The doctors are on the rampage again

We’ve a letter in the BMJ signed by some thousands of doctors over plain packaging of cigarettes:

The government is heading for an explosive new year showdown with doctors who fear it is in danger of giving cigarette companies a late Christmas present by pulling out of a major anti-tobacco initiative.

Nearly 4,000 health professionals, including the presidents of many of the leading royal colleges, have signed an open letter to the prime minister and the health secretary, published on Sunday on the British Medical Journal website, expressing alarm that plans to force cigarette manufacturers to sell their products in plain packs may not be introduced before the general election, as had been expected.

The number of doctors signing the letter – 3,728 – is five times greater than the number who recently signed an open letter supporting a ban on smoking in cars, a health initiative the government has confirmed it will introduce. The thousands of signatories underscore the strength of feeling about the issue within the medical community.

We’ve indicated here before our suspicion of the emergency with which this particular question is being addressed. The government says that it must follow EU rules about consultation, the doctors are saying damn that and do it now. But why now? Our suspicion is that they want it enacted into law before the evidence that it doesn’t actually work becomes more widely appreciated:

Australian Bureau of Statistics’ data show that there has been a secular decline in the chain volume of tobacco sales since the 1970s, but this began to go into reverse in the first year of plain packaging (see graph below). In three out four quarters in 2013, sales were higher than they had been in the last quarter before plain packaging was implemented. This unusual rise in tobacco sales only came to end in December 2013 when a large tax rise on tobacco (of 12.5 per cent) was implemented, thereby leading to a fall in the following quarter.

Screaming that we’ve a major problem that requires action is sometimes valid. Whether you think that plain packaging is such is up to you. But it does boggle the mind that so much effort is being given to the implementation of a policy that doesn’t actually achieve its predicted result. It’s rather like the similar public health campaign for minimum alcohol prices. They seem to have got the bit between their teeth and thus be completely incapable of seeing that they’re proposing something that is just a terribly stupid way to try and achieve that stated goal.

What really worries here is that we’re really quite sure that you’ve got to be reasonably bright to train as a doctor. So why is it that when it comes to these public health campaigns they all seem to have left their brains at home?

A Capitalist Carol, Stave 4

The story so far: The high-spending, big-government enthusiast Ed Splurge has been visited by the Ghost of Freedom Past…


Although they had but that moment left Splurge’s apartment behind them, they were now in the busy thoroughfares of a city. The noise was tumultuous, for there were adults, and more children there than Splurge in his agitated state of mind could count, all talking, singing, dancing, and generally enjoying what was obviously Christmas Day.

They continued, the ghost and Splurge, to a large house. They went across the hall, to a door at the back. In a melancholy room, lined with books sat an old man with a long white beard, quill in hand, writing earnestly, obviously unaware or unmoved by the joy and bustle going on outside.

“Why, it’s Charles Dickens!” cried Splurge. “I did my dissertation on him, and how he exposed the evils of the factory system!”

“Your eyes, and his,” said the spirit, “were clouded by bile and ignorance. “Before the Industrial Revolution, most people were condemned to life in abject poverty, destitute and starving, toiling outdoors in all weathers for an uncertain harvest. They thronged, willingly, to the factories exactly because of the security, income and opportunity that the towns afforded.”

“But the work was still harsh,” objected Splurge, “and the upper classes lived far, far better.”

“Bah!” replied the spirit. “The upper classes prospered by extracting favours and monopolies from the political authorities. Have you not heard that power corrupts?”

“The hours for those without political cronies,” it continued, “were long because this was yet a poor country – until production, exchange and investment made ordinary people rich.”

“Oh, spirit!” cried Splurge. “You mean the capitalist system I decried was the very salvation of these poor wretches?”

“Yes; and what gave them opportunity for self-improvement. Come!”

Suddenly they were at the door of a grand building, proudly declaiming itself “Institute of Education”. People – ordinary mill workers, Splurge surmised – crowded past them, each heading for rooms in which different activities were going on. In this, it was a concert in which they played string or brass instruments. In that, a lecture on Mr Darwin’s new theories. In another, a class teaching reading and writing to adults and children alike.

“Factory owners were fully aware of the benefits of a fulfilled and educated workforce,” explained the ghost, “and made these facilities available. And the workers themselves combined into friendly societies, to make provision for their own welfare needs, without needing the powerful – and corrupt – state that you deem so essential.”

“But you,” it scowled, “would have denied them that every opportunity, and condemned them to starvation on the land.”

“Oh spirit!” begged Splurge. “Take me from here. I can no longer bear these memories!”

He was conscious of being exhausted, and of being back in his own bedroom; and had barely time to reel into bed, before he sank into a heavy sleep.

