Here's an idea as we go into election year. Instead of part-privatisation of state-owned assets, especially those which generate essentials such as energy, why not nationalise the food outlets?

It's such a ripper, I can't imagine why no party has cottoned on to it. I mean, last night when TVNZ covered the story on selling shares in Meridian and Mighty River Power, to whom did the reporter turn for comment? Why, Molly Melhuish, of course, the go-to person for rising power prices (to be fair, we got Sue Chetwin, consumer advocate as well).

Electricity is so vital to households, it simply cannot be privately owned, the collectivists tell us. But what about food? No one would argue that food is more important – you can have food without power. So I don't understand why those on the left of the political divide, the anti-capitalists, the anti-private property holders, aren't out there campaigning against the private ownership of all food retail outlets.

Should not all supermarkets be owned by the state?

This week we saw a call for new laws restricting the sale of so-called junk food near schools. I quote: "The high number of outlets near schools is thought to be a factor in the childhood obesity epidemic sweeping the Western world."

The Secondary Principals' Association of New Zealand (Spanz) – no less – wants restrictions on what dairies near schools can sell during certain hours.

We're talking about food here, folks – possibly fizzy drinks, chippies, pies, lollies, ice creams. Stuff that, if eaten sensibly, in moderation, will not do you any harm at all.

Not alcohol. Not cigarettes. Not valium, prozac, heroin, speed, marijuana.

Food.

Am I the only person who finds this very disturbing, this call by researcher Peter Day, of Canterbury University's GeoHealth laboratory, to give councils more power to consider what dairies and fast-food outlets are contributing to the obesity rates among children?

Dairies and fast-food outlets?

Excuse me, can we pause for one moment and consider who is really responsible for the obesity rate among children? Who is responsible for what they eat, and when they eat it?

Peter Day's research found fast-food outlets (and I presume from this article dairies are included in this) are five-and-a-half times more likely to be sited near schools, than in other areas. They are three times more likely to be in poorer areas.

Not so poor, though, that they can't afford to buy the odd pie or ten.

Children need to have money to buy this stuff. How about this idea? Parents take some responsibility for their offsprings' health. They don't give them any money and instead, put two pieces of bread together with some vegemite in between? That's novel. Add an apple, a bottle of water, and make them walk to school.

The little darlings might not like that lunch and biff it in the bin. Tough, they can suck it up.

Then when they're at school, Spanz could force them to do some PhysEd, just like the bad old days. Oh, sorry, I forgot, we can't hurt or humiliate them anymore can we, if they're not good at running, or jumping, and come last, or fall over. In these post-modern days of child-centred learning, it's the self-esteem which is paramount.

We're only allowed to humiliate smokers, because they're a drain on the health system. Hang on, aren't obese people a drain on the health system too....?

Oh, never mind, do keep up, Deborah.

Why are we paying academics good money to come up with this research?

The tragedy is there's nothing funny about this. It's only a matter of time before some politician grabs hold of this with both meddling paws, semi-nationalises the food retail industry, then wonders why the CPI steadily rises.

Next stop on the gravy train to Whingeville: ever-widening gap between so-called rich and poor.

Comments (21)

by ScottY on January 28, 2011
ScottY

So I don't understand why those on the left of the political divide, the anti-capitalists, the anti-private property holders, aren't out there campaigning against the private ownership of all food retail outlets.

Not everyone on the left of the political divide is "anti-capitalists, anti-private property holders". There are a lot of people in the moderate centre-left who are quite comfortable with private property rights. But don't let me stop your wild generalisations.

Perhaps if there were only a couple of food providers there might be more of a move to nationalise food outlets. But there are thousands of food producers and sellers competing with each other (e.g. supermarket price wars are vicious), and it isn't that hard to grow your own produce. There are alternatives. it's not all that easy of cost effective to generate your own electricity.

We're talking about food here, folks – possibly fizzy drinks, chippies, pies, lollies, ice creams. Stuff that, if eaten sensibly, in moderation, will not do you any harm at all.

Not alcohol. Not cigarettes. Not valium, prozac, heroin, speed, marijuana.

Some of the items listed above when taken in moderation (e.g. alcohol) will not do you any harm at all either. What's the difference?

Why are we paying academics good money to come up with this research?

Because we need to understand as a society the link between obesity and the food choices people make, so that governments can make better policy decisions.

BTW you forgot to mention that this is all PC gone mad.

by Deborah Coddington on January 28, 2011
Deborah Coddington

This is all PC gone mad.

by stuart munro on January 28, 2011
stuart munro

There is nothing intrinsic to capitalism that requires the theft of state assets. But there does seem to be something about this government that requires it. First they broke up Timaru Finance, providing a massive portfolio of bargain priced assets to the shadowy interests they serve, and now they mean to do it to what's left of our power companies.

