As you may have noticed, we've been pretty preoccupied with the nanny state this week. With Monday's minimum alcohol pricing announcement in Scotland, Tuesday's release of "The Wages of Sin Taxes", Chris Snowdon's excellent debunking of the arguments for sin taxes, and yesterday's call by British Medical Association writers to bring in a "fat tax" on fatty foods (not that anyone can agree on what those are), it seems that there's hardly a single bit of fun someone in power doesn't want to discourage with a tax or price floor.
It's all very dispiriting, but what's striking is how economically sound it all is. These paternalists might have no regard for individual liberty; they might have a puritan's appreciation of the power of a bottle of wine to lubricate human relationships; they might even long for two extra years in a care home in Kent. And you have to admire their pragmatism in stamping out the things they disapprove of — generally speaking, poor people living unhealthy lifestyles. They grasp the fundamental law of economics that incentives matter.
But in in proposing things like taxes on Coca-Cola are price floors for alcohol, the puritans have given the game away. They've accepted free market logic that contravenes all the other things they tend to support. If taxing Coca-Cola makes people drink Coca-Cola less, then taxing work via the income tax must make people work less. If a price floor for alcohol makes people drink less booze (binge drinkers' low price elasticities of demand notwithstanding), then the price floor for labour we call the National Minimum Wage must make firms hire fewer people.
Even the infamous "pasty tax", which I oppose – there's no such thing as a good tax rise, in my book – is criticised by many on the left as a tax on "working class food". What is a minimum price floor on alcohol, if not an attack on "working class booze"?
The elite that wants to impose its lifestyle on the rest of us may be using this sort of thinking for evil, but more people accepting the logic of economic thinking is generally a good thing. Not many people actively want more unemployment or less productivity. With any luck, it will turn out that not many people actively want to be told by their betters how to eat and socialize either.