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July 07, 2008


Bob B

Don't knock it. I'm urgently awaiting the launch of a national cookery book, delivered to every household, with lots of economising New Labour recipes and a forward signed by the Prime Minister with his picture as the definitive answer to reducing national food waste and the costs of eating.

Wedgie Benn was often on about how much better fed we were with ration books during the war. Not nearly so much obesity or diabetes as now and none of those beguiling ethnic takeaways, just regular fish 'n' chips. Those were the days.

My ambition for when I get older and the housing market settles down again is to become a mortgage broker for those who need to take out a bit of housing equity to buy a regular supply of delivered pizzas at £12 a head.


Would "The reverse Canute effect" be better if you adopted the modish spelling 'Cnut'? Perhaps along the lines of 'The muddled Cnut effect'?

Peter Risdon

"In the same way, when the tide is out, his strong leadership causes it to come in."

"However, the strongest evidence for this belief is, increasingly, the fact that they actually voted for this government."

Superb post.


what is the relationship between 4. and being 'left wing'? I mean that I know a lot of people who think of themselves as left wing, who are worried about food waste and think that people ought to be encouraged to waste less food. And wasting food is just one of many things which people ought not do and something needs to be done about. If pressed to defend this position, they might settle on an argument that resembles bounded rationality, possibly blaming supermarkets en route, to explain why people waste food even though it's against their best interest.

now I know there's no necessary connection between being paternalist and being left wing, but I'd say paternalism is associated with actually existing left wingers, to such an extent that I wonder if you can really call yourself left wing if you are not paternalist. What's more, I'm not sure they're entirely wrong - while you have paternalism down as a 'bad thing' here, I think that some arguments for paternalism, in some contexts, are hard to reject.

For example, if we do fall short of rationality, and by force of habit, laziness or for whatever reason, many of us buy too much food and needlessly throw it away, maybe being hectored about this a bit is a good thing? I don't know, but I do think that the polarised positions of paternalist vrs laissez faire both have their problems.


No, Tories are paternalist. Left wingers of a certain kind - and I put myself on the Left - enjoy bossing other people around. Orwell captured the type very well in 1984 with his description of Ingsoc and its followers. I'm sure that Ingsoc's modern followers think that the proles waste their food, as well as it being disgusting anyway. They drink too much, smoke and it ought to be banned. And in their more private moments they probably think that there truly are such things as thought crimes, which, if only they could figure out how, should be punished.


But as ever you have it right - he isn't actually DOING anything, it SOUNDS as if he's doing something - which he is not. And economics will take care of the problem over time - especially the oil price.

Roger Clague

The purpose of Canute's beach stunt was to prove that he could not control nature. He did not try to spin the result by ordering out the already retreating tide. Everyone would expect him to continue to control nature.

He was a lot smarter than Brown.
This waste food idea is very different. Politicians claim credit for positive effects they have not caused.


I'd still go for the idiocy theory I voiced many days ago. After all, who but an idiot would go on about unneceesary purchases (as if he knew what was necessary for us little people) while jetting off to an all-expenses paid and wholly useless G8 meeting?


People shouldn't need to be told to not waste food as it costs more, but it is possible that being told can increase the salience of the expense in a person's mind so that prices will play a bigger role in determining behavior than they would otherwise.

Perhaps also there are people who take the admonitions of ministers seriously. They follow what authority figures rather than their own preferences.

Another possibility is that this guy is respected and liked by some, so some will eat less so they can be more like him and feel internally as if they are getting his approval in some circular way.


You missed

5) He's a Cunt who just can't stop telling people what to do.

I really imagine in 2010 once the fucker has been voted out with the largest swing ever in a general election, a week or two after the election he'll be popping up on the telly thinking we need to be told what to do. Whereas if he had any decency whatsoever he would fuck off and kill himself now before he fucks this country up any more. I don't think we can take two more years of his borrowing/spending...


