Telegraph: The free market, not the state, will solve our obesity crisis

This article was first published in the Telegraph.

In a fresh vindication of the power of free-market innovation, a new study has found that a diabetes drug called semaglutide can help people lose weight. Almost one in three people in the 2,000-person clinical trial lost around 20 per cent of their bodyweight.

For decades, the only medical way to induce weight loss has been through intrusive and unpleasant operations. “I have spent the last twenty years doing obesity research,” said UCL professor Rachel Batterham, one of the scientists involved in the study. “Up until now, we’ve not had an effective treatment for obesity apart from bariatric surgery.”

The idea of a magical weight loss pill has often been the preserve of fantasy – and very low-quality online ads. Sure, it would be great if we could shed those extra pounds by taking a couple of tablets every day (or, in this case, an injection once a week) but we knew that that was impossible. Except that now, thanks to the wonders of innovation, it isn’t.

This is something that proponents of ‘fully automated luxury communism’ can never quite wrap their heads around. For them, the only way to confront something like obesity is by restricting people’s choices – and the disastrous effect that has on individual liberty is wholly unimportant to them.

The result is a public health nannying lobby which has become so terrifyingly powerful that even a Conservative government led by Boris Johnson – who was, once upon a time, a libertarian – has been totally won over and is committed to its plan to restrict online advertising of unhealthy foods.

The nanny state is much more expensive and meddlesome than the free-market alternatives – and, of course, myopic government interventions in this area are never effective. But perhaps most significant of all is the way they close off innovation, denying us all access to an impossibly prosperous future in which technology has solved every problem we can think of.

Imagine for a moment how difficult it would be to explain modern technology to someone who lived two hundred years ago. Imagine how taken aback the average person living in the year 1821 would have been if you told them that it would soon be possible to store an entire library’s worth of information on a small metal chip without writing exceptionally small and converse with people on the other side of the world without shouting extraordinarily loudly.

The microchips and telephones of the future could so easily be jeopardised by interventionism. Excessive state meddling puts humanity’s incredible technological progress at risk. Oxfam recently joined the calls to seize the intellectual property of the pharmaceutical companies which developed Covid-19 vaccines, which goes to show how worryingly mainstream this mentality still is. You might have thought that now more than ever, as we watch Big Pharma single-handedly rescue us from a once-in-a-lifetime global disaster, health innovation might be appreciated.

In fact, remarkably, Pfizer turned down cash from the American government in order to “liberate [its] scientists from any bureaucracy”, as CEO Albert Bourla put it. The burden of state incompetence is so great that it outweighs billions of dollars in cash.

So long as governments stay out of the way, the rate of innovation in the health sector will only continue to accelerate as time goes on. Today, it’s weight loss drugs and pandemic-crushing vaccines. Tomorrow – who knows. There is no ceiling on innovation – and that’s as true for obesity as it is for anything else.

The best thing the government can do is invest in our world-beating universities and research institutes, giving them the resources they need to immeasurably improve our quality of life by granting us access to revolutionary new technologies which would otherwise have been beyond our wildest dreams.

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