Denmark Came For Your Sugar and Trans Fats, Now They Are Coming For Your Saturated Fat. When They Come for You, Will There Be Any Macronutrient Left to Object on Your Behalf?

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O Solid Fat, turn not thy face from thy Lord, for my budget is in trouble.

In “Fructose, Public Policy, and the Low-Fat Reeducation Camp,” I made the following prediction:
If they come for our fructose, they will come for our fat next.
It seems that Denmark has provided some evidence for this postulate by enacting what is believed to be the world's first tax on saturated fat.  Here is the timeline, according to a CBC News article:
  • 2004 — Tax on trans fats.
  • 2010 — Tax on sugary junk food.
  • 2011 — Tax on all foods containing more than 2.3 percent saturated fat.

This type of legislation raises the question of just what the role of government should be in the determining the foods we eat.  Those of us in the ancestral health movement are faced with a strange dilemma: we live in a society wherein we have almost unlimited destructive food and lifestyle choices lying within our immediate grasp, while the preeminent solutions to all of life's problems invariably lie on a spectrum between libertarian individualism and collectivist bureaucracy.  Neither the problem nor the popular solutions have solid foundations in our ancestry.

As much as I consider myself a libertarian, as do many others in the ancestral health movement, we have to admit that the strict individualism promoted in many libertarian circles has no counterpart in traditional societies.  Take, for example, the travels of Weston Price.  Whether he was studying foragers, pastoralists, or agriculturalists, all of the healthy, successful groups he studied had strong collectivist ideals.

In Nutrition and Physical Degeneration (p. 170), Price wrote of the Australian Aborigines, “No member of their society would be allowed to live with the tribe if he had defied the ideals of the group.  Immorality is cause for immediate death.”

In Time, Space, and the Unknown: Maasai configurations of power and providence (p. 127), anthropologist Paul Spencer wrote, “According to the Maasai stereotype, a sorcerer is a nefarious individualist, creeping through the bush and bent on his own eccentric course in a society that constantly demands gregarious sharing.”

In describing the Swiss villages of the Loetschental Valley (p. 25-26), Price described their system of compulsory schooling, which was under direct supervision of the Roman Catholic Church.  A boy's dream in this valley was to be a Vatican guard.  It was the local priest who gathered the people together to “recognize the presence of Divinity in the life-giving qualities of the butter made in June when the cows have arrived for pasturage near the glaciers,” when they would “thank the kind Father for the evidence of his Being in the life-giving qualities of butter and cheese made when the cows eat the grass near the snow line.”

The people would eagerly celebrate their national holiday (p. 27) with bonfires “lighted at a given hour from end to end of the valley throughout its expanse” so that “every moutaineer on a distant crag” can see the lights, knowing “that the others are signalling to him that they, too, are making their sacred consecration in song which says ‘one for all and all for one.'”  Price remarked:

This motive has been crystallized into action and has become a part of the very souls of the people.  One understands why doors do not need to be bolted in the Loetschental Valley.

One thing all these groups certainly lacked was the modern bureaucratic state.  I will not by any means deny that oppression and bureaucracy existed in antiquity, but the level of taxation and inflation we see today is very much a product of the twentieth century.

When I worked at Old Sturbridge Village, one of my responsibilities — apart from making pottery, bottoming shoes, firing black powder muskets, and running the saw, grist, and carding mills — was to learn as much as I could about 1830s New England.  Although the Federal Government existed at this time, 90 percent of our taxes went to the local municipality where they were distributed by direct democracy.  The typical town had an established, tax-funded church, and if you didn't like it you could go start your own town.

The poor did not go hungry.  Each year, families would bid in an auction of sorts to take care of poor individuals in exchange for a stipend from the town coffers.  The lowest bidders would take that person into their homes as a member of their own family for the year.  In the 1830s, the “poor farm” was a controversial experiment.  Here, the town coffers would fund a farm where the poor could work to feed themselves.  The success was questionable, however, because hardly anyone was poor except those who were mentally or physically disabled, and thus the poor lacked not only property but also the ability to use it efficiently.

