We can’t afford to let vested interests risk future prosperity

Since it achieved global popularity, Uber has been something of the poster child for disruptive change and creative destruction. Through providing consumers with efficient, convenient, and often cheaper lifts than traditional taxis, the company has managed to showcase the many benefits of innovation and competition.

In doing so, however, it has attracted the ire of those it has displaced. Traditional taxi drivers, understandably threatened by the competitiveness of Uber, have frequently protested against the app and called for greater restrictions – or outright bans – to protect their livelihoods. 

Back in 2017, the protectionists, unfortunately, seemed to get their way, with Transport for London (TfL) revoking Uber’s licence to operate within the city. A few months later, the licence was reinstated, albeit only for a fifteen-month probationary period. Far from an ideal solution, but certainly better than the original decision of TfL to deny over three million uber-using Londoners the choice of cheap and convenient travel. 

Yet this tug-of-war between protectionism and free choice continues to rage on, with the United Cabbies Group, a union of London taxi drivers, challenging the decision to grant this fifteen-month licence. However, just last week, this challenge was dismissed and described as “tenuous” by judges.

Clearly, this is a small victory. But while it’s refreshing to see courts side with consumer choice over protectionism, the future of Uber in London remains troublingly uncertain. 

After all, the ride-sharing firm continues to operate on its probationary licence, with no guarantee of what will happen once those fifteen months are up. This is not to be defeatist – I doubt that the app will simply be banned once this period ends. But the fact that the debate over whether Uber should be allowed to operate persists gives a rather pessimistic impression that we do not yet embrace disruptive change as much as we should.

Let’s not forget, for example, that Uber is just a single example of such innovation and creative destruction in a long history of the old giving way to the new. Arguing to restrict Uber in favour of traditional taxi firms is no different from banning Netflix to protect Blockbuster. 

Take a look at the Belgian capital of Brussels, for instance. Last month, Uber was banned from operating in the city after the Brussels Taxi Association claimed unfair competition, arguing that, since Uber drivers did not have to meet the same requirements on “dress, presentation, and conduct”, as the association’s members do, the competition was unfair. 

Naturally, if you’re anything like me, you’ll be wondering why the Brussels Taxi Association didn’t just advise its members to reduce some of these requirements, rather than deciding to make the leap and campaign for the competition to be banned. The whole point of competition is that businesses should adapt to improve in the face of new entrants to the market, rather than trying to ban them.

The important, and unfortunate, point here is that the association won, and the courts ruled for Uber to be banned from the city. 

A debate is currently ongoing in Brussels over whether Uber should be banned in its entirety, or whether only specific services like UberPOP should be prohibited, while UberX continues to operate. Legal confusion aside, the Belgian example paints a picture of paternalism – only narrowly avoided in London – where established interests fight to simply ban competitors rather than improving their own services.

So, while rejecting the challenge of the United Cabbies Group was a good start, more needs to be done to protect innovative services like Uber in Britain. These innovators drive economies forward, make services cheaper and more convenient, and pass on benefits to consumers.

Lawmakers in the UK should take the recent ruling as a first step towards ensuring that disruptors can flourish in modern Britain – and guaranteeing Uber its future in London must be a priority. In these economically uncertain times, Britain needs to banish protectionism once and for all and embrace its dynamic, innovative spirit.

Counterproductive bans will hinder, not help, the rise of vegan clothing

A couple of years ago, I made the decision to switch to vegetarianism, and I’ve done a pretty good job of sticking with it ever since. I’m fortunate to live in a part of the world where veggie alternatives are available and easily accessible, making it far easier to cut meat out of my diet.

While it’s not been too much of a challenge to stop eating meat, clothing myself is far trickier. It’s easy to swap minced beef for quorn, chicken breast for halloumi, or meatballs for mushrooms. It’s another thing to swap leather for, well, faux-leather.

It’s for this reason that I can’t quite get myself on board with calls to ban the use of animal products in fashions. As much as I look forward to the day when such options are widely-available, affordable, and good-quality, I’m just not sure we’re there yet.

One reason for this is, quite simply, the price. While veganism and vegetarianism are certainly in-vogue at the moment, the ‘cruelty-free’ fashion trend is still in rather early days. Many luxury brands, including a new endeavour from Stella McCartney, have begun selling such garments at fittingly luxurious prices.

