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Dr Muriel Newman

Know it all Politicians

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Posted on

27 May 2007

Know it all Politicians

The latest Police prosecution figures show that there has been an alarming rise in the number of people drinking and driving. This is despite many millions of dollars of taxpayers’ money spent on drink-driving campaigns.

But it isn’t just the government’s drinking and driving campaigns that appear to be failing. Smoking continues almost unabated in spite of the huge amount of money being spent on health warnings. On top of the $20 million the anti-smoking lobby received last year, Labour has just announced that a further $44 million of health funding is to be poured into anti-smoking campaigns.

Then there is the war on obesity. Obesity is shaping up as the biggest health battleground of the early 21st century with over $143 million worth of funding announced last year for anti-obesity campaigns.

And let’s not forget ‘problem’ gambling, another area where government is spending vast amounts of taxpayer’s money to save people from themselves. With around $80 million being ploughed into prevention, the fact that the number of problem gamblers seeking treatment is far lower than expected does not appear to concern either the government or the providers who appear certain that “many others will be identified”. Nor do they appear to be overly concerned that in one case, the cost of counselling eight gamblers was $143,160.

The government is justifying the spending of massive amounts of taxpayer money to try to change public behaviour by quoting scary research. However, since much of this research is based on extrapolating rather flimsy assumptions, it is hardly a cast-iron validation of what amounts to costly and restrictive regulation.

For example, the justification for sweeping new laws that have restricted the rights and overall freedoms of smoking and non-smoking New Zealanders alike was research showing that “388 deaths a year are caused by second-hand smoke”. Yet, an examination of the research paper shows that the researchers themselves warned “there are many uncertainties associated with this calculation”. They then go on to state that the estimated number of deaths could be as low as 180 a year. View

Interestingly, research carried out a few years ago by Clubs NZ in conjunction with the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research, that showed that good ventilation systems can be totally effective in removing smoke from enclosed spaces, was never seriously considered by the government. Their appeal for ventilation rather than evacuation as a strategy to protect patrons and workers from the effects of second-hand smoke fell on deaf ears.

A key issue as we consider the merit of expensive government campaigns designed to save ourselves from ourselves, is that not only is it impossible to create a risk-free society, but there is little evidence to show that their “behaviour changing” policies are achieving anything. The cost of over-regulation on society is considerable, not only in financial terms but in the stultification of the entrepreneurial spirit that goes hand in hand with the excessive use of mind-numbing regulation.

In April 2003, the former Minister of Health Dr Michael Bassett wrote a column about the ‘Fight the Obesity Epidemic’ group. He thought that the spokeswoman “was giving vent to more foolishness than I’ve seen concentrated in one document for years”.

He went on to say: “She wants legislation to cover the content and placement of food advertisements, and authority to ban those she doesn’t approve; she wants power to regulate food sold at schools: ‘what the heck are we doing selling soft drinks, fruit drinks, chips and pies, sweets and chocolates in schools?’ she asks rhetorically. Her list of smart solutions to the obesity epidemic? Taxing video and computer games because of their association with sedentary activity; removing Government support from television; promoting exercise by exempting bicycle sales from GST; extending daylight saving to allow more time for physical activity. Oh dear! The disjunction between good intent and likely outcome could not be more scary”. To read the article (part of a new weekly “Political Opinion” column on the NZCPR website) click here

However, her wish list, which seemed so ridiculously excessive and restrictive back then, is now on the way to being implemented, thanks to hundreds of millions of dollars of taxpayer funding.

And that is the issue. Regulations, by destroying wealth, confiscating property rights, discouraging personal responsibility, and killing innovation, often do far more harm than good. They create thousands of pages of new rules and generate hundreds of additional bureaucratic jobs that not only impede ordinary folk, but all too often fail dismally to deliver the outcomes desired.

The regulatory zealots who live amongst us refuse to recognise that the best way to improve the overall health and safety within society is to raise our standard of living.

John Stossel, an award winning American television correspondent and author, regularly targets those regulators and politicians who thrive on the hysteria about risk and deceive the public in the name of safety. In an article “Busybody Politicians, Get Off Our Backs”, he states: “Sometimes I think the type of people who run for office are the most dangerous people. Most of us want to run our own lives, or help people by offering them charity, or selling them things. The people who want to run other people’s lives are… different. In pursuit of their vision of the perfect world, they justify even absurd restrictions on our freedom.” To read click townhall.com In reality, individuals are governed by self-interest, making their own choices in life to enhance their own wellbeing. That is why smart governments strive to put in place public policy incentives that understand human nature and create a win-win situation. Policies like lowering taxes will encourage people to work harder, as well as generating more income for the government. A zero tolerance approach to crime will make sure that anyone even considering offending will think twice knowing that there is a very good chance they will be caught and punished. And policies to strengthen families and support parents will pay dividends by helping to ensure that children are given the best possible start in life.

New Zealanders are pragmatic people. We don’t want the government to treat us like children. Instead we want a government that protects the right of individuals and their families to pursue their dreams and aspirations without know-it-all politicians getting in their way.

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