It seems to me that one of the most insidious characteristics of the modern nation-state is that we have come to see the nation as synonymous with the state, outside of which we have no collective identity.  Any of life's problems falls at the feet either of the individual or of the state.  Are there any poor among you?  Feed him of your own personal charity, let him get his Federal check, or let him writhe in the misery he has created for himself.  These are the choices we believe confront us.

This narrow range of choices is increasingly being forced on us.  Both at home and abroad, governments are restricting the rights of private citizens to feed the homeless.

I see several problems with us laying all of our collective responsibilities at the feet of the government:

  • First, it depersonalizes things.  We sweep our problems under the rug and pretend they do not exist.  It is like pretending there is no death involved in eating vacuum-packed meat, which allows us to pretend our society is not violent and to denigrate the uncivilized and monstrous nature of the hunter.  Shall we no longer take responsibility for teaching our young how to eat, as our ancestors did?
  • Second, it diminishes our ability to experiment.  The greater the scale of the forced collective action, the fewer collective actions can take place.  Had the Federal Government rather than the towns instituted the poor farms of the 1830s, they'd have lost the ability to compare the successes and failures of different towns using different systems.  Likewise, if the next decade brings saturated fat taxes to most modern industrialized nations, there will be little basis for tracking the successes and failures of these projects.
  • Third, it will be the ideas with the most political power, not the best science, that win out.

Was it really that difficult to see that a saturated fat tax would follow a trans fat or sugar tax relatively quickly?  In America, we have Daniel Steinberg, chair of the 1984 NIH Consensus Conference on cholesterol, advocating an “Ultimate, Long-Term Solution” to amass “an all-out commitment of money and man-power to reeducate and modify the behavior of the nation” modeled after the campaign against tobacco, which would use “the right combination of education, peer pressure, and legislation” to institute a lifelong “low-saturated fat, low-cholesterol diet” beginning “in infancy (7 months).”  Nobel laureates Michael Brown and Joseph Goldstein support Steinberg's general views on lipids, and consider high intakes of PUFAs to be among the “powerful new weapons” that can aid “the anti-cholesterol forces,” in combating cholesterol “just like modern armies” (though I do not know what their political views are).

The movement against refined sugar and high-fructose corn syrup has many bright people within it, but none of its leading luminaries have won Nobel prizes for their work on the biochemistry of sugar or have chaired any NIH Consensus Conferences on the definitive role of sugar in promoting disease.

I am not suggesting that this type of prestige is the only element in the recipe for political success.  In the 1970s, JP Holdren co-authored a textbook entitled Ecoscience: Population Resources, Environment with Anne and Paul Ehrlich in which the authors advocated tax measures such as “high marriage fees” and “taxes on luxury baby goods and toys,” as well as “bonuses to first-time brides who are over 25, to couples after five childless years, or to men who accept vasectomies after their wives have had a given number of children” (p. 785).  I don't think the fact that President Obama appointed Holdren as his science advisor suggests we will see these types of taxes any time soon, any more than we will see some of the other measures they discussed like “a long-term sterilizing capsule that could be implanted under the skin and removed when pregnancy is desired” with “official permission,” or “adding a sterilant to drinking water or staple foods” (p. 787).

As the authors admitted, “compulsory control of family size is an unpalatable idea.”  Their prediction that “an increasing number of people in the 1980s. . . . may begin demanding such control” (p. 788), however, was quite clearly wrong.  It was the Rockefeller-headed 1969 UN World Population Panel's advice that “the press, radio, television and movies” should “play an important part in legitimizing the concept of family planning and in developing broad community acceptance of the principles of responsible parenthood” that succeeded, precisely because the press, radio, television, and movies are “palatable” forms of entertainment and people enjoy being entertained more than they enjoy being taxed.

The Pentagon is a powerful institution, but when its representatives asked Congress for permission to start a Total Information Awareness database that “the government will use to monitor every purchase made by every American citizen,” which they considered “a necessary tool in the war on terror,” Congress laughed them out of the hall.  Even the National Animal Identification System (NAIS) fell apart.  In the ashes of these grandiose plans, we've been left with city schools implementing small-scale NAIS for children, the IRS collecting itemized lists of credit and debit purchases, and less ambitious plans to institute the “traceability for livestock moving interstate.”  If these programs succeed, it is because the ideas of preventing truancy in school, making taxation fair, and making meat safe are all quite palatable.

