Friday, 14 February 2014

The Moral Maze

I was on the Moral Maze on Wednesday night. It's a great (live) show so it was nice to be invited on. I last appeared as a 'witness' in 2010 when the subject was 'nudging', a topic that was inspired by the then-recent decision to look at plain packaging. (So long ago! I dread to think how much public money has been spent on that ridiculous idea in the intervening years.)

This time the subject was 'individual freedom versus public health', inspired partly by the prospect of banning smoking in cars with under-18s. It was fun to do and I think I got my point across. I was slightly puzzled by the two guests who came on after me who were interesting in their own way but didn't seem ideally suited to the topic. The Jainist (Google it—good on them for sticking with the old swastika despite all that unpleasantness with Mr Hitler) mentioned in the green room that arguments and confrontation were not part of his culture, which made him an odd choice for the Moral Maze, but he more than held his own.

I was slightly surprised to be cross-examined by Michael Portillo rather than Matthew Taylor. Taylor is a New Labourite and was very keen on the nanny state when I was on the show in 2010, but on this occasion he took a slightly more libertarian position. Whether this was an intellectual exercise for him or a change in outlook, I don't know. For his part, Portillo took my acknowledgement that unavoidable negative externalities can, in some instances, justify Pigovian taxation to be a bigger concession than it was. If we had spoken about this at greater length, he would have found that this means we should have fewer nanny state laws, not more. Alas, the pace of the programme meant that this never came out. Fortunately, Claire Fox was on hand to give a robust defence of individual liberty.

My main opponent was a woman from the Royal Society of Public Health. It's an organisation that I have never knowingly encountered before and so—as I told her beforehand—I assume they can't be too bad. She was nice. I hate it when they're nice.

You can listen to it here. My bit starts at 11 minutes.


Junican said...

Painful listening, Chris - honey-voiced authoritarians pretending to be sweet reasonableness.
Portillo and the woman played the good old trick of forcing you to depend your antagonism to legislation and regulation rather than them defending their demands.
It was a pity that you didn't have the opportunity to demand to know what evidence there is that any young person anywhere has ever actually been harmed by brief exposure to tobacco smoke on a car journey.

Anonymous said...

Second that J.

You were disadvantaged by not being an evasive self-interested politico with a forthcoming election (or a charitico eyeing a new funding round)and fell for that ole trick of answering the questions they asked rather than blathering out a pre-scripted mantrafesto.

And while I'm rhyming my politic, charity and manifests - what a Pol-Potico socialistico Portillo is turning into...oh!

Zaphod said...

The Moral Maze is a very tough gig.

You handled it very well, and evaded their traps admirably.

Fredrik Eich said...

If someone needs a lifetime of care caused by a spine injury from taking a non essential train journey ending in a train crash, why should I pay for their care?

Bloody train tourists.

Jean Granville said...

Your two interlocutors kept assuming that you were conceding everything except what you'd just said. If you mentioned that smokers who die early don't cost a lot, they assumed that was your sole argument against tobacco control policies, and so on.
I don't know how best to respond that. If you say you have other arguments, you look like the one who's making things confused. If you let it pass, it looks like you have no other argument.
They also pretended to be surpriseed at your position ("Do you really, I mean seriously, believe what you just said perfectly clearly? No kidding?") in order to make you look unserious, when your position is of course perfectly reasonable.
You did well, however, but it lasted only a few minuts. It's unfortunate you didn't have more time, since what you were saying was so incredibly new and destabilizing to your poor interlocutors' minds (that people should be able to make decisions for themselves, that sort of things).

Anonymous said...

What I know of Jains is this: they are forbidden to kill even an insect, so they wear face masks, strain all water and sweep the ground in front of them in case they tread on an ant. Not a very practical religion, in my eyes.