End ‘nanny state’ bans, argues major new study


Monetary Policy

Committee recommends a 0.25% reduction

Government and Institutions

An ageing population will vote for higher public spending on pensions

Prohibitions impose huge costs on individuals and society, yet produce few benefits in return
A major new study*, released today by the Institute of Economic Affairs, argues that the expansion of the ‘nanny state’ should be halted. A ‘banning culture’ has seen greater restrictions placed on what individuals are permitted to do with their own bodies on private property.

The study, conducted by a distinguished international panel of experts under Dr John Meadowcroft** of King’s College London, examines the outlawing of the manufacture, distribution, sale or provision of particular goods and services by consenting adults. A wide range of issues are covered including gun control, prostitution and recreational drugs.

The research on the impact of gun control provides a good illustration – tight restrictions, such as the UK handgun bans in 1988 and 1997, have been completely ineffective at reducing both gun crime and the murder rate in general. Indeed, most countries introducing such controls have, like Britain, experienced a dramatic subsequent increase in gun crime and homicide as the market for guns becomes completely controlled by criminals. In Jamaica the murder rate has risen fourfold since guns were banned in the 1970s, with criminals finding it easy to obtain illegal weapons. The study also reveals that in England and Wales only one firearm in ten used in homicide is legally held.

The authors find that in most cases bans and prohibitions impose significant costs on individuals and society as a whole and produce few benefits in return. They place markets into the hands of criminal enterprises and criminalise people who would not otherwise come into conflict with the law, making risky behaviour even more risky, increasing public ignorance and often encouraging the behaviour they seek to prevent. The study concludes that prohibitions are bad public policy and that tighter controls on activities such as drinking alcohol and prostitution are likely to be counter-productive. Alternative solutions, such as improved education and counselling, are likely to be more effective than bans at addressing the problems associated with consensual but undesirable behaviour.

*Prohibitions, edited by John Meadowcroft, Hobart Paperback 35, Institute of Economic Affairs (2008).

**Dr John Meadowcroft is Lecturer in Public Policy at King’s College London.