Palatability to the populace is as much an ingredient for political success in a democracy as is the political power of an idea's advocates.  But along a spectrum running from appallingly repressive to endearingly liberating, taxing sugar and taxing fat lie pretty close to one another.  Power and prestige in this country are on the side of taxing butter and eggs, not sugar.  Denmark's experience suggests that if we ever pass a sugar tax, a saturated fat tax is riding in on its heels.  In America, however, I wouldn't be surprised if the saturated fat tax came first.  Only time will tell.

Is paying a little more for butter and eggs the end of the world?  Hardly.  The problem is that these trends are rising in tandem with increasing denial that rights to human person, property, and contract even exist.  Farmers have recently been charged with the felony of conspiring to sell raw milk.  A county judge recently ruled that “no, Plantiffs do not have a fundamental right to own and use a dairy cow or a dairy herd,” and that “no, Plaintiffs do not have a fundamental right to produce and consume the foods of their choice.”  The FDA recently stated that “there is no fundamental right to freedom of contract,” a claim they called “anachronistic.”  It therefore seems dangerous to me to promote this ideology when it suits us, without realizing that it may more often be used against us, just as anti-trust legislation was so often used against the labor movement.

I do not think the solution lies in abandoning our collective responsibilities toward one another, but rather in forming grassroots, alternative institutions based on voluntary association that will be a means of support and mutual aid.  Rather than spending our time complaining about taxes and reeducation campaigns, I believe we should withdraw our support from these programs but spend the balance of our time developing grassroots education campaigns, community and children's programs, farm-to-consumer networks, academic symposia, and other such institutions.

We are entering a world wherein looking into another person's eyes will be a revolutionary act.  We should do it often.

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  1. Thanks for the great article here. I was searching for something like that for quite a long time and at last I have found it here. I hope to see more such nice articles in the nearest future too…

  2. You state: "The movement against refined sugar and high-fructose corn syrup has many bright people within it, but none of its leading luminaries have won Nobel prizes for their work on the biochemistry of sugar or have chaired any NIH Consensus Conferences on the definitive role of sugar in promoting disease."

    Personally, I wouldn't use the Nobel prize as a benchmark for success. President Obama has one on his belt–enough said. As a primary care physician, I see every day the devastation that sugar and HFCS brings to our population. Sugar is toxic–that's the bottom line. How you deal with this reality is another discussion.

    By the way, the Nobel prize usually comes many years after a person brings new insight into our world. Just because the fructose fanatics haven't won one to date, doesn't mean that they will not do so in the future.

    1. Hi Doc,

      I think we miscommmunicated. I don't think a Nobel prize is necessarily a sign of "success," and certainly not of correctness, but it is a symbol of status, and status brings power. There are other docs who see just as clearly as you do that all the things you attribute to fructose are due to fat, and they are the ones with the status and power. In a fight over food taxes or food regulations, they win.


  3. the question lies where do rights come from? the creator of something owns that something, no man created another man, nor the earth and all its bounty so why do they feel they have the authority (actual might or power to do so notwithstanding)to decide what anothers rights are?

    second politics/policy has nothing to do with science but what will acheive the agneda of those in power. they only use cover stories to get support from everyone else. and governments exist to protect the wealth and power of the wealthy. who set up this government in the usa? was it not the richer land owners? it wasnt the worker, or the slave or the landless. tho many of the principles are sound and we still benefit when they are followed ultimatly it was the protection of weatlh and the ability to create that wealth gov were instituted.

    it is the greedy and selish that perverted the constitutional protections. they are the ones whoever they are that used every form of bribery, intrigue and lies to get in positons of power and to use that power to create monopolies and special rules for the rich that the poor don't get to benefit from. all systems will fail, as long as wicked people exist there will be tyranny. ultimatly it is people who make decisions, who enforce such decisions who decide what decisions to make. and the more power the more corruption and self interest comes into play.

    Lack of unity of purpose is another roadblock to justice and peace for everyone. everyone is looking out for themselves and their families and friends. those who manage to get into power ultimatly will abuse it, those at teh bottom will resent it, perfect for revolutions rebellions and disobediences.

    so science is not different it has been perverted from it's original intent. and used as a tool to furthur the agenda of those who abuse their power for self enrichment.