I've visited countries where leftovers are fed to dogs, cats, pigs, etc. In some countries they use pigs to eat human sh*t.

So there you go - if everyone kept pigs, no food would get wasted.


Now, I’m embarrassed to point this out, but people don’t need telling this. The more expensive food becomes, the less folk will want to waste it. That’s basic self-interest and GCSE economics.

The Law of Economic Punditry: anyone who puts forward an extremely simplistic, normally right-wing opinion or proposal, and justifies it by saying "This is simply Economics 101" [or "GCSE Economics"], is generally ignorant of anything much past the level of Economics 101, and exists in a sort of supply-sider's Lake Wobegon, where all the consumers are rational, all the markets are perfectly competitive, all the entry costs are zero and all the children are above average. Examples include "of course a minimum wage will cause higher unemployment. If you raise the cost of labour, you decrease the demand - it's Economics 101".

Luis Enrique

ajay, that's a silly thing to write. You can be very much more sophisticated than econ 101, as is our host, and still believe that rising prices will lead to lower waste. It is a big mistake to think that adding sophistication automatically overturns econ 101 results, or that citing econ 101 results signals what you suggest about the writer.

But while higher prices may reduce waste, the levels of waste may be suboptimal, leaving room for some 'encouragement' (although Tim W will point out that any concept of optimality must account for opportunity cost of reducing waste).

Andrew Zalotocky

Paternalism and leftism are fundamentally incompatible. Paternalism assumes that most people are incapable of making responsible decisions. It therefore assumes that society needs a ruling class to guide the feckless masses, and that the members of that class hold their position by virtue of their superior personal qualities. Paternalism explicitly requires inequalities of power, and implicitly promotes inequalities of wealth because it assumes that the average person cannot cope with the kind of choices that wealth brings.

Therefore paternalism is inherently anti-egalitarian and anti-democratic. It is also reactionary, because the paternalist fears that any change which brings greater freedom or prosperity to the common people will only give them new opportunities to destroy themselves.

So it is really impossible to be both a paternalist and a leftist. It is possible to use leftist rhetoric to mask a paternalist agenda and vice versa, but to combine the two ideologies in any other way just results in a tangled mess of contradictory policies, as Gordon Brown has so ably demonstrated.


If by eating crusts you buy only three loaves per week instead of four the baker will sell less bread. But he knows you need bread (as well as knead it) and so he will increase his price, in order to not lose his profit. He will be happy because he now only has to work three quarters of the hours he formerly did.
Bloody good economics for an ex chancellor.


Will unflash Gordon be bringing a doggie bag back from the G8?

Luis Enrique

Andrew, I appreciate your line of argument about the incompatibility of paternalism and leftism ... but if you look around you at left wing opinion, as expressed in newspapers, blogs and elsewhere, how much of it laments the outcome of free choices (or as free as can reasonably be expected) and advocates intervening in one way of another? Arguments along the lines that the government has no business telling people what to do, because people are responsible decision makers, are typically identified with the right.

How do you delineate non-paternalist interventions from paternalist ones? Even democratically determined and egalitarian minded interventions can be paternalistic, can't they? Or does something stop being paternalistic if we have all voted for it (say, a referendum banning certain foods even though some individuals may want to eat them) - but in which case isn't that what we've got by voting in a paternalistic government, which you describe as inherently iniquitous and non-lefty.

I don't know the answer. I was thinking along the lines of a a left wing non-paternalist intervention being one that (attempts to) remove power (endowment) inequalities, or market failures that are themselves interfering with the choices available to responsible decision makers.


"However, the strongest evidence for this belief is, increasingly, the fact that they actually voted for this government."

Er, no. They voted for a Tony Bliar Government, this current Government was not elected.

Luis Enrique

Here's a great debate about paternalism:
Who's the left winger in that one?


