Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Five Minutes with Alan de Botton

...is insufficient, but it's enough for him to out-think the Tories:

The interviewer asks, "What is the ideal form of government?"

de Botton replies: "The ideal form of government is an enlightened government, which doesn’t have a problem with trying to teach people how to live…we’ ve got a terrible fear of the word ‘paternalism’. I actually believe in paternalistic government…we need the right sort of government that can actually teach us how to lead our lives..."

 It's a favourite theme of mine that current (and previous) Government policy tends to follow public opinion, rather than lead it. This is dangerous, because public opinion forms a fragile, disjointed and self-contradictory philosophy, and a policy based on whatever the Government spin-doctors think will play well with public opinion is likely to lead to poor outcomes.

Most people would agree that childhood obesity, and obesity in general, is a bad thing. You don't have to dig very deep into the medical research to see that this problem is a public heath time-bomb that will generate massive costs for the NHS and untold misery caused by lives cut short.

An enlightened Government would want to tackle obesity by addressing both poor diet and sedentary lifestyles. Cycling could form a part of the latter. Instead, the Government are doing nothing to encourage kids to walk or cycle to school, are cutting cycling and school sports funding, and actually making car travel easier. The government are more afraid of getting blamed for the short-term inconvenience of motorists than they are for failing to halt a massive increase in obesity-related illness, death and disability.

In other words, this is a Government keen to teach us how not to lead our lives.

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