  4. Great topic!

    From my limited understanding I believe that our federalist system was meant to have national defense to protect citizens from outside threats and a national court system to protect citizens from inside threats to each individuals 'God given rights'.

    That was the primary role of the federal government.

    It was the state level that was to be the more interactive aspect of government since each state could operate on its own within the basic confines of the federal protection of citizens. Each state could run it's own social experiments and other states could watch and make decisions based on the results.

    So I think any given political ideology can be applied differently at different levels. One could be considered a libertarian at the federal level and also be a conservative at the state level.

  5. As far as I'm concerned parents are the people to control unhealthy eating habits. Unfortunately, most of them are clueless of what's good or what's bad. However, there is a bright side too. Every time I turn a parent to some reading about how this or that type of food affects their & their children's health, which has some more insight to it, than just saying this is bad & this is good, most of them immediately pick up on it.

    As far as government taxation, it's really getting out of hand in every aspect of life & it can't lead to anything good.

  6. Responses to Gordon, Michael, Mike and Gabe.

    Hi Gordon, very good points.

    Michael, good points. That said, it seems difficult to me to determine whether some societies are "voluntary" or not. Take the Maasai. The authority of the father over the family is not voluntary. You are born into it. The father rules with the consent of resignation. But the authority of the council of elders is largely based on a network of obligations proceeding from friendships initiated by voluntarily giving or receiving gifts, supplemented by the desire to avoid being cursed. In a sense this is voluntary, in that there is no threat of violent force for disobedience. But if you don't participate, you're never going to marry or accumulate cattle, so you'd be reduced to a beggar or have to leave and find some other mode of life. In any case, I think I distinguished between political liberty and individualism, a distinction that I meant to be one of the main thrusts of my post.

    Mike, yes I agree that you could make the distinction of refined sweeteners, and in fact my understanding is that this is precisely what the FDA originally was doing, going after producers for "adulterating" their products with sugar. But of course that did not continue for very long, and even now the scientific establishment has completely abandoned this mindset, largely because of fortification and excessive reductionism. In fact the biological establishment is very tied to the food industry. I went to Experimental Biology conference to present along with 13,000 other scientists this April and while the conference itself was fantastic, once you got into the dietary stuff, you're surrounded by people from Kraft and Pfizer Nutrition and so on who are running everything. The days of people like Weston Price and Robert McCarrison or McCollum, Mellanby, and the other nutrition greats who advocated a foods-based approach to nutrition are gone. There are hints they are coming back, but it is unclear whether the rising interest in the idea that foods are more than the sum of their parts will lead to a return to foods-based nutrition or just attempts to further improve the nutritional quality (and marketing claims) of processed foods.

    Let's say we take the libertarian approach. I like it so far. But what should guarantee that the taxation is fair? What guarantees that in the political sphere it will be junk food that is taxed instead of eggs and butter.

    More importantly, do we really believe this will solve anything? Can we rely on the free flow of information and some tax-based shifts in incentives? I think we need a much stronger approach than this. But I fear a much stronger approach based on the federal government could prove disastrous. I think we need serious grassroots community-building.

    Hi Gabe, thanks! Great points. I will definitely post more on AGEs!


  7. Hey Chris. I must say, I put off reading this for a while and am now wishing I had read it upon first posting it. This is, in my opinion, your best work to date! I don't mean to insult or demean your current contribution to the ancestral health movement, but in a way this article is at the heart of how we arrived at this point in our society. I agree with most of your points and agree that we should solely focus on improving our communities and establishing networks to circumvent the "establishment". I just hope it is not too late. It has been too long that we have been under, what Taleb would call a Soviet-Harvard top-down central planning approach, which stands in stark contrast to the above cited examples of a robust, fragmented, community/region based system. Keep up the good work and I am looking forward to more exploration of AGEs in the future.

  8. @ D.M. Mitchell

    You mean diet-heart hypothesis (the one about cholesterol and SFA), not lipid hypothesis (the one about lipoproteins). We have to be vigilant about this terminology because half of the problem was caused by it.

  9. @ D.M. Mitchell

    How long do you think it will take before politicians find out that the lipid hypothesis was based on faulty research?

    Not sure it would matter, since the political question is never primarily about truth, but vested interests, who then seek the truth to defend their position.