Cheaper alternatives, sadly, struggle to match the quality of their real-leather counterparts. Trying to find a pair of decent veggie winter boots that won’t break the bank is a challenge worthy of Greek mythology (if the Golden Fleece was made of a vegan wool-substitute).

Moreover, veggie alternatives to leather, fur, and the like remain environmentally unfriendly. Commonly used materials in vegan clothing, such as PVC and polyurethane, can spell disaster for the environment, with these two materials being non-biodegradable.

It can be tricky to work out which option is going to be the more animal-friendly. Leather boots, naturally, are going to need at least one cow to pop his clogs. But the “cruelty-free” alternative could linger around on the ocean floor long after we’re gone, doing untold damage to the local marine life.

When it comes to clothing and fashion, it becomes far tougher to apply any single vegan or vegetarian ethos. Cutting out animal products from your wardrobe won’t necessarily eliminate any damage or harm to animals, and we currently shouldn’t expect expensive, good quality vegan alternatives to be available to everybody.

Of course, the key word here is “currently”. I have no doubt that, in the near future, the market for vegan clothing will become cheaper, of better quality, and more environmentally-friendly. So long as people keep demanding these alternatives, products are going to improve and become more generally available.

But this can’t be rushed. Companies like BooHoo, for instance, may have good intentions when they decide to internally ban the use of animal products such as wool, following the arguments made by NGOs such as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), but this isn’t necessarily the best decision when it comes to promoting a sustainable fashion industry that is both environmentally and animal-friendly.

Naturally, companies should be completely free to decide what they want to sell. If they wish to promote a cruelty-free alternative, however, the emphasis should be placed on choice, rather than blanket bans. Simply removing the non-vegan option willy-nilly could have disastrous effects both on consumers and producers alike, potentially pushing the price of clothing up and depriving many local communities in developing countries of their income.

Offering the choice is the best route to take here. British footwear manufacturer Doc Martens, for instance, offers a wide range of both vegan and non-vegan leather boots, allowing customers the option to decide for themselves. In doing so, the company can continue to promote and develop a cruelty-free alternative, without resorting to kneejerk bans and the unintended consequences that come with them.

Moreover, companies should seek to better inform consumers about where the materials are coming from. Companies such as Furmark, for instance, work to assure buyers that their coats were made sustainably, and in a way that met strict standards of animal welfare. While I’m personally no fan of the fur trade, allowing consumers the information over how animal materials are procured enables a far more informed choice, and prevents unethical or unsustainable practices.

Personally, I’m thrilled to see a discussion around the ethics of animal products in fashion become mainstream, and I look forward to the day when vegan alternatives are affordable and sustainable.

We might even be closer to this day than we think, with companies like Marks and Spencer now selling vegan clothing at more affordable prices. New initiatives such as this are wonderful signals of a more-conscious consumer base, and should be welcomed. Bans, however, will do little to make vegan fashion affordable and sustainable. Informed consumers, and the choices they make, are the best motors towards truly cruelty-free fashion.


Is it time to scrap the TV licence?

by Richard Mason – Research Fellow at Consumer Choice Center

About half a century ago, Austrian economist Joseph Schumpeter wrote in his book Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy about a concept he called ‘creative destruction’. Derived from the previous works of Marx, Schumpeter perceived economic growth under capitalism as a destructive force by which entrepreneurs, in discovering new and exciting innovations, render existing business models obsolete.

Interestingly, for a theory so heavily based on Marxist thought, creative destruction has become pretty accepted amongst many free-marketeers. Clearly, it’s brought remarkable benefits to consumers. It seems a necessary and actually pretty healthy part of a capitalist system which has driven human progress like no other economic system before. Just as we know that the introduction of widely-available cars made horse-drawn carriages outmoded, many believe that new technologies like Uber will have the same effect on the black cab. Ex-mayoral candidate for London Andrew Boff wrote a great piece on this aspect of creative destruction a few months back.

Today, of course, this process is pretty controversial. While the creative-destructive process certainly brings with it numerous benefits like cheaper, better, and more-efficient services, it naturally makes life tougher for those who have their careers and businesses rendered useless by new technology, or constrained from change by the state. In an age where such new tech seems to spring up every day, it’s perhaps understandable that so many fear the rise of the machines.

