I’ve been writing about attempts like this for over 20 years. Each time I do I remind people that much of the road to totalitarianism is paved with good intentions – well, at least sometimes. This would be one of those times.
In this case I’m talking about a study claiming sugar is toxic and should be controlled by government.
I thought immediately of the climate debate (complete with modeling). This is just a variation of the same sort of argument and solution.
More importantly, I thought of the saying above and reminded myself that since I began writing about these sorts of attempts 20 years ago a lot more paving stones have been laid in that road.
20 years ago an attempt such as this would have, for the most part, been laughed away. Oh sure, some people have been pushing to have government control many things over the years. But for the most part, the structure to justify and/or facilitate such grabs really wasn’t in place. Much more of a totalitarian infrastructure now exists than did back then.
In the case of things like this, ObamaCare changed that game. Because government has now passed a law which puts it in charge of controlling health care costs and requiring insurance of all Americans, it also is in the position to act to do what this law allows it to do legally – exert more control over our everyday lives.
What would have essentially been laughed away 20 years ago now has to be taken seriously. We have to remind ourselves that the game has changed to the point that it isn’t at all inconceivable that something like controlling sugar and its intake through government aren’t at all as far-fetched as it once was.
Lustig has written and talked extensively about the role he believes sugar has played in driving up rates of chronic illness such as heart disease and diabetes. Excessive sugar, he argues, alters people’s biochemistry, making them more vulnerable to metabolic conditions that lead to illness, while at the same time making people crave sweets even more.
It’s sugar, not obesity, that is the real health threat, Lustig and his co-authors – public health experts Laura Schmidt and Claire Brindis – say in their paper. They note that studies show 20 percent of obese people have normal metabolism and no ill health effects resulting from their weight, while 40 percent of normal-weight people have metabolic problems that can lead to diabetes and heart disease. They contend that sugar consumption is the cause.
In other words, not everyone gains a lot of weight from over-indulging in sugar, but a large proportion of the U.S. population is eating enough of it that it’s having devastating health effects, they say.
"The gestalt shift is maybe obesity is just a marker for the rise in chronic disease worldwide, and in fact metabolic syndrome, caused by excessive sugar consumption, is the real culprit," said Schmidt, a health policy professor who focuses on alcohol and addiction research.
Obesity is bad. Sugar causes obesity. Control sugar. (Global warming is bad. CO2 causes global warming. Control CO2)
Think through that formulation. Does anyone actually believe that if we “control sugar like alcohol and tobacco” that we’ll suddenly solve the obesity problem?
Is it really obesity or is it more of a rich, indulgent and sedentary lifestyle where many eat well beyond the recommended daily calorie intake each and every day?
The solution? Well, back again casting a glance at global warming, the same:
But while individuals certainly can make small changes to their diets to eat more nutritiously, that alone is not going to effect major public health improvements, Lustig and his co-authors said.
In their paper, they argue for taxes on heavily sweetened foods and beverages, restricting advertising to children and teenagers, and removing sugar-ladened products from schools, or even from being sold near schools. They suggest banning the sale of sugary beverages to children.
Since these “scientists” are sure you can’t manage your own health or that of your children and since they’re convinced that you have to be controlled, they’ll just use the tax system for what it should never be used for – to control behavior, force change, and penalize you if you don’t comply. Sound familiar?
Who gets to decide what is “sugar-laden”? Why? Who the hell are they to make such a decision for you?
By the way, banning junk food at school simply has no effect on obesity per one study.
Now obviously this is in the beginning stages, the stage where this would have mostly been waved away 20 years ago. But no more. You have to take all of these attempts at removing choice, freedom and liberty seriously. There are forever do-gooders out there who see no problem whatsoever in using the power of government to control your life for your own good (a variation of “for the children”) or at least their definition of “good”.
Laura Schmidt, one of the authors of the study which recommends controlling sugar uses those battles of 20 years ago, and the losses to good effect in her plea to us to voluntarily give up more choice and freedom:
We need to remember that many of our most basic public health protections once stood on the same battleground of American politics as sugar policy does today.
Simple things like requiring a seat belt and having an airbag in your car to save you in a crash were once huge political battles. Now, we take these things for granted as simple ways to protect the health and well-being of our communities.
Pretty straight forward plea, no? And she has precedent with which to justify it. While you may agree that seatbelts and airbags are good things, you may not agree that a government mandate for each is.
That’s where we are on this. Her solutions seem benign and certainly a product of good intentions:
First, we think that the public needs to be better informed about the science of how sugar impacts our health.
Second, we need to take what we know about protecting societies from the health harms of alcohol and apply it to sugar.
What doesn’t work is all-out prohibition — that’s very old-school and often creates more problems than it solves.
What does work are gentle "supply side" controls, such as taxing products, setting age limits and promoting healthier versions of the product — like making it cheaper for a person to drink light beer rather than schnapps.
After the “light beer rather than schnapps” remark she says:
The reality is that unfettered corporate marketing actually limits our choices about the products we consume. If what’s mostly available is junk food and soda, then we actually have to go out of our way to find an apple or a drinking fountain. What we want is to actually increase people’s choices by making a wider range of healthy foods easier and cheaper to get.