In Korea, a country  with a well developed sense of the national interest, proposals like this, which put the interests of foreign speculators ahead of citizens, are likely to produce mass demonstrations and wither the political careers of the scoundrels responsible.

It is the tragedy of New Zealand that we tolerate this corruption, and we can see the proof of its deleterious effects in plummeting economic and social indicators. The state was a cheap and effective energy supplier, and since the creation of SOEs service, efficiency and security of supply have been downgraded.

But the idea of nationalising Fonterra is excellent. Its ruthless exploitation of its monopoly position to gouge its local consumers calls for government action. I had thought some antimonopoly legislation along the lines of the Sherman anti-trust act would do, but when even the far right are calling for nationalisation, nationalisation it should be.

by Petone on January 28, 2011
Petone

"So I don't understand why those on the left of the political divide, the anti-capitalists, the anti-private property holders, aren't out there campaigning against the private ownership of all food retail outlets"

Actually Deborah I think you do undertand that the food market is different from the electricity market, or for that matter the plutonium market, tiger pelt market, surrogate mother market or collateralised debt obligation market.

But given the complete lack of debate about the electricity market in this article, I'd suggest TVNZ turned to Molly Melhuish for comment because she knows more about it than you do.

Perhaps some thinking about the issues, rather than idealogy, is in order.

by Deborah Coddington on January 28, 2011
Deborah Coddington

ScottY: Yes, I generalise, but it is necessay in a short word space. I know not all those on the left are anti capitalism (thank goodness). I  know this is not a "but you" argument, but I'm going to say it anyway, and those on the left are very happy to generalise about me. So they'll just have to take it.

Actually in New Zealand there isn't a lot of competition with supermarkets - only a duopoly. Dairies, too, have small margins due to the diminishing competition from suppliers. Yes, there is competition elsewhere in terms of growing your own, farmers' markets, etc. The same goes for energy in terms of solar systems on your roof, wind power in your back yard, you can change suppliers, etc.

You asked what's the difference between the foods I listed, and the drugs? The other items have age restrictions or are prescription only.

The link between obesity and food choices, for which you say we need this research, is easy - eating too much of the wrong food and not burning it off with exercise.

Stuart: "There is nothing intrinsic to capitalism that requires the theft of state assets". Huh? How can a "capitalist" steal a state asset? State assets (as you call them) are owned by the taxpayers. They were probably stolen off the taxpayers in the first place. As E B Leary once said, "You can't steal from the government."

You talk approvingly of Korea - North or South? (sound of deep moaning/gargling strangling noises....)

I agree with you on SOEs = bad.

Are you seriously calling for the taxpayers to buy Fonterra? And where is this money going to come from?

Petone: How, in principle, is the food market different from the electricity market, or the car, house, Christian Louboutin market?

You don't need to know how the clock works to be able to tell the time.

by Petone on January 28, 2011
Petone

"You don't need to know how the clock works to be able to tell the time."

By this, I take it you're admitting you don't know anything about the electricity market, and yet you're willing to be derogatory about Molly Meluish, who does. And I wonder what that means about the worth of your opinions.

"How, in principle, is the food market different from the electricity market"

Before posting that comment you could have researched it a little bit yourself, even just on wikipedia "Electricity is by its nature difficult to store and has to be available on demand. Consequently, unlike other products, it is not possible, under normal operating conditions, to keep it in stock, ration it or have customers queue for it. Furthermore, demand and supply vary continuously."

And that's without reference to the NZ situation, which is very specific in that we have tight supply, limited storage options to buffer an increasing amount of intermittent windpower, and thus opportunity for spot prices to be manipulated for corporate profit rather than the country's security of supply.

Or to keep it really simple, you could reflect on just one word:  Enron.


Have a good weekend all.

by Deborah Coddington on January 28, 2011
Deborah Coddington

Petone: I said "in principle" how is the market different. You haven't answered the question. You have gone into the practicalities.

I wasn't derogatory about Molly Melhuish, but about the standard of TVNZ's coverage. Lazy journalism - just reach for the usual go-to person. Au contraire, I respect Ms Melhuish, it's just that I would like, sometimes, to hear someone else talk about the energy market.

What does Enron have to do with the NZ energy market?

by ScottY on January 28, 2011
ScottY

Yes, I generalise, but it is necessay in a short word space.