And that’s the challenge for policy makers. Sometimes this can lead to an almost neo-luddite-esque rejection of new technologies and services, as we cling on to outdated but familiar solutions – usually with whole eco-systems of vested interests to back them up. In other cases, like Uber, creative destruction is actively embraced by progressive voters and the politicians who represent them. But even to them, one obvious example always seems to remain sacrosanct: in the age of cheap and available online streaming, we still have to pay for a licence to watch state-produced TV.

I realise the topic might seem a bit old-hat. I’m not sure that the TV licence has ever been particularly popular in the UK, even before the rise of Netflix and Amazon Prime. That’s probably why the government has had to put out such Orwellian warnings to remind you to cough up.

But with the recent announcement that the licence fee will increase to £154.50 from April this year, it is once again time to call the existence such an outdated institution into question. Some quick maths will tell you that, with the new increase, Brits will wind up paying just under £13 a month for the privilege of watching TV, the bulk of which will go towards the BBC and its projects.

Meanwhile, a Netflix subscription will cost only set you back £7.99 for a standard subscription, while all the other traditional channels are still funded by advertisements and, thus, free to watch. This is without even discussing the many other streaming services like Hulu or Amazon prime, or popular new forms of media like YouTube and podcasts.

With such a plethora of cheap or free options to choose from, it is absurd to expect Brits to continue paying for the BBC. It’s no surprise that so many are beginning to cancel their licence subscriptions, and rightly so.

Indeed, as with so many businesses, institutions and technologies before it, the idea of a mandatory licence to watch TV, and the state broadcasting service it funds, is at the eve of destruction in the face of newer, cheaper, and overall better alternatives – just as Schumpeter could have predicted. The question now, however, is where we go from here?

Sadly, the outlook might not be too optimistic. With the plan already in place to raise the costs in April, and with the massive reforms to the BBC that would likely emerge from a scrapped licence fee, there doesn’t seem to be many signs of the government getting with the times soon.

A particularly troubling premonition might be that the UK follows in the footsteps of Germany who, in 2013, simply imposed a ‘TV tax’ on every household, regardless of whether they owned a TV or not. The justification for this was that, since the state broadcasts over so many forms of media such as radio or the internet, everyone is potentially able to have access regardless of if they owned a TV set. As a result, every German resident must now pay €17.50 (about £15) every month.

Hopefully, the UK government won’t take inspiration from this, and will look upon streaming services as facets of creative destruction, by which our economy grows and we as consumers get access to far more choice than just the BBC. Let’s bring ourselves into the 21st century, and have a proper debate about doing-away with the licence. If policy makers don’t tackle these challenges, and ask serious questions about what is to be lost and gained, it’s consumers that will ultimately lose out.

Calorie caps or consumer choice?

Now that we’re well-into February, many of us are giving up on our January goals of cutting down on booze, saving money, learning Sanskrit, or whatever else we planned to finally do in 2019. There’s always next year! If your new year’s resolution was to finally get in shape, then you’re in luck; the government is planning to make sure you stick to your new diet with an iron fist.

Of course, many will not find this particularly surprisingly. We’ve often seen campaigns and drives to get people exercising or to promote healthy eating (the NHS’s Change4Life adverts remain fully ingrained into my childhood memories). Yet, it seems as though the state has tired of the let’s-get-busy, Richard Simmons-esque approach to combating obesity, and is now taking more-draconian route to force you to eat healthy. 

On Christmas Day, The Telegraph revealed the contents of draft legislation which would impose a ‘calorie cap’ on food bought in supermarkets and restaurants. Packaged sandwiches could not exceed 550 calories. Ready meals could not exceed 544 calories. Takeaway restaurants would have to ensure they didn’t sell you a pizza exceeding 1040 calories. 

Currently, many such food items would stand in violation of the proposed caps. In fact, many critics of the proposed caps are concerned that it might not even be feasible for many food items to meet the new requirements. Some, such as Christopher Snowdon of the IEA, have questioned the logic behind the cap limits, calling them “arbitrary, unscientific, and unrealistic”.

Indeed, it’s difficult to fully understand why PHE have decided on this route, let alone how they arrived at the figures used in the caps. As my colleague Bill Wirtz points out in a statement on the proposal, Britain’s obesity problem is far more an issue of underactivity, rather than too much energy intake. In fact, caloric consumption has actually decreased for the average Brit over the past decades.

