In politics, a classic strategy for dealing with legitimate criticism is to ignore the real issue and just whine about “personal attacks.”
This is a common tactic relied upon by both the right and the left. We see this in the reaction to Conservative Party VP Jordan Lien’s criticism of Alberta Health Minister Sarah Hoffman’s ban of menthol cigarettes.
According to the internet, the following Facebook comment is very bad:
The reaction to this was extremely unfavorable to Lien. People called it “dumb,” “sexist,” “insensitive,” “irrelevant,” “misogynistic” (!), and so forth. One PC party drama queen named Warren Mitchell even declared he was ripping up his membership card in disgust. “I’m done with this *$@%^ party.”
Well, it is a *$@%^ party. But seriously, let’s look at this issue in some detail.
Lien actually raises a completely legitimate point that is lost amidst the chorus of inauthentic outrage. Here is the issue:
If it is justified to ban menthol cigarettes for the sake of “public health,” shouldn’t we ban other tasty but unhealthy things? Obesity, like smoking, also uses up resources in the health care system. A 2010 report estimated that direct costs of overweight and obesity represented $6 billion — which is 4.1 % of Canada’s total health care budget.
So, following the logic of Health Minister Hoffman and the Alberta government, perhaps things like candy, soda, fast food, and other wonderful treats that make life worth living should be banned as well.
If not, why not?
A wannabe social engineer like Hoffman cannot provide a reasonable answer. The problem with social engineers, whether they are on the left or right, is that there is no limiting principle to their philosophy. Once a person accepts intervention as an acceptable policy, then any limitation to the intervention is essentially arbitrary. So why not ban everything that is unhealthy, and force everyone to be healthy? Wouldn’t that be wonderful?
To be consistent, Sarah Hoffman should want to ban all the things that have made her obese on the same grounds as her ban on menthol cigarettes. Otherwise, we will have a less healthy society.
“Every Albertan should be able to enjoy a life free of preventable tobacco related disease,” Hoffman pontificated as she announced her government’s menthol cigarettes ban.
“Every Albertan should be able to enjoy a life free of preventable
tobacco obesity related disease,” she could be saying on the exact same grounds.
“These changes will help make smoking less attractive to youth,” she declared.
“These changes will make
smoking eating too much less attractive to youth,” she could have said.
If not, why not?
Most people realize that it is absurd to ban everything that is unhealthy, but they lack principles and are happy to ban things they don’t like — but don’t ban anything healthy they like, oh no.
Sarah Hoffman may not smoke menthol cigarettes, but her variety of unhealthy lifestyle is also subsidized by taxpayers and also unpleasant for other people.
The only justified solution to this problem is the government should neither ban menthol cigarettes nor unhealthy foods. This is the only consistent and sane conclusion.
Behavior controls are a type of socialism where the negative effects on society are often neglected. Yet it is irrefutable that such controls lead to economic impoverishment. However, even most economists fail to understand this.
Firstly, behavior controls directly concern the use one can make of his or her own body. If the government imposes restrictions on how one can use one’s body, then one will value one’s body less than otherwise. It is important to understand the incentive here: if the government restricts the ways in which one can use one’s own body, it reduces the degree of ownership one has over oneself. Real ownership means exclusive use and control. One way to think of it is like leasing one’s body from the government, and not owning it oneself. You can use the body for approved activities only.
The actual consequence of this is that people will be less likely to invest in themselves, and they will be more likely to “consume their human capital” — in other words, a person will tend to treat his body less well than if one had “full ownership” of it. It is this economic truth that underlies the idea that giving people freedom makes them more responsible (something many find counter-intuitive).
Secondly, and in a more general sense, as with all forms of political interference, this form of regulation hurts one group and benefits another. The group that can no longer perform certain (non-aggressive) activities is worse off than before, while the group that does not want to tolerate the objectionable behavior (like smoking or eating too much fast food) is better off. More specifically, the producers and users of the things whose consumption is now restricted are the ones who suffer. The ones who benefit are the non-producers and non-users of the goods in question. This encourages people to allocate their efforts towards non-productive activities and discourages productive activities. This makes society poorer.
And it is not a good argument to say we need to ban something because it costs the health care system more money. The very nature of socialized health care is to subsidize unhealthy lifestyles. It is impossible for socialized health care not to do this. So you must either accept that this is an inherent feature of your precious public health care or you must reject public health care. Either way, one must reject banning unhealthy choices for this reason.
At this point, someone might even accept this basic economic argument but protest, “Hey, that’s fine but he shouldn’t have said she was morbidly obese! That’s not nice!”
If a woman said the same thing but health minister was a fat man, the outrage would be virtually nonexistent. People would probably think it was funny. But that’s not the point.
Lien could have made his point with no reference to her physique, that is true. Rhetorically, it was very effective to do so. No one would actually deny that the health minister is obese. Obviously, Sarah Hoffman is a rather large woman. It even seems highly plausible that she is morbidly obese if we use the roughest definition, which is simply 25% above a woman’s “ideal weight.”
His comment simultaneously highlighted the arbitrariness of the law and the hypocrisy of a person with one unhealthy tax-subsidized lifestyle banning someone else’s tax-subsidized unhealthy lifestyle. A reasonable person who is not desperate to be as offended as humanly possible should understand this. So it is good to point out the inconsistent principle to illustrate the point.
It’s like people who like to drink alcohol for whatever reason and want snorting coke to be illegal, or vice versa. Such principles are arbitrary, cruel, and hypocritical. “So let me get this straight,” someone says, “this coke-snorting politician wants to ban alcohol? Give me a break.”
The nature of socialist health care is that it functions as mandatory medical insurance where everyone is pooled together, so people acting in healthy ways will always be pooled with people acting in unhealthy ways. If you want socialist health care, you need to shut up and deal with it.
Anyway, the whole incident reminds me of the classic South Park episode, “Butt Out,” where the comically compulsive over-eater Rob Reiner campaigns fanatically against smoking.
Jordan Lien should have stood up for himself, but instead he gave a pathetic apology like a whiny loser.
If people were serious about public health and justice, they would focus on the substance of the issue. Instead, they are complaining about evil conservative men trying to “keep women down” and “fat shaming.” A dumb politician guy said something mean… on the internet. The horror! And everyone is in a competition to be more and more offended than everyone else, which is how one gets street cred in the attention-seeking world of social media. Apparently, that’s all that matters.