The State, The Nanny.
I’ve written about the relentless desire for the Nanny State and its allies to ban everything before. I’ve ranted about slippery slopes regarding minimum pricing on this, plain packaging on that and endless bureaucratic regulation on the other. But no matter how many times I raise it, I still find myself really creeped out when things I have predicted come true.
So it was today when a friend pointed out this petition to me. Plain packaging for alcohol.
What you have to understand about these people is that they are in no hurry. They have all the time in the world. You think you have a victory when the Government says Plain Packaging wont go ahead, or Minimum Pricing is unworkable, but you do not. What you have is a (very) brief pause. Then they start right up again. Chip, chip, chip. Talking about it. Petition for it. Suggest a policy of it. Talk about it some more. Until the unbelievable becomes more believable and the impossible becomes more possible.
In some ways it doesn’t scare me too much because I know that markets, and people, can’t be stopped from doing the things they want to do. They will always find a way to scupper the State. The problem is always that perfectly decent people end up criminalised and the State’s bullying and tampering creates so many unseen and unwelcome consequences.
Long-time readers might remember another prediction of mine – that attempts to introduce plain packaging would bring entrepreneurs out of the woodwork to produce custom packs. One of two commenters thought this ludicrous. Well, ladies and gentlemen, may I introduce SmokeScreenz, a company doing precisely that. I have to admit the packaging designs are pretty cool. Far cooler than those old cigarette packaging designs were – you know, the ones which were banned in Australia because they were so “enticing.” Also notice, the new ones don’t have all that “you will die immediately of lung cancer if you smoke one of these or stand within 100 yards of somebody who does” message. Nor can the Government force them to do so, because you can’t easily pass legislation on an empty box. There are hundreds of designs available. Here are just a few of them.
For the glamorous young lady?
For the keen young gambler?
Smoking and driving fast! What a combo.
Free spirits only, here.
You da playa, with da cash.
Tough and ready for combat!
More gambling, more hard core.
For the comic book reader.
Now tell me seriously, are these better that those old cigarette packets? If kids see these as compared, say, to the old Benson & Hedges, or Silk Cut packet, are they more or less enticing? This wouldn’t have been necessary, there wouldn’t have been much of a market at all, if the State hadn’t created one by regulation. The next step will be for the petitions to control these – but goodness that will be difficult. After all, they are just a box with a picture on it. Hard to see how you word that law without creating problems for a thousand other packages and boxes. And even if you manage – markets, which are just billions of people, all of us – will have thought of a thousand ways around the State intervention before the printing ink on the new Act is dry.
You may say: “If you believe Markets can’t be stopped by the Nanny State, why do you care?” There are two answers. The first is, as mentioned before, there are consequences to these things. When you interfere with the choices of millions of free-willed adult people, you create immense ripples. Situations you never considered arise because of what you did. Then the State must spend massive resources trying to “fix” the problems it created – which makes more problems each time. It is a destructive spiral. Many of the problems we face today, perhaps most of them, are simply the result of previous well-intentioned attempts to control people. But the worst thing is that the State and the proponents of Statism never admit that. They don’t dare, or they just can’t imagine how that could be the case. So they just keep spending more time and money painting over the cracks.
The second reason is that this is about fundamental personal liberty. It took thousands of years for the civilised world to get the levels of Liberty we enjoy today. Our current freedoms are by no means “normal” over the span of history and by no means irreversible. Vigilance and challenge are required to protect them. The only reason people don’t care about “health warnings on McDonalds” and regulations on the size of sugary drinks is because they think it will never affect them. But this stuff is creeping your way, all of you. Sooner or later, it will ooze its way into something you do care about.
If you want people to be healthier and live longer, if you want to protect kids from adult vices and problems – great. Who doesn’t? But hard-faced controls are seldom the solution. We already have all the laws we need in these areas. Education, information and knowledge are the key – not statist regulatory controls and the long arm of the law.