Thus far, it would seem that the proposed cap is unnecessary and potentially unfeasible. Meanwhile, consumers will have to shoulder much of the burden for a heavy-handed measure that promises little results. 

After all, there’s a strong relationship between good-tasting food and a high caloric content. When we eat unhealthy food, for the most part, we do so in the knowledge that we’re being a bit naughty. We willfully discount the negative effects on our health in favour of the pleasure it brings us when we order a takeaway or go out for a meal. Ultimately, this a decision that we should be allowed to make for ourselves; should we not be trusted to choose for ourselves what we consume? 

Imposing a calorie cap as per PHE’s suggestion will simply cause restaurateurs and those in the food industry a headache, limit the choice of British consumers, and ultimately make our dining experience a lot more miserable. 

Sadly, however, such a decision is fairly par for the course. Just a few months ago I wrote on a proposal to ban ‘freakshakes’ – milkshakes adorned with copious amounts of sauce, cakes, biscuits, or other sugary treats. As I argued then, the state’s role in public health is not to protect us from ourselves. As free adults, we should enjoy the right to decide to what we eat, regardless of its good for us. 

If the government wishes to take an interest in fighting the obesity problem in Britain, it should do so without limiting our choices or bodily autonomy. It should be a case of informing people of the dangers of frequent unhealthy eating, and promoting active lifestyles. To outright impose a limit on how caloric our food can be sends the message that Brits just can’t be trusted to look after their bodies without nanny telling us how many rusks we’re allowed. 

Let’s not allow 2019 to become yet another year of handing over personal responsibilities to the state. Ultimately, a cap on calories as proposed by PHE seems neither well-thought out, with so many in the food industry questioning its feasibility,  nor respectful of our freedom to choose. 

Brits deserve the right to decide how and what they eat, regardless of how healthy or unhealthy it’s been deemed. Let’s make 2019 the year we stop letting the government make our orders for us, and choose from the menu ourselves. It is, after all, the year of the pig!

Eighty-Five years since prohibition, but have we learnt anything?

This Wednesday was a special day. In the Netherlands, Dutch children celebrated the coming of Sinterklaas (along with his controversial helper Zwarte Piet). Walt Disney would have celebrated his 117th birthday. It was also world soil day, apparently. But the 5th of December 2018 also marked a particularly special anniversary: the end of prohibition in the United States. Eighty-five years ago, the Twenty First Amendment to the US Constitution was ratified, officially repealing the Eighteenth Amendment banning the sale and transportation of intoxicating liquors. After thirteen years, American citizens could at last enjoy a drink, legally.

Today, prohibition is widely regarded as a colossal failure. Driven by pressure from the Temperance Movement, who saw alcohol and the drunkenness it causes as detriments to society. Alcohol was blamed for crime, disorder, and poverty. A ban on booze, it was seemingly thought, would protect drinkers from themselves, and society from their behaviour while under-the-influence.

Of course, this wasn’t the case. Rather than eradicating the American market for booze, it simply drove the import, production, and sale of drinks into the hands of bootleggers and mafiosos.

In fact, the black market for booze during the prohibition era was so vastly profitable that some have credited the ban with creating the modern mafia. The total control over the market for alcohol provided a great incentive for gangs, such as those that came with the mass immigration from Italy in the late-1900s, to transform from small-time racketeers to firm-like, hierarchical organisations.

While these gangs certainly filled a gap with their black-market liquor and speakeasies, consumers and the rest of society undoubtedly suffered. Gangs, famously, preferred to treat friendly competition with a pair of concrete shoes than a new marketing campaign. Meanwhile, those indulging in illegal booze received no protection from the state, and no guarantee of what exactly went into their drink. While gangsters made millions, everyone else had to pay the price.

So, the eighty-five year anniversary of the death of such a disastrous attempt at social engineering undoubtedly warrants celebrating (perhaps with a drink?). But have we actually learned from the experience?

Not fully. In fact, you could read through the first half of this article, replace ‘booze’ with ‘cocaine’ or ‘cannabis’, and ‘Mafia’ with ‘Cartel’, and you’d have a pretty accurate description of the ongoing war on drugs.