It isn't necessary to generalise if your generalisation is entirely inaccurate.

and those on the left are very happy to generalise about me. So they'll just have to take it

If your argument is "they're wrong, I'm wrong too, but I don't care", you may struggle to be taken seriously as a commentator.

Actually in New Zealand there isn't a lot of competition with supermarkets - only a duopoly.

Well, there's truth in that, and some on the left (but not me) would probably say that the supermarkets should be state run. The supermarkets don't tend to gouge consumers on price: its the poor suppliers they screw over. But the supermarket is not the only place to get food, and you can grow your own.

You asked what's the difference between the foods I listed, and the drugs? The other items have age restrictions or are prescription only.

Exactly. The point I was trying to make (and which I perhaps could have made more clearly) is that we regulate the supply of alcohol and other drugs, but don't regulate the supply of fatty or sugary foods, even though both can kill. I'm not necessarily arguing for anything as draconian as a ban or tough regulation on junk food. But it doesn't make much sense to regulate one harmful substance while allowing another to be freely bought.

The link between obesity and food choices, for which you say we need this research, is easy - eating too much of the wrong food and not burning it off with exercise.

I think we can assume the research on obesity is a little more detailed than that. We have a looming obesity crisis on our hands, and health authorities are going to need to understand the scale of the problem so that they can have the resources to deal with the problem.

by stuart munro on January 28, 2011
stuart munro

Sure state assets -roads and bridges, hospitals and schools - all stolen. All state property is theft.

You're channelling Marx, not Adam Smith.

So much for libertarian principles.

by Kyle Matthews on January 29, 2011
Kyle Matthews

those on the left are very happy to generalise about me

This below a blog posting which makes some pretty silly right-wing talking points but no useful contribution to the debate about the role of government in society.

Please, "parents should take more responsibility for their children's lifestyle"? That's new and original. You can do better.

by Deborah Coddington on January 29, 2011
Deborah Coddington

You're all totally avoiding the whole point of my post, by resorting to personal insults - which, by the way, are always a great indication that you are unable to deal with the issues.

Yes, we face an obesity problem. Yes, it will be a drain on the public health system. Yes, we won't be able to afford it.

What to do, what to do?

Now, can anyone come up with a good reason why parents should not take responsibility for their children's diets and exercise?

Why should parents be allowed to let their children eat whatever they like whenever they choose, and when their children get unhealthily obese as a result, dairy owners are forced by law to curtail what they sell and when they sell it?

(As an aside, I seriously doubt enforcing trading hours on junk-food selling on dairies around schools will make a blind bit of difference to these over-eaters anyway. They'll get their junk-food elsewhere.)

 

by ScottY on January 29, 2011
ScottY

You're all totally avoiding the whole point of my post, by resorting to personal insults - which, by the way, are always a great indication that you are unable to deal with the issues.

I can't see too many personal insults on this thread, Deborah. Plenty of objections to your argument have been raised, and you've ignored most of them, resorting instead to making wild generalisations.

What to do, what to do?

We could always have a debate about the role of regulation, engage in further work to determine the scale of the problem, and consider the role of education in infuencing the eating choices people make.

Now, can anyone come up with a good reason why parents should not take responsibility for their children's diets and exercise?

Good idea. Yes. Now, how do you propose making that happen? What's your plan? Because talking about parental responsibility sounds like a plan for doing nothing.

by Brendon Mills on January 29, 2011
Brendon Mills

"why not nationalise the food outlets?"

Actually I favour co-operative ownership of our supermarkets.

I think our bread, milk, etc would be a fair bit cheaper if the likes of Fonterra owned the supermarket system.

Of course the Commerce Commission would have nothing of it.

by Brendon Mills on January 29, 2011
Brendon Mills

Deborah,

Do you think schools should be able to sell 'junk food'?

by Matthew Percival on January 29, 2011
Matthew Percival

You speak far too much sense Deborah.

Of course schools should be allowed to sell junk food. There's nothing wrong with giving your child a donut as a reward for a good test result at the end of the school week. Now you wouldn't want your child eating that stuff every day, so here is a novel idea - don't give them any money on the other days so they can't buy food!

As you suggest Deborah, obesity isn't rocket science. I wonder how many obese kids and for that matter adults play regular sport? How many of them partake in any sort of fitness activity?

We can look for blame in other parts of our society or we can look at the real problem - parents.

by Chris de Lisle on January 30, 2011
Chris de Lisle

"Now, can anyone come up with a good reason why parents should not take responsibility for their children's diets and exercise?"

and

"We can look for blame in other parts of our society or we can look at the real problem - parents."

