Wednesday, October 17, 2007

"This Sucks. Do it More."

2 "studies" getting squeezed out the media poophole this morning share a common theme. Today's magic shape is the "vicious circle", that old inescapable whirlwind of myopic thought and delusional feedback mechanisms.

The first study backs up my "London is a Black Hole" theory - the city (mainly in a South Park lilt) now accounts for 20% of the UK economy. That's an entire fifth. As the CoL policy guy Michael Snyder says, "Commitment to keeping London at the top of its game internationally is vital." What does this mean, but focusing more effort on promoting London, and less on the rest of the nation?

In a way, I wish it were easy to dismiss such quotes ("Pins are great!" says pin company CEO) but all my instinct says that the sway of London is generally sucking more and more resources in - the network effect. In other words, not having a (generally physical) connection to London means you actively lose out, so expect that 20% to go up higher. So much for a diverse and distributed economy (or culture). Instead get everyone to live in the same swamp and let them dream of exploiting others enough to earn enough cash to buy a Scottish Island.

The second study is largely a problem of attempting to grab headlines, which it does with style: Obesity 'not individuals' fault', the BBC reports with its favoured quotemarks. Rhetoric of "sleepwalking" invoke memories of the allusions to Orwell, but here the analogy seems a little cheaper. Wouldn't sleepwalking at least get you a bit of exercise? Maybe this should be an official policy, to be expanded into sleep-shotputting and sleep-marathoning as we prepare for the Olympics.

The report seems to paint the darkest of pictures (here's the PDF summary) - individuals have decreasing choice over being fat, the market fails and government policies have no proof of working. Fatness, it seems, is our destiny.

So the answer is apparently a much larger effort, a national focus rather than smaller, piffling bagatelles. In other words, having accepted that people no longer can resist being fat themselves, the most effective solution is to force them to exercise. OK, I'm extrapolating a little, but if a serious campaign is undertaken, it seems like a centralised approach is the only feasible policy. Why? Why does the government do anything? Because individuals and markets can't be trusted.

Of course, the word "if" is a big one here. There seems to be very little admonishment - although some implicit acknowledgement - of the actual causes. The report authors blame "a society [of] energy-dense, cheap foods, labour-saving devices, motorised transport and sedentary work" - hey, hang on, isn't that what we've been wanting all this time? I thought the whole attraction of Markets + Technological Progress was that a) we didn't go hungry and b) we could have a better "quality of life" without resorting to slavery? Plus if I'm not indulging, then I'm not propping up the economy, right?

Ah, the dilemma of whether we force ourselves, collectively, to get up off our butts and go through the whole "no pain, no gain" excuse. This is exactly why the road ahead is buggered, whichever way we go. As individuals, we don't like effort. As a country, we don't want to be seen as "unprogressive" - which means selling technology. And as government, we don't want to give up either money or control. But it's that control - control over lifestyles and how much more people can consume - that is killing us in the first place.

Expect more crappy policy recommendations this afternoon.

Update: ChickYog's rant is way better than mine.

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