Just like the Americans of the 1920s who fancied a beer, someone wanting to indulge in something harder today is left fully at the whims of organised criminals, and receives no help from the state. According to the drug policy alliance, almost 1.4 million people in the US have been arrested solely on possession charges.

Moreover, consumers of drugs today often have no guarantee that what they’re taking is actually what they paid for. While cities like Amsterdam now offer anonymous testing of substances, most people have no way if they just snorted a line of coke or laundry detergent.

Meanwhile, those selling on the black market enjoy participation in a global industry worth an estimated half a trillion dollars. While cartels and drug runners line their pockets, however, the communities around them have to deal with the violence and murder that comes whenever markets become criminal.

It’s probably wise to put in a disclaimer here: I am not advocating the use of hard drugs. Rather, I am advocating to follow the path of least harm. Just as the prohibition of alcohol created the mafia, bringing with it violence, more-dangerous products, and general suffering, the war on drugs, too, has done nothing to protect users or prevent crime; quite the opposite, in fact.

Eighty-five years ago the US government learned its lesson, and took the path of least harm. In doing so, they allowed users access to help and support and deprived criminals of their monopoly. While we’re starting to make progress, as countries like Canada, Luxembourg, as well as certain US states begin to decriminalise cannabis, there’s lots more work to be done before all the suffering brought on by the war on drugs can be ended.

Originally published at https://thebroadonline.com/eighty-five-years-since-prohibition-but-have-we-learnt-anything/

‘Freakshakes’ are not an issue of Public Health, but of Parental Responsibility

‘Freakshakes’ are not an issue of Public Health, but of Parental Responsibility
by Richard Mason – Research Fellow at Consumer Choice Center

I’m probably about to lose a fair bit of my rep with the classical liberal community: I don’t necessarily see it as an issue for the state to take an interest in public health. If we accept the classical Smithian idea of a state limited to three simple roles (namely the provision of defense, justice, and basic public goods), then certainly a government action to prevent the spread of deadly diseases can be justified, so long as that action does not infringe on basic freedoms.

There is a crucial defining point in this argument for state interest in public health; the diseases must be able to spread, i.e. they must be communicable. Since none (or, at least, very few) would consent to being infected with a potentially fatal illness, nor would they necessarily even know about it, or how to prevent it, there is room here for some kind of measure against its spread.

Sadly, however, this is not the role the government takes when it comes to public health. Rather than focusing on the fight against communicable disease, the state instead decides to clamp down on personal choice and bodily autonomy.

Under the banner of public health, the UK government has long seen it appropriate to place further and further restrictions on what we can and can’t eat, drink, or smoke. We are deemed unable and unfit to make these decisions for ourselves, or to fully grasp the damage certain goods do to our bodies.

We have progressed so far down this path that the UK now boasts the second least-free nanny state in Europe, beaten out only by Finland for laws, restrictions, and sin-taxes on tobacco, alcohol, and other such goods. Sadly, this shows no signs of reversing any time soon.

The most recent nail hammered into the coffin of British consumer choice is the proposal to ban ‘freakshakes’, milkshakes stuffed and adorned with chocolates, cakes, marshmallows, sauces, and other goodies that significantly ram-up the treat-drink’s calorie and sugar content.

Unlike the more traditional targets of paternalism, such as tobacco or alcohol, the proposed ban on freakshakes cannot be seen as anything other than an attack on personal choice. There are no externalities on anybody but the consumer themselves in this case; freakshakes don’t bring with them any secondhand-smoke or drunken violence. The only person such a ban could possibly be seeking to protect is the person drinking it.

For an adult, this is pretty inexcusable. We in the UK enjoy the right to bodily autonomy, and thus must enjoy the freedom to take as much care or to do as much damage to our own bodies as we see fit. I think most would agree that to tell a grown person they can’t drink a litre of milkshake topped with brownies, marshmallows and drenched in chocolate sauce, is a pretty hefty overreach into our personal liberties.

Those behind the proposal, however, focus more on the effects of overconsumption of sugar on children, and justify the idea of a ban this way instead. Naturally, a child is at the whims of the his or her parents for what they consume, and are therefore far less able to make decisions over their own bodily autonomy.

Graham MacGregor, Chairman of the group behind the calls for a ban Action on Sugar, argues thusly:

“These very high calorie drinks, if consumed on a daily basis, would result in children becoming obese and suffering from tooth decay – that is not acceptable.”

