Monday, 3 September 2012

The dictatorship of public health

An article by Gerard Hastings in the British Medical Journal ('Why corporate power is a public health priority') must be the most jaw-droppingly awful thing that once-great magazine has ever published. Over the course of four pages, Hastings combines every half-baked obsession of the far-left with the God complex of the medical establishment to produce something that goes far beyond the slippery slope and is more akin to a coup d'etat. He begins, as so many do these days, by discussing tobacco.

...tobacco has remained such an intractable problem only because our economic system allows free ranging corporations to market it.

What year is it again? There is no tobacco marketing any more. It was banned 13 years ago. You won, remember, as you always do. Change the record and find another excuse for why people keep smoking.

The same applies to the other two “industrial epidemics” that constitute such a large share of the public health burden: alcohol misuse and obesity.

You might think that this is another "let's treat food and alcohol like tobacco" article, and it is. But it is also much more than that. Get ready.

In each case evocative promotion, ubiquitous distribution, perpetual new product development, and seductive pricing strategies are used to encourage unhealthy consumption. And in each case painstaking research and review have shown the obvious truth that this marketing effort succeeds, especially with the young.

Promotion, distribution, product development and pricing—the basic foundation of any business in a capitalist society. Alas, our cossetted academic is no fan of capitalist society. (Incidentally, the references he provides regarding this "painstaking research" are a bunch of articles written by himself.)

The consequence has been the inevitable escalation of lifestyle illnesses such as cancer, heart disease, cirrhosis, and diabetes.

As I have mentioned before, the "escalation" of "lifestyle illnesses" is very largely the result of communicable diseases being beaten back in the day when 'public health' was a medical, rather than a political, enterprise. The chart below speaks a thousand words.




Hastings then proceeds to regurgitate the usual Green Party/Spirit Level/champagne socialist stuff about how capitalism creates artificial desires and leads to an "unstinting hunt for new needs and wants (or, increasingly, whims) to satisfy". It gives people a "burgeoning sense of entitlement", he reckons, which is the pot calling the kettle black, as we shall see.

Once basic needs are satisfied, the correlation between material possessions and contentment rapidly dissipates...


Blah, blah, blah...

...marketing keeps us craving more: the paradox of a system devoted to our satisfaction is that it depends on our perpetual dissatisfaction...


Oh, to be 16 again, eh?

...the fiduciary duty of corporations gives them a legal obligation to prioritise the needs, not of the consumer, but of the shareholder.


A legal obligation? It's illegal to prioritise the needs of the consumer, is it? Long-time readers may recall another public health cretin, Anna Gilmore, showing the same pathetic ignorance when she said: "These large corporations, whether they sell tobacco, food or alcohol, are legally obliged to maximise shareholder returns."

Anyone who believes such a thing should really hold their tongue on matters economic, but Hastings wibbles on...

The corporate marketers’ self centred purpose, then, is “to recognise and achieve an economic advantage which endures.” Not an economic advantage for the customer — just for the company.


Oh, for God's sake...

Look, I know this is Econ 101, but for the benefit of the medical profession, a person buying a product gets more benefit from consuming it than he would by keeping hold of the money. The person selling the product gets more benefit from the money than he would from keeping the product. This system of free exchange is to the advantage of both parties. Indeed, it can only exist if both parties benefit. It is for that reason that the Evil Corporations cannot prioritise the needs of the shareholder over those of the consumer. They have to produce something the consumer wants before they can even hope to please the shareholder. I realise that the concept of producing something people want is alien to 'public health professionals' who feed off the productive economy and rely on state power for their income, but that is how it works.

Hastings then goes on to make an unconvincing lament, pretending that public health 'advocates' are not sufficiently media-savvy and are too scientifically minded to make the political demands he believes are required.

Our focus has become increasingly narrow and technocratic. We are, it seems, happier conducting randomised controlled trials of leaflet interventions or calculating algorithms that mean little outside the laboratory than challenging a system that is both deeply unfair and hopelessly unsustainable.