Corporate marketing “limits our choices”? Really? I must have missed it then. When I enter the local Kroger, the first section I walk into is produce – apples abound. Its not hidden away somewhere with very few choices. It’s a cornucopia of good stuff.
In reality, there’s no limiting of choice by corporate marketing. This is a false assertion. But she knows the language of freedom and tries very hard to spin this attempt to limit yours.
And after that she gets to what she really wants. “Gentle supply side controls?”
– Contact the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Congress to encourage them to take sugar off the Generally Regarded as Safe (GRAS) list. This is what allows food producers to add as much sugar as they want to the products we eat.
– Support our local, state and federal officials in placing a substantial tax on products that are loaded with sugar. Ask them to use the proceeds to support a wider range of food options in supermarkets and farmer’s markets.
– Help protect our kids by getting sports drinks and junk food out of our schools. Ask our school boards to replace those vending machines with good old-fashioned drinking fountains. Ask local officials to control the opening hours and marketing tactics of the junk food outlets surrounding our schools. That way, kids can walk to school without being barraged by advertising for sugary products that taste good but harm their health.
Again, follow the pattern set by the global warming crowd. Get a normal respiratory gas which is naturally occurring declared a pollutant and then tax the crap out of it while mandating all sorts of controls on its emission. Some pattern here.
Why do liberals insist they are the only ones smart enough to not run out and buy everything being advertised on TV and the rest of us are just sheep being led to the slaughter by evil corporate marketers?
It is the premise under which much of this attempt to control founds itself. There seems to be an innate belief that government must do much more than it does in order to protect the poor, dumb proles from themselves and their urges.
If you listen to the liberal side of the house, the Puritan ethic of self-discipline, delayed-gratification and hard work seem to have somehow died in the early 20th century to be replace by a self-indulgent, live-for-today bunch of slackers who need a controlling hand from above (it occurs to me that this study will probably be used to justify the sugar tariff).
Unfortunately there are always those ready to oblige.
The real answer is the same as it has always been. Again, Moran:
The answer is better parenting. Don’t indulge your children’s natural desire for everything to be sweet. The answer is balance – giving your kids healthy food while recognizing that kids adore sweets and, in moderation, are actually good for them. Keep an eye on processed foods and the sugar content. If you don’t know how to read a list of ingredients, learn.
People taking responsibility for their own health and the health of their families is what is needed. Not some draconian regimen that puts sugar in the same class as whiskey.
Unlike 20 years ago, you’d better take this seriously. Again, it’s a fairly simple formula – freedom equals choice. Limiting choice means limiting your freedom. As odd as this may sound, it’s an important principle: Freedom means the right to make stupid mistakes or do stupid things of which other may disapprove. Freedom means the right to fail. As long as your stupidity and failure don’t violate the rights of others, then it is really none of their business.
This and all other attempts like it are designed to make this the business of others. And, as usual, their solution is to limit freedom.
Fight it with everything you have.
The invaluable Warren Meyer at Coyote blog (one of my all time favs) has a great article up on protectionism and why its something we should be avoiding.
President Obama used a lot of his state of the union address again teeing up what sounded to me like a new round of protectionism. Protectionism is the worst form of crony capitalism, generally benefiting a handful of producers and their employee to the detriment of 300 million US consumers and any number of companies that use the protected product as an input.
The example he uses? Sugar. What industry does it protect and subsidize in the end? The producers of high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). And what does the government tell us about HFCS?
It’s bad for us. Sugar would be preferable.
So why do we continue to use it in place of sugar? Protectionism. Look at the chart he includes:
The chart says it all. With the tariff added, look at the average US cost of sugar vs. the world’s average cost.
As Meyer points out though, that’s not how this gets spun:
Food activists on the Left often point to the use of High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) as one of those failures of capitalism, where rapacious capitalists make money serving an inferior product. But HFCS resulted from a scramble by food and beverage companies to find some reasonable alternative to sugar as the government has driven up sugar prices through a crazy tariff system that benefits just a tiny handful of Americans, and costs everyone else money.
Yup, the usual, convenient and usually wrong whipping boy – “market failure”.
When a tariff is involved, you’ve just moved out of the realm of real capitalism and into the realm of crony capitalism. This has nothing to do with markets failing. This has to do with the usual – government intrusion using their monopoly power of force which then distorts a market and causes users of the product whose price they chose to artificially inflate with a tariff to seek lower cost alternatives.
Remember, the same government that is claiming HFCS isn’t good for you is the one that’s also made it impossible to use a product that it claims is better for you (in relative terms of course):
For the last 10 years or so, HFCS-42 has actually traded at a price higher than the world market price for sugar, but lower than the US price for sugar. There is a lot complexity to prices, but this seems to imply that HFCS would not be nearly as attractive a substitute for sugar if US sugar tariffs did not exist (not to mention subsidies of corn which support HFCS). This can also be seen in the fact that HFCS has not been used nearly so often as a sugar substitute in markets outside of the US, even by the same manufacturers (like Coke) that pioneered its use in the US.
Or, if markets had been left alone, all indications are we’d be using lower cost sugar right now.
Meanwhile the government protects and subsidizes an industry that makes a product it says is worse for you .