This immediately should set off some red flags about the argument to ban freakshakes; who exactly is going to be consuming them on a daily basis? Who is able to look at something like this and believe it to be an healthy part of a child’s daily diet?

To blame the restaurants and cafes serving these desserts for any child who became obese from consuming them would be to deflect any responsibility from the parents who buy them. The arguments to ban freakshakes seem to be another case of punishing the majority for the actions of a small group of irresponsible parents.

We can’t continue down this path of relinquishing all responsibility for our children’s and our own health to the state. In doing so, we effectively penalise the bulk of society, and deny them their right to make decisions about their own bodies, for the actions of an irresponsible few.

Let’s take the focus of public health away from the bad decisions made by individuals, and back on the stuff that matters, like preventing communicable diseases. Consumer choice and bodily autonomy is not the realm of state meddling.

Originally published at https://www.taxpayersalliance.com/_freakshakes_are_not_an_issue_of_public_health_but_of_parental_responsibility?fbclid=IwAR1zxHrI0Z4VwfxhcxlEVupq3NN2SgnbyzgvetjtiCwtdjTkSxRZVb-dhsI

We’re taxing the life out of pubs – it’s time to give them a break

Things haven’t been going to well for the British pub industry. Across the country, thousands of pubs have been forced to shut their doors by high alcohol taxes, duties, and other business-unfriendly restrictions from the state.  Even the extended summer and World Cup this year provided little solace to the struggling industry.

Beyond the pain caused by the closing down of local institutions, this also represents a huge threat to the UK economy. According to the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA), pubs contribute around £23.1 billion each year. That’s not to mention the community role pubs often play.

While the business environment might be tough, up to a third of the cost of a pint beer can be accounted for by taxation. In effect, the Government has been pushing both an economically and culturally valuable institution to the wall, preventing the British local from diversifying and competing in an ever-changing market.

It was only two years ago that that supermarket alcohol sales overtook those of pubs. On top of high duties, publicans were, and still are, up against businesses that can afford to treat alcoholic drinks as “loss leaders”; supermarkets, for instance,  are able to sell drinks at a loss since they can make up for it in the sales of other complementary products.

On top of this, pubs are facing threats from demographic and cultural changes, such as millennials drinking far less than previous generations, or the rise in preference for healthier lifestyles.

Now, I wouldn’t be much of a free marketeer if I didn’t argue that curveballs like the competitive edge held by supermarkets or preferences changing with demographics should be welcomed. Usually, it’s exactly this kind of disruptive change in competition and tastes that stimulates healthy growth and diversification.

Why, then, hasn’t this been the case? Why do so many pub owners simply lock up and sell off in the face of competition, rather than shaking things up to meet new tastes and trump competition from stores?

The first reason may seem pretty obvious: it’s just not worth it. Selling beer to an ever-more-teetotal generation is hard enough without without having to raise the cost of a pint just to meet the tax requirements. With such high costs imposed by the state, and with a smaller consumer market to support them, it’s simply too expensive and risky for landlords to invest in trendier gimmicks for their pubs that might appeal to the new base.

Thankfully, it seems that this message has not gone unheard. In his Budget on October 29, Philip Hammond, the Chancellor, froze duties on beer, spirits, and most ciders and announced a review of the current relief offered to small brewers. Such decisions will make life far easier for pub owners and brewers alike; Brigid Simmonds, Chief Executive of the British Beer and Pub Association, claimed that the freeze will “save brewers, pubs and pub-goers £110 million and secure upwards of 3,000 jobs that would have been lost had beer duty gone up.”

Moreover, the budget also offers to cut the business rates paid by small businesses (including pubs and bars) by a third. Like the frozen duty on beer and spirits, this is a policy that will be warmly welcomed by pub landlords across the country, who will now have more financial freedom to revamp their businesses, and experiment with new gimmicks and trends that can appeal to the new market.

But the focus should be on more than just a disaster averted; freezing duties and cutting business rates is great first step towards a more competitive, revitalised pub industry, but there are certainly more steps to be taken.

For example, policies such as cumulative impact zoning (CIZ), which enables local councils to reject license applications on the basis of alcohol-related harm reduction and local protection from disorderly patrons, make it harder for entrepreneurs to establish new pubs in areas where demand might call for them. With this policy being introduced with the Licensing Act of 2003, it’s high time for an update.

