The ‘Nanny State’ has become endemic during the pandemic

Even a “good” thing can become “bad” if done to excess. By way of an example, up to 60% of the human body is made up of water, and it is universally agreed that staying hydrated is important for our health. Yet while drinking water has health benefits, drinking too much water over short periods can lead to water intoxication. By the same token, the watchword from legislators, opinion-formers and companies should always be everything in moderation. Equally importantly it should be to create a light-touch policy and regulatory framework which allows room for personal choice and common sense, writes Glen Hodgson, Founder and CEO of the think-tank Free Trade Europa.

Over the past two years, however, the COVID-19 pandemic has led to authorities deciding every aspect of what is best for the general public, from where we can go, what we can do and what is best for us. This is a worrying trend and excessive nannying will lead to the opposite effect in the long term as people will not follow overly prescriptive rules: particularly when they are deemed to be nonsensical, ineffective and limiting personal choice.

The European Union approach on cancer is a perfect example of this. While the aims are commendable the substance goes too far and ignores the tenets of moderation and personal responsibility. The dossier “Strengthening Europe in the fight against cancer – towards a comprehensive and coordinated strategy” will be voted on in the European Parliament this month, and “everything in moderation” should be in their minds as they cast their votes.

To take the example of alcohol, the majority of adults can enjoy it responsibly and in moderation. While zero risk is impossible with everything we do and consume, alcohol can be part of a balanced and healthy lifestyle. Moreover, studies (including those funded by the World Health Organization and European Commission) show that rates of heavy and binge drinking (heavy episodic drinking) are down, as is underage drinking and drink-driving. Positive messages and fact-based guidance are found across the internet and social media. In addition the number of teenagers and twenty-somethings who are adopting teetotal lifestyles is growing and this is increasingly seen as a trendy choice in real life as well as across social media platforms such as Instagram, Snapchat and TikTok.

Personal choice

In the Harry Potter series of books, Professor Dumbledore states that humans have a knack of choosing precisely those things that are worst for them. While there may be a grain of truth in this on occasions, it is widely accepted that personal freedom, choice and the ability to make up your own mind are vital elements of a free, democratic and sustainable society. Exerting too much control and nannying the population will be counter-intuitive and only lead people down the wrong path to outcomes that are not desirable for decision-makers.

Legislators should acknowledge and address harmful levels of consumption – for alcohol, sugar, trans fats etc. – but stop nannying and scaring people unnecessarily. Sensationalist coverage is guilty of this in the search for eyeballs and clicks, but politicians and lawmakers should distance themselves from this disease which is sadly as prevalent and destructive as the one they are aiming to defeat.