Politicians are not a socially loved lot. There are many tempters pleading at the parliamentary gates more than willing to lead humble aspiring politicians into the temptations of spending taxpayers hard earned cash. “If you spend just a few million they say or pass this vital law it will repair the ills of our chequered humanity. The bonus is that the cost of their philanthropy will fall on the taxpayers. It will not cost the petitioner or the politician a penny.
For all the maligning of politicians they enter the parliament with the best of intentions to do what they can for their fellow citizens and their country. This means the temptation to save the world is constantly present. Lets look at an ongoing example. The latest petitioners for political and fiscal solutions for the repair of the human condition is the medical profession, particularly its public health branch.
Public health is a legitimate concern of government. There are many great achievements by the state sector by way of clean water, research into diseases which we can all applaud and take great pride in. Politicians have been presented with a new statistically based form of health improvement proposed by epidemiologists. Some earnest well meaning doctors have entered the public domain with political solutions for the “improvement” of the New Zealand population. The conclusions the health professionals proffer are derived from data mining.
They look a lot like the livestock improvement schemes that raised milk production so much in the 1960’s The good doctors champion a view that a number of medical conditions are caused by “unhealthy life styles.” The advocates of these nostrums assemble collections of data and infer correlations between the consumption of substances, sugar, salt, tobacco, alcohol and rising incidences of obesity, heart condition, lung cancers and liver damage in percentages of the group. The correlations are sound statistics. You would think therefore that the medical community would apply funds and efforts in a medical way.
To take a normal medical approach and round up the culprits in the statistically significant groups and invite them into hospitals and clinics and offer them treatment for their afflictions. The treatment would include stern advice one assumes to stop certain behaviours, cease or minimize their use of the offending substances or face the medical consequences.
Instead they propose using tax to cure these medical conditions caused by “unhealthy life styles”. It’s an extraordinary idea. The medical profession have come to the conclusion that somehow tax can be rubbed on the wound, ingested into the system and the illness will be cured.The thing is taxes affect all the group including those who might suffer health effects and those who will not. All are treated as "guilty" all are to be punished. It is most extraordinary. The poor suffer most from the tax the better off can behave as they wish. The tax will not inconvenience them at all
Sin taxes are not a known medical solution to anything. It is very well established they do not change people’s behaviours. All that taxes do is allow the better off to practice the “bad” behaviour at a small marginal cost. The poor may continue to practice their “dreadfulness” but with less money in their pocket to feed their children, buy school lunches, shoes for their children, petrol for the car and other necessities of modern life.
The doctors instead of using their medical competence to cure the problem have fallen in love with fiscal remedies for health problems. They have decided that prophylactic prescriptions are too hard so they are resorting to using the mandatory edicts of politics.
This is group therapy through taxes.
I think their adoption of collective curing through taxation comes from the fact that their knowledge of the problem comes in part from the grouping of statistical results.
There is a danger that while the doctors are playing politics and setting up new taxes they take away the energy that they could devote to offer actual solutions for the conditions they consider unhealthy. Theirs is a new powerful role as expert counsellors to the politicians as the arbiters of state prescribed ‘normality’.
They ask for a political solution for a health problem. It’s tempting. They become public celebrities lobbying politicians to cease their heartless resistance to their solution. New taxes on substances that everyone consumes most with bo adverse health outcomes.
Politicians are getting tempted. The statistics of dreadfulness are lobbied through the media. It ill behoves politicians if they are not seen to be doing something about these new dreadful threats to society uncovered by statistics of the medical lobby. The blackmailing line goes “Impose this tax or you are being negligent about our fellow citizen’s health.”
Politicians like the rest of us are undoubtedly sincere in their quest to cure the unhealthy. The “tax improves your health option “offers politicians a bonus. If they cure the deviant unhealthy life styles of the population of their vile habits it will save the public health system a bunch of money.
And as a bonus they could swipe a bit of extra tax money on the way by. A win win win proposition indeed.
The fact is taxing say sugar to curb obesity does not work. Denmark tried it for a year. Taxing tobacco, alcohol, salt, sugar does absolutely nothing to cure individuals who have come to medical grief by their use of these things. It is preposterous to think a tax can cure. Some governments are stalling on the “increased taxes cure the sick” proposition.
Particularly in the idea that taxing alcohol improves your health. Smokers have been turned into the hated and despised of society so taxing them is a political pleasure and it’s likely they don’t vote. Drinking remains respectable, just. Some drinkers unlike the smokers are powerful members of society. They vote. Likely it is all that will save them from further incursions of the Inland Revenue into their wine cupboards.
The arrival of the medicos with tax solutions is a challenge for citizens wishing to protect their freedom and the contents of their pockets from preposterous proposals. It will require confidence on the part of people that they are the experts on how they can and should live their lives. They will have to dispute with government, the academic community and the political elites just who has personal sovereignty of their persons, themselves or the government.
They have no power to resist taxes and laws directed at correcting their behaviour. Laws and taxes which are futile and damagingly corrosive of self respect and their ability to conduct their lives can easily be imposed on them.
It should be possible to convince a group so intelligent as doctors to stick to medicine and continue to treat people as individuals and not cop out with a group guilt tax solution.