Neither of these comments are wrong (Though, I'd question how much control parents actually have over what kids eat at school; one of my school friends used to do others' homework in exchange for baked goods, for example. Nothing his parents could have done about that).

The problem, though, is that as ScottY says, they aren't really solutions. How do you make parents take more responsibility? How do you help them with this? How do you make this politically palateable in a country where half the populace protests in the street in outrage when they are forbidden from assaulting their children? Some sort of publicity campaign of the sort that get 'busted' as ridiculous wastes of money every year? Why is it the parents rather than the children who have to take responsibility? Why is it ok to ask why parents "are allowed" to enable childhood obesity, but not to ask why shopkeepers "are allowed to"?

Now all that said, I don't know that I agree with restricting dairies, and probably not even tuckshops. I do agree that encouraging more physEd is probably the way to go about it. But I don't think that means "forc[ing] them to do some PhysEd, just like the bad old days... which hurt[s] or humiliate[s] them" is a good idea (Again, why are you ok with forcing children to do things, but not companies?). What needs to happen is that kids (& adults) spend more time being physical in their free time. They're not going to go that if the only times they are physical is when they are forced to do deeply unpleasant things.

You could spin your parental responsibility line here, as well; it's very easy for parents to sit kids in front of screens rather than playing sport with them or taking them scouting or something (& that line is right). But again, it's not really a solution by itself. How can we make it easier for parents to take that responsibility? How can we help those kids whose parents can't or won't take that responsibility?

I don't have any real solutions here. I'm not convinced that the solution need be governmental, and banning things doesn't strike me as very constructive. I don't actually think there is a quick single solution (After all, there are at least two causal factors: kids eating too much and kids not exercising enough, not to mention the parents not taking responsibility, itself with multiple causes). But things like scouting seem like good ideas to me, which make physical activity fun, can happen more regularly than physEd, provide friends who they associate with largely through physical activity (ie. If all a child's friends do physical activity for fun they will do physical activity for fun too) and get older children, young adults and parents to organise activities and support the younger ones (Thus removing *some* burden from parents, or allowing that burden to be shared).

 

(Pundit: Allowing me to procrastinate on my essays since 2008!)

by Cushla McKinney on January 31, 2011
Cushla McKinney

Not so poor, though, that they can't afford to buy the odd pie or ten.

Or perhaps because a pie is cheaper than decent bread and salad fillings!

by Petone on February 01, 2011
Petone

"I said "in principle" how is the market different. You haven't answered the question"

Fair enough.  If one could encapsulate the principles in say 5 words, like "sellers sell stuff to buyers" then yes you're right, there is no difference in principle. Is it too much to hope that analysis by policy makers in government does consider mere practicalities?

"What does Enron have to do with the NZ energy market?"

Er, I'm a little stunned.  As noted before, perhaps some basic research on the dangers of privitisation and deregulation of the electricity market might not go astray.  Otherwise it's difficult to see on what grounds you criticise the "collectivists" who maintain it shouldn't be privately owned.  Here's a starter:


"Senator Phil Gramm, the second largest recipient of campaign contributions from Enron, succeeded in legislating California's energy commodity trading deregulation. Despite warnings from prominent consumer groups which stated that this law would give energy traders too much influence over energy commodity prices, the legislation was passed in December 2000.

As Public Citizen reported, "Because of Enron’s new, unregulated power auction, the company’s 'Wholesale Services' revenues quadrupled—from $12 billion in the first quarter of 2000 to $48.4 billion in the first quarter of 2001."[12]

Before passage of the deregulation law, there had been only one Stage 3 rolling blackout declared. Following passage, California had a total of 38 blackouts defined as Stage 3 rolling blackouts, until federal regulators intervened in June 2001. These blackouts occurred mainly as a result of a poorly designed market system that was manipulated by traders and marketers. Enron traders were revealed as intentionally encouraging the removal of power from the market during California's energy crisis by encouraging suppliers to shut down plants to perform unnecessary maintenance, as documented in recordings made at the time.[13][14] These acts contributed to the need for rolling blackouts, which adversely affected many businesses dependent upon a reliable supply of electricity, and inconvenienced a large number of retail consumers. This scattered supply raised the price exponentially, and Enron traders were thus able to sell power at premium prices, sometimes up to a factor of 20x its normal peak value."

PS:  Yes, before you argue the point, I know the above is not what is being proposed in the asset sales. But as treasury has pointed out, it will be difficult to prevent foreign corporations from establishing cornerstone stakes within a decade.  And it is naive to think such interests will not be lobbying NZ's electricity regulators.

PPS:  when you mention "collectivists", would these be the same sorts of people as the "prominent consumer groups" in the above quote?

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