Other commentators have compared Brown's proposed austerity regime with World War II rationing. But unlike Brown, Churchill understood the importance of morale. Staple goods were rationed, but cigarettes, booze and fish and chips (all pleasures that help you to go through difficult times) were not. Availability was controlled by the market.

As we enter an economic downturn, if not recession, we can be assured that Gordon Brown will be thinking of more ways to make us feel miserable. Lights out at 10:00pm. Turn down the thermostat two degrees this winter, rather than one. And don't work too hard because nobody will be able to afford the output of your labour for a couple of years.

It just reminds me of the Luddites in the green movement; the ones who believe that sustainability means transportation by horse and cart. And it scares me because a lot of people will consequently vote Tory because they want to carry on living in the 21st century.

Roger Davies

He also has the reverse Midas touch, everything he touches turns to lead. He even sold our gold reserves at rock bottom prices, then ensuring they would fall further by telling the market of his intentions. The man is so remote from reality.

Internet strongman

Gordon brown in an effort to reduce poverty tells those living below the poverty line to make more money.

Bob B

At the end of George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-four:

"O cruel, needless misunderstanding! O stubborn, self-willed exile from the loving breast! Two gin-scented tears trickled down the sides of his nose. But it was all right, everything was all right, the struggle was finished. He had won the victory over himself. He loved Big Brother."

Gordon is counting on a repeat of that. Meanwhile, Harold Wilson left the perennial prescription for keeping the wheels on Labour governments:

"The labour party is like a stage-coach. If you rattle along at great speed everybody inside is too exhilarated or too seasick to cause any trouble. But if you stop everybody gets out and argues about where to go next."

Seldom Seen Kid

What a Cnut

Dave B

Perhaps he's trying to distract attention from the fact that government action (mandating biofuels) is responsible for driving up food prices?


Mistra Know-It-All

Just a nasty jibe at the eaten disorders of his old foe Prescott, surely. He even wasted the food he ate.



That's my contribution to the debate and the problem.


Surely he wants to be talking to the bastard supermarkets? As long as they keep putting perishable foods on those BOGOF offers, people will still buy them without giving a minute's how they are going to use (for example) 3 kilos of satsumas or raspberries before they turn to mould and mush...

New Labour make me laugh. I think they come up with some genuinely superb ideas, and am not in the least bit bothered by this so 'called 'nanny-state', paternalism, management-not-governance - whatever you wish to call it; just as long as I can always retain my right to ignore it when it suits...


Why is he saying this?
He thinks a Government should tell us what to do.

Note: Tell.
Not: lead by example.

And today I read that UK (not EC) farming should be hit by green taxes.

The words "joined up Government" per Tony Blair - spring to mind... not.


Very good indeed. Although I am surprised that it's been pissing down since he left for China; normally he brings the weather with him.

Peter Pendleton

mehow reminiscent of Marie Antoinette's 'Let them Eat Cake' - Let them eat less!

Urban Bear

Paternalism and leftism are actually very compatible, Left wing leaders live in luxury while the proles get treated like stupid slaves.

Sounds a but like Brown Bottom and groupies, and the BS fed to us debt burdened, tax payers (wage slaves).

Really, more people should read Animal Farm, sheesh!

I say make Bacon out of the collectivist Political Class pigs and cook it good, to kill off the parasites!


Personally, I don't care of it's leftism or paternalism, I just wish he'd f*** off & die! Rather than checking what's in my waste bin he might be better employed making sure British kids leave school able to read & write, that lawabiding citizens are safe in their beds, protected not from terrorism but from the lawless sub-culture of criminals & yobs who think the world owes them a living. He's had 11 years to do this & has made an ever increasing hash of it.


well, i do agree on everything...but i was browsing the internet today and saw a very interesting, what they like to call "special report" on both the rise of oil prices and food crisis....Living in France, i realized its a brand new news channel launched 1 or 1 and a half year ago, tell me what you think...let me know what you think! its called France24


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