4 August 2020

Banning SUV adverts really would be the start of a slippery slope – that’s the whole point

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Slippery slope arguments are, often enough, logical fallacies. For the claim to be true, that if this thing happens then these horrors will follow, it is necessary for those horrors to have to follow.

It’s rather easier to prove that something is the start of a slippery slope, however, when people explicitly state that their current demand is just the first step towards a longer term target.  So it is with the latest calls for to ban adverts for SUVs and other large cars.

The authors of this report, the New Weather Institute, don’t hide their aims at all. They start by talking about how bans on cigarette advertising were just the start that led to the current near nationwide bans on enjoying one at all, at least in public, then go on to insist that advertising Sport Utility Vehicles (SUVs), or large engined cars should go the same way.

That this will bankrupt much of the press seems not to matter to them. Nor that the appropriate climate policies are already in place – petrol tax takes care of thirsty engines rather well, as Lord Stern pointed out in his review. They even ignore how Nicholas Stern, in his landmark climate change review, insisted that piecemeal policies were the wrong response, instead there must be the one intervention, a carbon tax. One major reason, although he was too polite to put it this way, is that piecemeal provides an opportunity for every prodnose with a grudge to stick their oar in.

That this is a slippery slope is laid out for us. They go on to talk of airline advertising as something that must also be banned. You know, in time and judiciously, of course. They even cite the “junk food” advertising as evidence of how well this will all work. That ban which, to Chris Snowdon’s crowing delight, has led to bans on ads for bacon and butter on the Tube.

As it is easy enough to see this is not in fact anything to do with climate, the planet or carbon. This is simply that upper middle class distaste for consumerism – the true definition of which is that the workers might gain what the intellectuals have as a matter of right. All the buzzwords appear, “fast fashion”, “culturally dominant”, “progressive policies”, the usual ragbag of justifications for why the proles cannot have what those jetting off to climate conferences must. 

That is, the entire point of having an economy, a civilisation even, is being missed here, which is that people get to have more of what they want. They’re railing against this process of us all getting richer, nothing else. As well as, quite obviously, misunderstanding the main effect of advertising bans – they stop any new suppliers entering the market. For how can you launch something new without telling people about it? Thus such bans actually – as that cigarette advertising ban does – entrench the current market leaders in their positions and increase their profits. The ban enthusiasts would not only make the majority of us poorer, but the greedy capitalists richer.

There does come a time – I would argue we’re rather past it – when the correct response to these people is a blast of traditional Anglo-Saxon language. We should not let them get any further with this because, as they’ve laid out in their own report, this is the start of that slippery slope to us not being able to have what we want but only to have access to what they approve of. That may be many things, but it’s not what living in a free country looks like to me. 

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Tim Worstall works for the Continental Telegraph and the Adam Smith Institute.