ban came about by raising the efficiency standards required: this meant that the traditional bulb could no longer be sold.
The argument in favour of doing things this way was, in public at least, that everyone’s too stupid (or, in a more polite manner, subject to hyperbolic discounting) to realise that the new bulbs will actually save them money in the long term by consuming less electricity. There are also the more cynical in the industry who insist that it’s actually a case of regulatory capture. The light bulb manufacturing companies managing to get us all away from using cheap as spit bulbs and onto something with a decent margin on it.
This has a number of implications in the larger world as well: for example, it means that bureaucratic regulation on car mileages (like CAFE in the US) is contra-indicated. A simple tax on petrol will drive up average mpg because we’re not all as thick as bricks. Assuming that climate change really is a problem that must be dealt with then a carbon tax is going to do the job. For we’re not all so dim that we cannot work out the utility of using fossil fuels or not given the change in prices.
That is, we don’t need to be regulated into behaviour, we can be influenced into it through the price system. Something that really shouldn’t be all that much of a surprise to us market liberals: for we’re the people who already insist that people do indeed respond to price incentives in markets.
January 9, 2014
The Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill, “a revolution in law-making, creating an unprecedented form of blank-cheque state power”
Josie Appleton on the amazingly restrictive bill wending its way through the UK parliamentary process:
The bill includes Injunctions to Prevent Nuisance and Annoyance (IPNAs), which can be issued against anybody whose conduct — or threatened conduct — is capable — on the balance of probabilities — of causing nuisance or annoyance to any person.
Few things in the public space are incapable of at least annoying someone. Some people can be annoyed by busking, ball games, skateboarding, street preaching, protests, and all the rest of it. As the former director of public prosecutions Lord Macdonald QC judged: ‘It is difficult to imagine a broader concept than causing “nuisance” or “annoyance”. The phrase is apt to catch a vast range of everyday behaviours to an extent that may have serious implications for the rule of law.’
However, the problems don’t stop with clause 1. Other clauses in the bill include Public Space Protection Orders (clause 55), which allow local authorities to ban any activity which has a ‘negative effect on the quality of life’ of the area. This ban can be applied to particular groups or individuals, and can also impose conditions with which such groups must comply. This is drafted so broadly it could target anything from sleeping rough, collecting for charity, public drinking, begging, feeding pigeons, or smoking in parks. Indeed, the lead civil servant agrees that the law could be used against groups ‘if there is a localised issue’, such as a ‘group of Goths’ or ‘twentysomethings listening to music in a park’.
At base, this bill represents a revolution in law-making, creating an unprecedented form of blank-cheque state power. The aim is explicit: rather than create specific powers, it seeks to remove limitations to local authorities’ actions. The civil servant says: ‘We don’t want to put too many constraints in the legislation.’ Well, there is no danger of that.
The bill completes the transformation of the role of the British local authority, from a limited body concerned with public provision to a summary law-maker and public-order power.
December 31, 2013
I nearly ran Steve Chapman‘s wonderful little squib as a QotD entry: “The course of freedom and democracy in the world is an evolutionary process, though sometimes it proceeds in the wrong direction. Wines have good years and bad years. If 2013 were a wine, you’d use it to kill weeds.”
Looking ahead to 2014, Radley Balko has some Dire Civil Liberties Predictions to ring in the new year:
As we come to the end of a year that saw revelations about massive government spying programs, horrifying stories of police abuse, and brazen violations of the Fourth Amendment, I thought I might offer my own grim predictions about where civil liberties are headed in the coming year. Sure, some of these may seem outlandish. But to borrow from H.L. Mencken, nobody ever went broke underestimating the grade and lubriciousness of the slippery slope.
On a less-depressing note, Nick Mediati rounds up the “top” memes of 2013, including the latest attempt to de-grammaticize the internet:
After years and years of cats dominating the Internet, dog lovers were finally thrown a bone in 2013 with the emergence of the Doge meme. The meme typically features photos of Shiba Inu dogs with internal thoughts overlaid in brightly colored Comic Sans. And it’s frickin’ awesome. You might find yourself spontaneously speaking in doge. Such language. So words. Very thought. Wow.