    So it is quite possible that some knew the truth from the beginning, but chose to act otherwise.

    State Science Is Bad For Your Health

    The Problem With Science

    If you were kicked out, other tribes wouldn't have you–those closesly associated with your tribe–and enemy tribesmen would kill you. Living alone, as a hermit, was almost always a death sentence. Ergo, living in a tribe meant always following the rules. Now we have cities where people with different ideas can run away too and join the anonymous throngs, locating and socializing with others like themselves.

    This has not always been true, it just depends on where you look and how far back you go. For example, the ancient Hebrews had cities of refuge where someone could flee to avoid being immediately killed for committing a capital crime.

    As noted by Benson in his The Enterprise of Law: Justice Without The State, some modern tribes would actually allow a person found guilty of a crime worthy of death to flee and try to avoid capture, rather than be killed immediately. This is one step beyond the Hebrews where the cities of refuge prevented "blood atonement" but did not stop the process of judicial proceedings.

  10. How long do you think it will take before politicians find out that the lipid hypothesis was based on faulty research?

    Regarding tribal living: In hunter-gather tribes, where all around you are only other tribes, you had to belong to a tribe and follow the rules or be kicked out (or killed). If you were kicked out, other tribes wouldn't have you–those closesly associated with your tribe–and enemy tribesmen would kill you. Living alone, as a hermit, was almost always a death sentence. Ergo, living in a tribe meant always following the rules. Now we have cities where people with different ideas can run away too and join the anonymous throngs, locating and socializing with others like themselves.

    Part of the problem nanny-state governments is that people who knowingly and willingly abuse there bodies with unhealthy habits will still be able to access other people's tax money for their health problems. I say, let the government inform and educate, then let the people eat cake if they want. But, they must then be totally resposible for paying their own medical and health care costs.

  11. Hi Anonymous,

    I think we miscommunicated a little bit. I did not say that collectivism requires government, and I intended about half of my post to argue the exact opposite of that, including my concluding paragraph.

    I did not mean to analyze what factors have reduced the birth rate at all. I meant instead to analyze which of the plans of the elite overpopulation establishment, which was inherited from the elite eugenic establishment after Hitler tarnished the reputation of the latter movement, was successful. My conclusion is not that the UN played a major role in reducing birth rates, but simply that the mass media has absolutely been utilized to inculcate the virtues of and "normality" of small family size and lifestyles that do not lead to reproduction, whereas in the United States taxes have not meaningfully been utilized to propagate these ideals.

    The UN document I cited supported the women's liberation movement because of its expected impact on the prospects for overpopulation.


  12. I agree with the thurst of your post, but two quibbles:

    1) I think you setup a kind of strawman in saying collectivity can only occur with governments, which are territorial monopolies on law and police. You later even kind of knock down that strawman. The point being: it's not clear that the collectivist urges can't coexist with private property based, voluntary societies (i.e. no government).

    2) You say that the U.N. played the primary role in reducing birth rates… I don't think this is the majority opinion (see, e.g. The Rational Optimist's discussion). From my reading, the reasons for the birth rate decline are not well established, but the primary factor appears to be increased wealth, which empowers the woman, and also lessens the need for more children.

  13. Chris, about the strawberry case, shouldn't it be easy to make precise, legally meaningful distinctions in terms of processing? There would be a consensus about isolated sugars like HFCS and sucrose granules/powder, while nobody would attempt to target whole foods because of their fructose content. I understand the whole food fructose issue is controversial at the level of individual choice, but anti-fruitarianism would never find expression through public policy. We should be capable of making scientifically responsible distinctions, e.g. tobacco vs
    nicotine products, mass produced junk alcohol vs unpasteurized nutrient-rich homebrews, manmade trans fat vs natural trans fat, isolated/fractionated sugars vs whole foods containing the same sugars. There are all kinds of ways to make regulation and taxation more fine-grained.