Pull the other one, Gerard. You've never been in a laboratory in your life. You're a professor of social marketing with no scientific qualifications whose every publication is aimed at changing government policy, including the "independent" review into the evidence for plain packaging. Your Stirling University colleague Linda Bauld, who is also an economically illiterate, state-funded political campaigner, produced the "independent" review into the smoking ban. Don't play the violin, sir, you have the whole game stitched up already. Moreover, people like you are the rule rather than the exception in the Mickey Mouse world of public health where anyone with a degree in mechanical engineering, management or sociology can present themselves as a 'professor of public health' and hope the media mistake them for a doctor, which they normally do.

Moving beyond the topic specific, where is the public health contribution to such pressing problems as the corporate takeover of the Olympics—an event that should be a beacon of healthy activity not another shopping opportunity—or the debate about the coalition government abandoning its green agenda; or the financial crisis and corporate greed? Would a journalist even think about coming to public health for a comment on any of these?

On the subject of the Olympics, I vividly recall the BBC devoting 20 minutes of Newsnight to one of your fellow travellers bitching about the sponsors and there were countless column inches written on the same subject elsewhere.

As for the "green agenda" and the financial crisis, why on earth would any journalist think their readers would be interested in what you or anyone else from your cabal has to say about issues which are completely out of your field of alleged expertise? Frankly, it's bad enough having sociologists and 'professors of socio-management' talking about health without them repeating something they heard at a dinner party about the international financial system.

He carries on in this vein for several pages. I don't have time to fisk it all but this should give you an idea...

Thinking more broadly still, the biggest effect that all this remorseless corporate marketing has on public health comes even further upstream — at a planetary level. We have built a system where continuous growth, fed by marketing driven excess consumption by the already well-off, is inevitably coming into conflict with the limits of a finite planet...

...now more than ever people need a champion to speak up for their real needs, rather than the phoney ones teased and tempted by corporate capitalism...

We can and should be offering a geopolitical vision with greater equality as its central pledge...

Public health has to demand a place at the macroeconomic table; it has to contribute to the debate about where corporate capitalism is going...

We have to take the lead in a movement away from a world driven by abeyance to the corporate bottom line and the enrichment of an elite...

Et cetera, et cetera. In short, Hastings endorses the classic bone-headed Bollinger Bolshevik view that people do things he doesn't like because of advertising and so he wants to extend the ban on tobacco advertising not only to alcohol and food, but to practically everything.

If, for example, the advertising of tobacco can be banned because smoking harms the individual, should not all advertising be much more circumscribed because the consumption it engenders harms the planet?

Furthermore, since the puritans and charlatans of public health know what's better for people than they do themselves, their power should be extended to every aspect of political life.

We must demand a seat at the political top table, not just in health but in finance. Recent events in the banking sector confirm an age old lesson that fiscal policy has at least as much effect on morbidity and mortality as anything done in health ministries. Public health is too important to be left to economists and politicians...

For "too important to be left to politicians" read "too important to be left to democracy", so let's bypass elected representatives altogether and allow obscure left-wing academics rule the roost.

Seriously folks, there is no greater threat to freedom in the UK right now than these demagogues.



5 comments:

mister_choos said...

I'd love to go round the houses of everyone of these bastards and remove everything from them that they consider the rest of us shouldn't have.

See how they like it.

James Burr said...

Brilliant post! Agreed with every word. And I agree - these people are no longer just annoying. They're no longer just financial parasites. They are genuinely, genuinely dangerous and a threat to ALL aspects of our lives.

But how can they be stopped?

fufluns said...

It´s really strange that average life expectancy is rising in all developed countries - even though we have alcohol, tobacco, fastfood etc etc etc...

Ivan D said...

I agree with James Burr. Hastings is a dangerous extremist. It is hard to say based on this error strewn sociopolitical nonsense whether he is disingenuous or genuinely ignorant but I believe that the distinction is irrelevant in his case.

The way to stop him and his kind is simple. Stop funding them. Despite his portrayal of himself as a valiant defender of the public from big greedy corporations, I doubt that Hastings would carry on his crusade for too long if the cash dried up.

Ivan D said...

A bit off topic but is there any way of finding out who exactly nominated Hastings for an OBE and who devalued the honour by awarding it to him? I am wondering if it was the same senior civil servants who still run the DoH.