C: Ungry young man https://bit.ly/3JE8SWW / CC BY 2.0

Minimum alcohol pricing and more nanny statism

From New Year’s Day, all sales of alcohol in Ireland are subject to a minimum pricing regulation. This follows Cabinet approval that was granted last May with few dissenting voices. Minimum pricing is regarded by many as a key means to reducing heavy drinking.

That proposition is impossible to prove conclusively although studies from parts of Canada where similar measures were imposed do appear to show a moderate link between consumption levels and pricing – which would also apply presumably to the pricing of any discretionary or consumer good. If there was a minimum price for chocolate, then less chocolate would likely be sold. Same goes for phones or scooters or deodorant.

I mention chocolate because some people who support increasing the price of strong liquor might argue it would be unfair to use similar measures to discourage people on lower incomes from buying cheaper bars of chocolate.

However, there are also people who would argue that the sugar tax would lead to a healthier population. Indeed, there is already a tax on sugared mineral drinks since 2018 and similar proposals to tax fast food. It’s all very much on a spectrum you see. A spectrum of what some people think is good for others.

Those some people assume that they have been granted some sort of membership of a secular Calvinist Elect which, secure in its sanctimoniousness and the knowledge that they are better than everyone else, get to decide whether someone else ought to be able to buy their kids a burger meal, and maybe get themselves a cheap bottle of wine.

Last week it was also reported that some people in the HSE are in favour of banning cigarettes. This is one of several options that they want to be considered along with an even more punitive taxation policy, bans on shop sales and so on. Again, I can see valid reasons why encouraging people not to smoke might be a good thing. However, there is a difference between persuading people that smoking is not a healthy pastime – which it is not if one smokes a lot – and making it illegal for them to do so.

If someone knows the health downsides of smoking – or indeed of drinking cheap vodka as surely everyone does – and still decides to do so, then that it is their prerogative.

Betting is another area under close scrutiny these days. Punters are anxiously waiting to see what sort of measures the British government might introduce on foot of a concerted campaign underlined by extensive reports into the alleged harm done to society by gambling.

And it is the harm to society that has been put front and central as the narrative on betting has transformed it into yet another “public health” issue. Among the possible restrictions being considered are limits on the amount of money a person can deposit into their account with an online bookmaker. There are also those who wish to limit the amount of money a person can stake on any individual bet or within the course of a certain time period.

An affordability criterion would mean that someone whose betting profile was subject to question would have to produce bank statements and even mortgage statements to prove that they could afford to punt. That would be an egregious intrusion into a person’s affairs, and you may be sure that if the state and its array of “non-governmental” busy bodies get their way, such probing would be extended to other areas.

Indeed, there are already climate extremists who are floating balloons about limiting how much people should be allowed to spend on what they consider to be products or activities such as travel that are deemed to be harmful.

Legal restrictions on betting already exist and they are strict. It is also the case that as even moderately successful punters will know that bookmakers will limit or even prevent such bettors getting their money on. And you don’t have to be threatening to out sun-dance JP McManus or have a Barney Curley springer in your shed to find yourself in that crux.

The thing about all of the stuff the puritans want to restrict or ban, of course, is that they are part of the fabric of humanity. People like to have a drink and perhaps indulge other habits that some Pollyanna deems to be unacceptable. We would be a far duller species were all of those things to be forbidden. There are sufficient laws to discourage and punish activities that do harm to others. The way an individual lives their own lives and whether they choose to smoke or drink more than average or have a bet is none of the state’s business.

As I have pointed out in regard to the Covid restrictions, the most extreme supporters of monitoring and controlling peoples activity are on the left. The same applies to the demand to ban or reduce betting to something akin to a family board game. What the left hates is any kind of activity that involves risk.

Economically that is manifested in their wish to destroy all individual or voluntary co-operative enterprise. In all other spheres it is evidenced in their desire to abolish any independent artistic or philosophical or spiritual activity that is outside of the control of the state. There are and have been no socialist societies that have not done both.

Their ideal society is the same as that of the proto socialists of the early 19th century who wanted to turn people into human insects living in the equivalent of beehives or anthills. Ants and bees are guaranteed pupa to grave social security and a free health service. Unless of course they evince any sign of questioning their indenture to the collective in which case they are killed for the good of everyone else.

Apart from all of the sanctions required to completely regulate the crooked timber of humanity, which as Kant said “nothing entirely straight can be made,” the world would be such a dull place if these people had their way.

So, our first reaction to more decrees to create socially healthy drones ought to be rejection. Or better still derision as when someone like Sinn Féin TD Thomas Gould thinks it any of his business or any part of why he was elected to advise people to “Gamble responsibly this Grand National.”

Hopefully, some chap in Knocknaheeney on his way to place his fiver each way on Minella Indo saw this sage missive and thought to himself “The hell with it. I’m not going to risk ruination and woe by this reckless act.” And was much the happier watching Rachel coming around the elbow at Aintree knowing that his life was just that bit safer and secure than it had been before he was shown the error of his ways. Dull but safe. Like the best bees.






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