How to solve the obesity crisis: turn the central heating down

We have long been, well, how to say this, umm, somewhat unconvinced, of the standard explanations for rising obesity. As we've mentioned just recently, that more people seem likely to die in some decades from popped fat pustules is less of a problem than our older now solved problem of people dying next week from lack of food. But it is still true that rampant obesity, if for no other than aesthetic reasons, isn't to be greatly welcomed.

Yet we just cannot bring ourselves to believe the standard explanations. That it's all to do with increased sugar consumption is obviously nonsense given that sugar consumption per capita has been falling. That it's about increased calorie consumption is also obviously wrong: the average diet today is lower in calories (and significantly so) than the standard WWII ration at which weight would be lost. So, it must be some other cause here, something else is going on.

We have leapt from there to the idea that the major use of energy in mammals is maintaining body temperature. Something of a leap to be sure but that epidemic of obesity is at least correlated with the widespread adoption of central heating across time and countries.

Now we learn that our leap is not simply fanciful:

Elderly adults are bigger around the middle when they turn up the heat inside their homes during the cold season and have smaller waistlines when their homes stay cool, new research finds. Investigators from Japan presented their study results Friday at the Endocrine Society's 98th annual meeting in Boston.

"Although cold exposure may be a trigger of cardiovascular disease, our data suggest that safe and appropriate cold exposure may be an effective preventive measure against obesity," said the study's lead investigator, Keigo Saeki, MD, PhD, of Nara Medical University School of Medicine Department of Community Health and Epidemiology, Nara, Japan.

Cold exposure activates thermogenesis, to generate body heat, in brown fat. This type of fat is the good calorie-burning fat that prior research found most humans have. However, Saeki said the association between the amount of cold exposure and obesity in real life remains unclear.

We can thus junk all the currently fashionable nostrums. It's not killer sugar, not the food industry ramming doughnuts into our gobs, all that is required it to turn the central heating down. Sure, there's no plaudits to be won in fighting against The Man here, no tax revenue to be collected, no social justice warriors to be employed in 5 degrees today outreach. But it does have the advantage of being consistent with the empirical evidence we have. 

We're eating less, consuming less sugar, keep our homes much warmer than ever before and are getting fat. Given the increase in weight it's likely to be the thing that we've increased, not that we've reduced, to blame.

Logical, evidentially supported, it'll never catch on as public policy, will it? 

We'll chalk this up as a victory for free markets, capitalism and globalisation then

We'll chalk this up as a victory for free markets, capitalism and globalisation then

The Lancet tells us, in shocked and disapproving tones, that there are now more fatty lardbuckets on the planet than there are undernourished people. We simply cannot bring ourselves to think of this as being a bad thing. Rather, we consider it to be a massive victory for the economic policies of the last few decades. A victory for capitalism, free markets and globalisation.

A ridiculously silly complaint about the national living wage

A ridiculously silly complaint about the national living wage

We should emphasise here that we are not in favour of Osborne's new national living wage. The correct answer to some people being perceived as having too low an income is not to start price fixing, messing with the market. Instead it is for those who insist that those incomes are too low to put their hands into their own pockets and top up those incomes they perceive as being too low. Yes, it is simply moral that those doing the insisting do the paying.

Obama is wrong about the difference between capitalism and communism

President Obama recently told Cuban kids not to worry about the philosophy of communism or capitalism, but just go with what works. I have little problem with that because most people are indeed not bothered with matters of philosophy, and we know what works – and it isn’t communism. So if they do what works they will end up as capitalists.

But I do get angry when it is suggested that there is ‘little difference’ to choose between these two philosophy. The trouble is, that there is very little difference between communism and what’s called capitalism these days, largely because our politicians do not understand the philosophy themselves.

Maybe it’s just my recent speed-dating of Ayn Rand rubbing off on me, but I think we need to promote a much deeper understanding of the principles underpinning our system, in particular their ethical roots, nature and results.

Obama, for example, is at pains to point out that capitalism is just fine, provided that we make sure it has a proper ethical dimension. Which shows that he thinks that, by itself, it doesn’t, and that it somehow needs to have morality regulated into it.

Yeah, well what about the ‘moral' basis of communism? It’s not capitalism that murdered 3,000 people a day when it was going strong (add them up: Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot’s purges just for starters). And capitalism at least treats people like human beings rather than as tools in someone else’s thinking, and respects their lives, families and property. In Cuba, you have a cow and because your family is starving you kill it to eat. Then you go to jail because it’s not ‘your’ cow, it’s the state’s cow. How moral is that? 

Sure, you have to be nice to communist leaders if you want them to talk to you and maybe then have an impact on them; but there must be ways of letting them know that as a matter of plain fact, it’s communism that stinks, not capitalism, both in theory and practice. The general mass of their own population, of course, already know that.

The liberal case for 'Leave'

The EU referendum campaign is presenting us two competing choices. On the one hand a vision of Britain as part of a steadily-integrating EU (at whatever speed) or a vision of Britain completely outside it.

For the Remain side, we are required to anticipate what may happen over the next generation which, if the last 40 years are anything to go by, will mean a gradual growth of EU power into more and more areas of competence - the ratchet towards “a country called Europe”.

The vision of Britain outside generally uses a number of arguments employed over a long period: of the need to regain our sovereignty and become a self-governing democracy again; to have the flexibility to deregulate; to spend the UK’s EU contributions on something better inside the UK; to drive forward better trade deals with countries beyond the EU; and to constrain immigration.

However let’s take this from a different angle and set out a third vision - a Leave proposition that rejects some of the arguments outlined above. In short, a liberal case for Leave.

Read more.

Why not get all Marxist about the libraries?

We've another of these dirges about how the libraries are under such great threat:

Nearly 350 libraries have closed in Britain over the past six years, causing the loss of almost 8,000 jobs, according to new analysis.

In a controversial move that sparked protests by authors including Philip Pullman and Zadie Smith, councils across the country have shut their reading rooms in an effort to make deep savings.

Children’s author Alan Gibbons warned the public library service faced the “greatest crisis in its history”.

All of which brings out our inner Karl Marx. Who did insist that the forces of production (ie, technology) determined social relations. And if we're to be a little more narrow about this, technology determines, or at least should, how we go about doing certain things. The economic historian Brad Delong has long pointed out that the university teaching style of a lecture is really just a hangover from medieval days. When books were vastly expensive (a scholar might hope to accumulate a library of perhaps a score volumes over a lifetime) then having one person reading that very expensive product to 200 made some sort of sense. When a copy of the book costs less than the hourly wage of the reader perhaps less so.

So it is with libraries. When books were much more expensive than they are today then increasing the Solow Residual (in exactly and entirely the manner that Uber and so on do today, the sharing economy) through reuse and lending made great sense. But technologies change, relative prices change. It may or may not be true that we have reached that tipping point just yet, where the value of the books being lent is less than the cost of running the lending system, but we think we can all see that that is going to happen at some point.

The point is thus not that libraries are closing, nor that we should all fight the power to prevent it. What should actually be the discussion is, well, do we need libraries any more? And if we still do then when won't we?

But of course, as C. Northcote Parkinson pointed out, there's nothing as conservative as a bureaucracy considering its own existence.