Free Choices or Forced Choices?

The “nanny state” is one of the most irritating traits of statism affecting people’s daily lives directly, and one that has been growing ever more matronly over the past generation or so. In fact, if you think it is bad today, The Academy of Medical Royal Colleges (which, apparently, presents a “united front” of the medical profession) was complaining nearly ten years ago that doctors were seeing the consequences of unhealthy diets. Needless to say they recommended whole raft of interventionist measures to curb this apparent problem:

  • A ban on advertising foods high in saturated fat, sugar and salt before 9pm;
  • Further taxes on sugary drinks to increase prices by at least 20%;
  • A reduction in fast food outlets near schools and leisure centres;
  • A £100m budget for interventions such as weight-loss surgery;
  • No junk food or vending machines in hospitals, where all food must meet the same nutritional standards as in schools;
  • Food labels to include calorie information for children.

For the purposes of this article, we will ignore the question whether these medical mandarins have, in fact, managed to identify the “right” choices for people to make with their own bodies. (As we saw with COVID-19, our current, materialist society always seems to hold bodily preservation as the highest possible value; however, it is by no means obvious that a statistically longer life devoid of innocent pleasures should be preferable to a shorter life that is more enjoyable.)

Instead, the problem we wish to address here is rather more grievous: that whenever members of the public make supposedly “bad” choices there is the ever present assumption that, as these choices are made with apparent freedom, that it is the free market that has “failed” in preventing the emergence of the “undesired” outcomes. What is never discussed, or even raised, is the possibility that people’s choices are influenced by existing state interferences into that market. If that should be the case, it is impossible to say that the same choices would be made in a genuine free market. Worse still, if the state itself is the ultimate cause of the undesirable choices, then any call for more state intervention is likely to either exacerbate the original problem or lead to the emergence of entirely new problems in the future.

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