November 21, 2013
I don’t know what holiday dinners are like at Michael Bloomberg’s house, but I suspect there’s an awful lot of picking at food while the windbag at the head of the table lectures the assembled guests about why he’s right and they’re all idiots. That’s the message I get from his pet Mayors Against Illegal Guns organization, which wants its loyal minions, if there are any, to sit down to their Thanksgiving feasts and immediately start fights with relatives they haven’t seen in a year about gun control. All you need is a handy list of tendentious talking points — and a shitload of patience from Cousin Bob, who rebuilds old pistols for fun and just wrapped himself around half a bottle of Jack Daniels.
J.D. Tuccille, “Bloomberg Group Wants You To Start Fights About Gun Control at Thanksgiving”, Hit and Run, 2013-11-21
In Reason, A. Barton Hinkle explains why the Food and Drug Administration’s latest regulatory move may cost more than a billion dollars, require millions of hours of work … and provide no measurable benefits whatsoever:
In comments shortly after the menu labeling rules were proposed, the Center for Science in the Public Interest — they are the folks forever hectoring the public about the dangers of Chinese food, Italian food, movie theater popcorn, etc. — insisted that “if a restaurant has both an inside and drive-thru menu board, both must list calories.” And: “The calories should be at least as large and prominent as the name or price of the item.” And: “Calories should be posted for each size beverage available.” And: “The color, font size, font type, contrasting background, and other characteristics should all be comparable to the name and price of the item.”
What’s more: “Deli items or prepared foods that are dished up into standard containers should have signs posted next to each item with calorie counts for each container size available. For example, potato salad that is typically dished up into half-pint, pint and quart containers should list calories for one half-pint of potato salad, one pint of potato salad and a quart of potato salad.”
Rules such as these, the CSPI says, should apply not just to restaurants and supermarket delis but also to “salad bars, buffet lines, cafeteria lines, and self-serve, fountain soft drinks.” Moreover, “Calories must be posted for each pizza topping, sandwich component, omelet selection, sundae topping, or salad ingredient or dressing.”
The object of such Byzantine busybody-ness is plain enough: to “nudge” (former Obama regulatory czar Cass Sunstein’s favorite word) people to ingest fewer calories.
Just one small problem: It doesn’t work.
“Restaurant menu labels don’t work, study shows,” reported Today back in July: “No matter how much calorie information is on the menu list, people still choose the food they like, not what’s supposed to be healthier, researchers from Carnegie Mellon reported Thursday. … ‘Putting calorie labels on menus really has little or no effect on people’s ordering behavior at all,’ says Julie Downs, lead author of the new study published Thursday in the American Journal of Public Health.”
November 13, 2013
In sp!ked, Patrick Hayes talks about the new social control mechanism being introduced to replace the notorious ASBO, the Injunction to Prevent Nuisance and Annoyance:
It sounds like a joke, but IPNAs — introduced in Clause 1 of the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill, which received its second reading in the House of Lords last week — really do seem quite easy to enforce. Indeed, they make their predecessors, New Labour’s notorious Anti-Social Behaviour Orders (ASBOs), seem like a level-headed intervention into community life in comparison.
The bill says that in order for an IPNA to be granted, a court needs to be satisfied ‘on the balance of probabilities that the respondent has engaged or threatens to engage in conduct capable of causing nuisance or annoyance to any person’. Once satisfied, the court can issue an IPNA in order ‘to grant the injunction for the purpose of preventing the respondent from engaging in anti-social behaviour’.
It seems that for the Lib-Con coalition government, the problem with ASBOs was not that they circumvented the normal exercise of law by dishing out behaviour-controlling orders to people who hadn’t actually committed any crime, but rather that they only covered behaviour that might cause ‘harassment, alarm or distress’. So it has introduced IPNAs, which cover everyday nuisance and annoying behaviour, too. In fact, you don’t actually have to be annoying to get an IPNA — even the threat of behaving annoyingly can earn you one of these orders that do not require criminal-law standards of proof and can instead be handed out, to anyone over 10, at a court’s convenience. If you flout an IPNA, you face up to three months in prison.