    As far as the regulatory organizations, I definitely see the potential of a libertarian/privatized approach to regulation. Here's the rough sketch:
    1. Almost anything is legal to buy and sell.
    2. Anybody can make any health or efficacy claims of any kind, no matter how far-fetched.
    3. The USDA, FDA, DEA, etc are eliminated or reduced to a minimal function of enforcing truth in labelling.
    4. Potentially dozens of independent organizations can offer regulatory functions ("seals of approval") and the consumer is free to decide what information they trust.
    5. Any negative consequences of consuming anything are the consumer's responsibility; the only case where they could seek legal recourse is when the seller didn't accurately specify the exact ingredients.

    I'm not one to believe in all the sloganesque myths about "free markets" that fuel the naive side of libertarianism, but in the case of information, I think a free market system could work because of current technology (i.e. the internet). I can't see how a hive mind, decentralized mechanism for arbiting the safety and healthfulness of various substances could possibly be worse than the current system of corrupt government regulatory agencies. So the IOM would just be one among many independent sources of consumer advice without any government approval that would create the conditions for corruption based on authority/power. This is really about the practical reality of technology and the level playing field being created by the information revolution, not the sort of abstract political philosophy typically advanced in favor of libertarianism, the sort of broad-stroked ideology equally applicable to current times and 19th century.

    Even in that kind of system of extreme personal freedom, the government could still tax nasty stuff as a mechanism to counterbalance unethical corporations. In the big picture of government you'd have publicly elected lawmakers deciding on taxation in the public interest and the judicial system protecting against false labelling. Everything else would be a culture of informed consumer choice.

  14. If by "palatability" one can infer "resignation" as fitting within that rubric then you are very close to a tremendous insight given to us in the 19th century about why nation-states continue to exist in the first place.

    Bastiat got it right. All governments rule, even overtly totalitarian ones, by the consent of the governed, even if that "consent" is a resignation or acceptance of the status quo. Given that by definition the "mandarin class" will always be a tiny jot and tittle compared to the masses, it can be no other way.

    The US will get taxes of this nature not necessarily because of science – good, bad, or otherwise – but because people want to impose on others what they see as being right, and it will be accepted because ultimately this is the mechanism people currently have chosen, even if a particular outcome (taxing saturated fat for example), is not to their liking.

    As long as people of all ideological stripes have what Gary North calls "larceny in their hearts", i.e appropriating other folks money to implement what an individual or a group of individuals (usually by the proxy known as voting in our "modern" age) thinks is correct, we should always expect this kind of thing.

    Or to again reference Bastiat, "the plans differ, the planners are all alike…"

    Note: While you don't find individualistic libertarian societies among "traditional" groups of the type espoused by some/many in the ancestral health movement, what you do find scattered throughout history are voluntary societies, whose particular external features may or may not appeal to the parameters of certain libertarian "moderns," though, as Roderick Long points out, that doesn't make them any less "libertarian."

  15. LOL. Yes, Ulrik, that was a typo. Sorry about that. I spend so much time on blog posts that I tend to let careless errors slip by in my comments because of proofreader exhaustion.

    I said to the "smallest political unit possible," and by "possible," I meant to include some concern for practicality and feasibility. It's not obvious to me that allowing the individual or family absolute right to secession from everything is feasible. But I think it can be granted at least to the municipality. I think the likelihood of this type of secession would be quite rare, but the option would provide a much stronger incentive for "customer satisfaction" than votes would. It would also provide an assurance that activities of higher levels of organization are carried out with the consent of the lower levels.


  16. We know that the drive for legislating against saturated fat comes from the lobby groups.

    The biggest of these is the Heart Foundations of each country. The power of these groups is enormous, in that anything they say is taken as 'science gospel'. While the lobby group's authority is maintained on these issues, the voice of the cholesterol-skeptics is considered some form of eccentric-flat-earther.

    The business of the Australian Heart Foundation is in selling food accreditation – or the so-called 'heart tick of approval'. I am sure you have something similar in The land of the Once-Mighty also.

    I have always wondered about the legal basis of selling a health accreditation based on poor science. Currently several Australian shire councils are suing the financial ratings agency Standards & Poors for providing shoddy ratings on financial products related to sub-prime mortgages in the land of the Once-Mighty. The case against them is strong.

    We now have a very well researched meta-analysis of last centuries clinical trials that show very consistent evidence that high levels of Linoleic -Acid in the diet is dangerous, yet the Heart-Foundations are still promoting all high-polyunsaturated vegetable oils as the cure to heart-disease.