Someone’s got a very dark sense of humour concerning Cuba


Much chuntering about the fact that Broadway musicals have returned to Cuba for the first time in 50 years. And whoever it was that put this package together they’ve a very, very, dark sense of humour:

In the play, the setting is New York: the East Village, in the early 1990s, with a bohemian, artistic crowd trying to make ends meet over Christmas.

In real life, the setting is Havana – with a disparate group of actors, trying to put on a musical, to show over the festive period.

Because for the first time in 50 years, a Broadway musical is transferring to the Communist island, and – in a case of life imitating art – a play whose first scene opens on Christmas Eve will raise its curtain on December 24. Rent will then open to entertain crowds of curious Cubans, most of whom will never in their lives have seen a musical on that scale.

“Getting permission to bring the show here was extremely challenging,” said Robert Nederlander Jr – producer of the show, and the third generation of a Broadway dynasty. “It took us well over a year to negotiate.”

Our best guess is that we should congratulate Mr. Nederlander on that sense of humour.

Rent is a story (loosely a story, a collection of songs loosely nailed to a story might be a better description) detailing the travails of various people of interesting sexuality, their struggles with being HIV positive, the threats of becoming so, and how they cannot find secure and decent housing.

To take this to an island that, until recently, would lock up in isolation camps those who were HIV positive, distinctly demonise those of interesting sexuality and where there hasn’t been decent or secure housing since the socialist revolution is, well, it is humorous, isn’t it?

Well done Mr. Nederlander, well done, our caps are raised in admiration. We are left wondering though who, other than you and ourselves, is going to get the joke.

A Capitalist Carol, Stave 3

The story so far: Haunted by the ghost of Adam Smith, high-spending, big-government enthusiast Ed Splurge is expecting the first of three more visitations… 


When Splurge awoke, it was dark. Smith’s ghost bothered him exceedingly. It had warned him of a visitation when the bell tolled One – which it now did, with a deep, dull, hollow, melancholy ONE.

Light flashed up in the room upon the instant, and the curtains of his bed were drawn – drawn aside by a hand. Splurge found himself face to face with the unearthly visitor who drew them: as close to it as I am to you now.

It was a strange figure – like a child: yet more like an old man viewed through some supernatural medium, which diminished it to a child’s proportions.

“Are you the spirit, whose coming was retold to me? Asked Splurge.

“I am the Ghost of Freedom Past”

“Long past?” inquired Splurge: observant of its dwarfish stature.

“Your past. Your ideology’s past.”

But the strangest thing about this apparition was, that from the crown of its head there sprung a bright clear jet of light, by which all was visible; and which was doubtless the occasion of its using a great extinguisher of a cap, which it now held under its arm.

Perhaps, Splurge could not have told anybody why, if anybody could have asked him, but he had a special desire to see the spirit in his cap; and begged him to be covered.

“What!” exclaimed the ghost, “would you so soon put out, with worldly hands, the lamp of liberty? For that is the light I give!”

Splurge reverently disclaimed all intention of doing that. He made bold to inquire what business brought him there.

“Your reclamation!” replied the apparition, in a voice soft and gentle. It clasped him by the arm. “Rise! Walk with me!” And it made toward the window.

“I am mortal,” Splurge remonstrated, “and liable to fall.”

“Bear a touch of freedom,” said the spirit, laying his hand upon its heart, “and you shall be upheld in more than this!”

As the words were spoken, they passed through the wall. The city had entirely vanished. It was a clear, cold, winter day, with snow upon the ground.

“Good Heaven!” said Splurge. “I know this place!”

We can show that conscription is economically inefficient

Quite apart from the fact that conscription is vile in and of itself, it’s the creation of slavery to the state, we’ve good evidence that it’s economically irrational as well. This little snippet from Iran illustrates the point:

Iran has been hit so hard that its government, looking for ways to fill a widening hole in its budget, is offering young men the option of buying their way out of an obligatory two years of military service. “We are on the eve of a major crisis,” an Iranian economist, Hossein Raghfar, told the Etemaad newspaper on Sunday. “The government needs money badly.”

The amount people will pay to avoid conscription is higher than the value the government places on having conscripts. Thus the loss to the individual must be higher than the gain to the government. This makes the idea economically irrational: it’s a destruction of wealth.

Now of course we’re most unlikely to have military conscription in the UK anytime soon,. But it’s worth keeping that lesson in mind. And yes, this economic reality does also apply to all of the various plans floating around for compulsory “voluntary” service and all the rest. Enslaving people to the state is simply wrong in the first place. But the value that people put on avoiding it is greater than the value the government places upon their doing it. Therefore this is a destruction of wealth: really not what we want a government to be doing, is it?