Throw off our nappies and rein in all those nannies

SO you think you are a liberated, emancipated adult. You imagine yourself to be in control of your body, free to engage in voluntary acts with consenting adults. You believe that in our free and democratic South Africa, the Competition Commissions and Consumer Commission protect your right to information, honest advertising and competition among suppliers? Think again. The government is minding your own business.

You are officially a kid who needs a nanny. Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi explained that we need nannies because kids need nannies. "Why do kids need nannies? Because there are things they can’t do for themselves. We are playing that role." That is why he announced new nanny laws to combat leading causes of death, disease and health expenditure: prohibition of obesity, with compulsory exercise and condom usage.

South Africans are not the world’s only adult kids. Our mentor and tormentor, the World Health Organisation (WHO), thinks all humans need nannies. It spews out "studies", "fact sheets" and "conventions" that propagate health fads. At present, fat is being rehabilitated and salt demonised. Sugar may be the next cosmic evil superstar.

The WHO says "physical inactivity is the fourth leading risk factor for global mortality". If you are seated as you read this, it could be more hazardous than smoking and drinking while feasting on sugar and salt during unsafe sex in a casino.

US adults are juveniles, according to Drew Carey. They need nannies to control or ban saggy pants, fireplaces, plastic bags, light bulbs, trans fats, aluminium bats and bike straddling ( reasontv/2008/07/08/banned).

Who’s going to nanny our nannies? If all adults need nannying, they, like the rest of us, do too. They regard you as clever enough to vote for them, yet too stupid to balance your unique benefits and risks that you alone know about. Personal differences don’t matter. In a nanny state, one nanny fits all.

The standard defence of press freedom is "the public’s right to know". That is why advertising for liquor, tobacco and whatever else draconian nannies opt to denounce, should not be banned. Prohibiting liquor advertising violates your right to know about prices, promotions, outlets, branding and product range. A perverse effect is that it bans advertisements that encourage responsible drinking and driving.

Why must you do what you are told? Well, "because". Our juvenile minds absolve nannies of having to produce evidence — even when there is probably none — of the net benefits of bans and controls, or their claim that we are bound by international treaties to implement them.

As liquor and salt follow tobacco, with other "risky" substances close behind, funnily enough advertising as such is not truly banned. The prohibition of supplier advertisements coincides with mandatory nanny "warnings", which, in the past, ignoring the debatable content of such warnings, used to be honestly presented as government warnings. But consumers started believing suppliers rather than governments, so warnings must now fraudulently pretend to be the opinions of suppliers. These compulsory warnings expropriate product space previously occupied by suppliers and consumers.

Marketing bans stifle competition. They are monopolistic and anticompetitive at the expense of consumers. They retard racial transformation because they protect the existing market share against prospective suppliers, who, in the new South Africa, tend to be black.

This column has an inaccuracy: the prohibition of obesity, with compulsory exercise and condom usage, has not been announced. Yet.

Are they not the logical, perhaps inevitable, extension of unbridled nannydom?

If you and organised consumer, labour and business associations allow adults to be demeaned and our rights eroded, "nannies" will conclude justifiably that we are passive toddlers. Rather, let’s cast our nappies aside and turn authoritarian nannies back into public servants.

Source:This article was first published in Business Day on 11 September 2013. The views expressed in the article are the author’s and are not necessarily shared by the members of the Foundation.

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