Rather than punishing pub landlords ex ante for crimes they assume their future patrons will commit, the state should instead relax and allow pubs and local communities to shape their own environment. It isn’t fair to simply assume a pub will bring crime and disorder, especially with the aforementioned sensible drinking habits of millennials.

In any case, we can accept this year’s budget as a win for the pub industry, who can now breathe a little easier with their belts loosened. However, if we really want to save the local, we have to constantly be searching for ways to give owners and entrepreneurs more freedom to set up shop and shake up the traditional model of the pub to fit the new generation.

Originally published at https://www.telegraph.co.uk/politics/2018/11/09/taxing-life-pubs-time-give-break/?WT.mc_id=tmgliveapp_iosshare_ArjsbDjFcR1w

A ban on single-use plastics would hurt consumers. But would it really save the environment?

California’s already banned them. The European Union isn’t far behind, and the UK seems poised to follow suit. I’m talking, of course, about single-use plastics.

To many, this may warrant little fanfare. Who cares if we have to start sipping our gin and tonic through a paper or bamboo straw rather than a plastic one? Or if we have to find a new medium of eardrum-puncturing after conventional cotton buds are taken off the market? Issues such as these naturally seem incredibly trivial when compared to the global issue of plastic pollution, especially after we’re subjected to heart-wrenching videos of the effect of plastic on marine life.

The issue of plastic-pollution is, indeed, ever-present, and one that is deserving of our attention. But is a ban on single-use products truly a significant first-step towards cleaner oceans?

Unfortunately, no. The contribution of the UK – and the EU and US, for that matter – to global plastic pollution is extremely marginal. With countries like China, Indonesia, and the Philippines dumping gargantuan levels of plastic compared to Britain and Europe, Western bans on single-use items like straws can only ever be little more than superficial.

On top of this, is that many of the “green” alternatives are not necessarily “green” at all. The logic behind the ban on single-use plastics is that, in removing accessibility to such items, businesses will be forced to adopt reusable, recyclable, or compostable alternatives like paper, bamboo, or metal.

A hole in this logic, however, is that a product is only as recyclable or compostable as the infrastructure allows. Without ready and available access to recycling bins, the problem of littering and pollution will remain as present amongst “green” products as it has done with plastics.

We should also be careful not to forget that while certain “green” products might not be as pollutive when discarded, some actually require more fossil fuels to produce than their plastic alternative.

For instance, according to Fortune magazine, “manufacturing a disposable paper cup requires at least 20% more fossil fuel and almost 50% more electricity than a styrofoam cup does.”

It’s therefore rather clear that a ban on single-use plastics from either the UK or EU – or even both –  is unlikely to have any real impact on the global pollution issue. But while the ban might not be of much importance on a worldwide level, it’s certainly going to be noticeable back home.

While switching from plastic to paper might not get a second glance from many of us, to others, this is a change that represents a great deal of new expenditure for the bars, cafes and supermarkets that have to pay for a more expensive alternative.

For instance, after the US city of Seattle banned single-use plastic shopping bags, many store-owners saw their cost for bags increase from 40% all the way up to 200%. As a result of plastic bans like this, such businesses are often forced to make changes to account for the extra cost, either through reducing expenditure in other areas (sometimes resulting in layoffs) or by raising the cost of their products.

Thus, it’s likely that any ban on single-use plastics will prove costly to producers and consumers alike, all the while producing negligible results when it comes to actually reduce pollution.

To those with certain disabilities, the bans will be particularly hard-hitting. For those who lack the ability to bring a cup to their lips, plastic straws represent the best mode of accessibility to hot drinks. Alternative materials, such as bamboo or metal, sadly prove too hard and rigid for this use and can present their own health risks.

Ultimately, the ban on single-use plastics will place a great burden on both consumers and producers and will have little to show for it. This is a shame since far more effective solutions exist that would be far less damaging to consumer choice and accessibility.

One route which could be taken would be simply to improve British recycling infrastructure. Previously, much of our plastic waste has been exported overseas to countries like China to be recycled, since the UK lacks the plants and infrastructure to do it ourselves. China has now, however, placed restrictions on waste importation.

