Olympic Medals

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I hope I’ve waited long enough since the closing ceremony to make a stroppy comment about the Olympic Games. Actually, it’s not about the Games themselves; it’s about the way certain nations have reacted to the medal tally:

MedalTally

More particularly, it’s about the one-eyed jingoism in the UK (whose athletes are described as Team GB, pointedly excluding any from Northern Ireland) and the public hostility to Australian athletes who failed to justify the huge public investment in their training by winning gold medals. If you find the latter hard to believe, read this article at the news.com.au website headed ‘Is Australia’s disastrous Olympic campaign really $340 million well spent?’

Just like diplomacy, the Olympics have become ‘war by other means’. Rich countries spend huge amounts of public money on employing and training elite athletes, and then claim their position in the medal tally as an indicator of national worth. Is it really more important to British people that Team GB’s gold medal count exceeded China’s (and Germany’s and Japan’s and France’s) than that British athletes strove to do their best against their peers and fell below 3rd place with good grace? Do Australian taxpayers really think the Games are about buying medals?

We all know what comes next. China will launch a massive expenditure programme to ensure that they come 2nd in 2020. The Japanese will do likewise to ensure that, as the host nation, they at least come 3rd.

Finally, I hope that calls for British people to buy lottery tickets as an act of patriotism, because much of the investment in athletic prowess was funded from the National Lottery, will cease. What if the main contributors were manufacturers of junk food, fizzy drinks and tobacco? Or importers of cocaine? Or brothel-keepers?

Sugar Tax

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Thanks to long-term lobbying by Jamie Oliver (pictured below in celebratory mood) and others, the UK Government has announced a tiered tax on soft drinks containing more than 5% sugar.  The most popular fizzy drinks are more than 10% sugar.

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The tax will not start until 2018 and HMG has not told us what the tax rates will be, but according the CNN “Government documents suggest the tax rate could be equivalent to £0.18 ($0.25) and £0.24 ($0.34) per liter, depending on the sugar content.” This would add a pretty solid percentage to the retail price and yield revenue estimated at £520 million per year.

The policy is supported by an excellent report by a Government agency called Public Health England.

I’m in favour of letting people make their own decisions, good or bad, but I’m also in favour of pricing things to reflect the full cost of their production and consumption. Since excessive sugar consumption imposes enormous costs on society in the form of health care and lost productivity, I consider the Old Country’s sugar tax a partial correction of a market imperfection.

Actually, Mexico has already done it and the evidence suggests that it’s working as intended.  So well done, Mexico. But – unfairly perhaps – people are likely to take more notice of what the UK does, and perhaps emulate it.