    Is there not a possible huge class-action here in the making? If the diet-heart theory cannot be put down in the halls of science, perhaps it can be destroyed in the halls of justice instead?

  17. Chris, what do you mean by "right of succession"? I know that that is what our crown prince Frederik has to the Danish throne, but somehow I don't think that's what you meant!

    Perhaps you meant "secession"? Yeah, maybe. And maybe a group can expel an individual who is uncooperative. Rules for that can probably vary from circle to circle. I don't think, however, that negative rights should ever be taken away from anybody, so what to do with people who will not contribute to the enforcement of these rights? Do they become "lawless"? And what about their children? Do they lose all their rights should their parents secede?

    Anyway, that sort of mentality seems rare. Most people I know would be happy to join others in a community where they have a voice, and would not prefer to be lone wolfs. They're just frustrated because they feel without influence today.

    Remember that humans are social monkeys, as you pointed out yourself in the article.

  18. Responses to Vagn, Jack, Debbie, Danny, Ulrik, and Mike.

    Vagn, I can't read Danish. Is there a good summary in English that is less misleading?

    Jack, Big Brother befriends with enticement.

    Debbie, glutathione will stand by you and protect you!

    Danny, I agree with you that libertarianism allows collectivists to freely associate. It was good to point this out since this tends not to be obvious to people who are not libertarians. I don't think I said anything conflicting with this, and I'm sure you recognize that even if people agree on the political freedom of free association they can still debate how to associate.

    Ulrik, thanks for sharing your thoughts. That was very helpful. I haven't opposed hierarchy since I was a teenager. I like your idea of more hierarchy with a bottom-up base. I think the success and justification of such a system would hinge on allowing the right of succession to the smallest political unit possible.

    Mike, thanks for your comments. I didn't realize you were asking for a post on the science. They claimed that saturated fat would contribute to obesity, according to the article. It would have taken me at least 40 hours to write a post refuting this, and I would need a request at least two months in advance to put something like that out!

    It seems to me that a political overhaul is much more necessary than a scientific overhaul. There is plenty of disagreement in the scientific literature about all kinds of things, but that disagreement gets filtered out the higher you go in government committees. Much of it is hit or miss. For example some of the DRIs are based on good science and some are not. Mandating the IOM's FNB set the DRIs is probably the best that Congress could possibly have done. On the whole, it works pretty well. But the IOM operates on the explicit premise that it is better to have some recommendation than none at all, which necessarily means that if the science is underdeveloped in a given area a poor recommendation will come out. But Congress has not mandated the IOM to set food policy. Perhaps the best thing would be to take food policy entirely out of the hands of HHS, USDA, FDA, and Congress and place it in the hands of the IOM. Perhaps that would corrupt the IOM, however, I'm not sure.

    But I think we have a bigger problem here. I don't see how a "sugar tax" can be seen as any more scientific than a "saturated fat tax." Do you really think someone is going to get obese eating strawberries? Do you think this is much more likely than someone getting obese from eating meat and eggs? I seriously doubt it. It is the processed junk that is manufactured to be as addictive as possible that should be targeted, and there is no way to use a macronutrient as a surrogate for such targeting. If we ban convenience foods, or heavily tax them, we have a serious ethical problem on our hands. What is an overworked single mother struggling from paycheck to paycheck to do if she has no time to cook and suddenly all her convenience foods are gone? Starve her children? When it comes down to it the fact that Americans are often devoting most of their time to employment positions that do not involve acquiring home-cooked meals is a serious issue, much more so than people eating "too much fat" or "too much sugar." This problem will require a much deeper overhaul of our economic system, I think.

    But if you have ways of targeting processed junk that does not involve serious ethical consequences I'm all ears.


  19. The CBC article is misleading.

    Denmark had had taxes on candy, nuts and chocolate for decades (sugar and chocolate in 1922 as a luxury tax).

    From the danish tax dept

    This reason for this new tax is to increase the taxes in a way that makes it look like it is for peoples benefit. In DK people still think saturated fats are dangerous so it is an obvious target.