As a result, the UK should now strongly consider improving our own infrastructure, removing the need to export and providing an opportunity to considerably reduce our contribution to plastic pollution. While a ban on single-use products will burden consumers for little result, better recycling possibilities offer a far more efficient route to reduced waste.

Originally published at https://1828uk.com/2018/10/08/a-ban-on-single-use-plastics-would-hurt-consumers-but-would-it-really-save-the-environment/

Will a European plastics ban really help the environment

Over the course of this year, it seems as though the debate on environmental protection has greatly shifted to the issue of plastics, namely the effects of ill-disposed of waste on marine life.

This is no bad thing; the disastrous consequences of plastic rubbish on the oceans are well-documented, and I’d wager few could see the images and videos of marine animals affected by the waste and not feel inclined to ditch the plastic straw next time they get an iced coffee.

While the intentions behind this new focus are, undoubtedly, good, sadly the responses of governments across the world have been rather heavy-handed and reactionary, to say the least. Legislatures, such as that of the US State of California, have begun rushing out legislation which outright prohibits the use of single-use plastic items, such as straws.

With the European Commission now discussing a similar tactic, and with the European Parliament voting in favour of the new plastics strategy, we may soon witness similar restrictions across the EU.

But are further restrictions on single-use plastics really the best route to take, if the EU wishes to reduce its plastic footprint on the oceans? Moreover, what are the externalities of such a measure on the freedom of consumers, and those who rely on plastic items?

Barely Scratching the Surface

While plastic pollution is certainly a matter deserving of debate and action, it’s important not to forget just where all the waste is coming from. According to Statista, of the ten countries that contribute the most plastic waste into the oceans, nine are in Asia, Africa, and the Middle East, with the United States being the only exception in tenth place.

As such, any reduction in Europe’s contribution to the problem will seem rather negligible in comparison to the mountains of plastic entering the oceans from other continents.

The effects of a plastic ban will seem smaller still when we consider the pollutive ‘qualities’ (for lack of a better word) of many ‘environmentally-friendly’ or ‘green’ alternatives to single-use plastic products. For example, the Commission press release on the new plastics strategy states that:

“Member States will have to reduce the use of plastic food containers and drinks cups. They can do so by setting national reduction targets, making alternative products available at the point of sale, or ensuring that single-use plastic products cannot be provided free of charge.”

While the alternatives discussed here are often less pollutive at the final stage of the products life, however, overall they often require far more fuel and energy at the production stage. For instance, the paper alternative to a styrofoam drinking cup, while far more biodegradable, produces far more pollution when factors such as production and transportation are taken into account.

In short, the EU’s plastic strategy seems to have the potential only to very slightly reduce the pollutive contribution of an entity that already makes up a mere fraction of the global problem.

Of course, this alone hardly constitutes a case against efforts to reduce European plastic waste; even the tiniest reduction in pollution and  plastic entering the ocean is progress towards cleaner planet. However, when we consider the costs and effects of a single-use plastic ban on more social factors, such as consumer choice and extra costs to businesses, the trade-off simply doesn’t seem worth it.

Better Alternatives

Sadly, the approach of banning or otherwise restricting the use and provision of single-use plastics punishes the many for the acts of a few. Owners of businesses such as cafe, bars, or restaurants will be required to switch from plastic straws and packaging to more-expensive paper or otherwise biodegradable alternatives, driving costs up and profit margins down as a result. This is a burden felt by certain cafes in California follow the aforementioned ban.

Moreover, to impose blanket bans or restrictions on single-use plastics overlook numerous detrimental effects to the consumer. Aside from the likely knock-on effects on prices brought about from the extra costs imposed on businesses, the European Vending and Coffee Association argues that the proposal compromises the ability of service businesses to guarantee proper hygiene as customers are incentivised to bring their own cups.

Rather than imposing unnecessary burdens on producers and consumers alike, the EU should consider a more pragmatic, less reactionary approach. For instance, improving the recycling infrastructure of Europe, and thus increasing the amount of plastic waste which is recycled rather than littered, would go far further at reducing the environmental impact with lessened social and economic implication

Instead of glazing over the real problem with a simple ban, let’s look for long-term, practical solutions that don’t place the positions of consumers and business owners in jeopardy.

Originally published at https://www.vocaleurope.eu/will-a-european-plastics-ban-really-help-the-environment/