I have been giving a few moments thought to the concept of "nudging".
There was an article in the Times during the week which raised a few questions.
I have no problems with "nudging" provided it is done properly, and by properly I mean that I am given an option. The classic example is to make stairs in an office prominent while the lift is hidden around a corner, to encourage exercise. That's fine by me, and if I want to take the lift, I'll find it. If a supermarket wants to put the "healthy" option at eye level and hide the "unhealthy" option down the back of the shop, then again that's fine. Essentially "nudging" should encourage one particular course of action over another, but the other must still be available.
They can pump out all the propaganda they like and I will ignore it. They can stick lurid pictures and shrill text on packaging and I will ignore them too. They can drape naked women across cars and I won't buy the car [unless of course the naked woman comes with it]. They can scream that my sausages and bacon are carcinogenic and I will treat their hysteria with the contempt it deserves.
Where I draw the line is when the alternative is removed. This is the line where the Nanny State becomes the Bully State. I am forced to climb the stairs because the lift has been removed. I am forced to buy the "healthy" option because the "unhealthy" option has been banned.
This little statement really got me thinking –
Cass Sunstein: “Let’s begin with a definition. A nudge is an intervention that steers people in a certain direction while maintaining their freedom of choice. A GPS nudges. Public education campaigns, warnings, reminders and product labels are nudges. Fines, subsidies and jail sentences are not nudges.
Just think about it for a moment. They tax tobacco at a special rate. One only has to look at our recent budget where the only item that had an increase in tax was tobacco.
I would contend that the tax on tobacco is not a tax. It is a fine. What makes it a fine is its uniqueness – it is a separate tax from all others and is increased disproportionately, supposedly to force people not to buy tobacco. It is therefore a penalty, or fine, and not a tax. It is a punishment for daring to defy the Tobacco Control Industry. The more I defy them, the greater the punishment. Furthermore there are no alternatives [apart from the obvious Man with a Van] so I am forced to pay a substantial fine for doing something which is quite legitimate, just because the powers that be reckon they know more about my health than I do.
Already there are calls for people to be fined for using sugar and alcohol. Doubtless there will be calls eventually for a fine on red meat or any other aspect of a lifestyle which meets with disapproval. They even want to fine the use of e-cigarettes, not because there is any logical reason but simply because they disapprove of them.
We have long left the Nanny State.
Welcome to the Bully State.