  20. You're insightful and cogent as usual. At first I was disappointed that you only dealt with politics and not the science, and I was gonna say a bunch of other things in the vein of "is there really no hope for responsible science in public policy?", but as I sorted out my thoughts, I wound up re-reading your exceptionally valuable review of Daniel Steinberg's _The Cholesterol Wars_, which puts both the science and politics in the perspective needed in relation to this taxation topic. Here's the link for people who haven't read it:

    As you wrote there: "So why doesn't Steinberg conclude that it is high blood sugar, free radicals, deficient antioxidants, subclinical hypothyroidism, or excess polyunsaturated fatty acids that have been "indicted, tried, and ultimately found guilty" of causing heart disease?"

    And in your previous entry on politics of taxation, you wrote: "Steinberg carries much more weight when it comes to public policy than anyone currently bashing fructose does."

    While you're arguing that a sugar tax and a fat tax are equivalent in terms of abstract political philosophy, I don't see why we can't put more trust in meta-scientific standards to distinguish their validity. The saturated fat tax won't come if people like you succeed in your noble efforts to promote better nutritional science. I think the real solution is to set higher standards for peer review to increase transparency and use a wider ranges of sources. It seems like the Danish case amounts to reliance on too few sources of scientific judgement–some credentialed organization throws out some statistics that scientifically naive government officials trust without pressing for a better scientific consensus. I realize there are inherent risks of political bias when science is mixed with government, but I'm not ready to give up hope for discriminating between good science and bad science. Even if prominent and influential scientists make a few mistakes, there can always be some other people to express counterarguments and indicate a lack of the sort of consensus that should be required for science-derived public policy.

  21. Hi Chris, I agree with 95% of what of you say, even though I'm decidedly not a libertarian!

    As a Dane, I've contacted my representatives in parliament, objecting to the fat tax, and I have suggested to my friends that they do the same, but I don't have as much influence now as I'm currently living in the US. I envy the Swedes who seem more successful in challenging the old 1970s story about diet and heart disease. Your work is certainly helpful as a voice of reason on fat and cholesterol, thank you!

    I agree with your last paragraphs, that we should look each other eye to eye and cooperate locally. That's very refreshing to hear from a libertarian! I normally associate libertarianism with a Thatcherite sentiment of "society doesn't exist" and that we don't owe anything to our fellow travelers.

    In a country like Denmark, the best way to influence society is through party membership and party social networks. We have enough parties to fit most worldviews and no single party can rule without bargaining and making compromises with the others.

    In the U.S., it seems the distance from the people to the government is way too big, and most people feel they have no influence at all. This is a great shame, since it is a beautiful American sentiment that government should be "of the people, by the people, for the people".

    To achieve that, I believe you actually need more hierarchy, not less, but a hierarchy where most issues are handled at the lowest possible level, to allow for a variety of solutions, just as you suggested, and to move the power closer to the people. A hierarchy where information and power flows from bottom to top, not vice versa.

    The only other thing missing from traditional democracies is a principle of consent: that a decision can only be make if everyone affected by it can live with it (a reasoned objection should count as a veto). Only in this way can we have true and deliberative democracy, and not a "tyranny of the majority".

    This form of government is called sociocracy. And I think something like it is our only hope to allow everyone to be heard and to participate in government so that we can solve our various public problems at all scales, from the village to the globe, while preserving our freedoms and basic human rights and enabling the diversity that makes human culture so extraordinary.

  22. "I do not think the solution lies in abandoning our collective responsibilities toward one another, but rather in forming grassroots, alternative institutions based on voluntary association that will be a means of support and mutual aid. " Yes of course. And to get back to your comment that "the strict individualism promoted in many libertarian circles has no counterpart in traditional societies" it's too obvious to mention, but in a libertarian utopia, there would exist no restrictions on what qualifications charity-providers would place on charity receivers, provided informed consent existed. If Pastor Bob's Church insists Drunken Lou stop drinking and listen to his speech about Jeebus before Drunken Lou gets food and shit-free overalls, so be it. If Chris Masterjohn insists those in his Bacon Barracks address him as "Your Bearded Majesty," his edict must be obeyed…

  23. Big brother will not be the motivating force behind the implementation of Biometrics into modern society. No, that will be caused by Senior baby boomers who fear they cannot recall their PIN number when paying for a pizza delivery or using an Automated teller, as they hold out on giving Power of Attorney to their children, for fear of being put in a nursing home.

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