What would the founders of 'our' National Health Service make of this story - junk diet now killing more of us than cigs? I guess their jaws would drop and they would shake their heads in disbelief, wondering where it all went wrong. The nation was supposed to go on getting healthier and healthier once the State took over, with health education, rising living standards and advances in medicine and hygiene breeding a fitter population, and medical care provided free at the point of use to all who needed it. Indeed, the NHS was seriously expected to shrink and eventually all but disappear - not for nothing was it called a National Health Service.
What was wrong with this thinking? Simply that it was based on the classic false assumption that underlies most social sciences (especially economics): that people will act rationally and in pursuit of their own best interests. In fact, for much of the time, most people do no such thing; human nature is far more complex and contradictory than that. As Kant put it, 'Out of the crooked timber of humanity, no straight thing was ever made.' The NHS was a classic 'straight thing' project, doomed to fail. But the kind of thinking that gave birth to it is still everywhere apparent, not least in the field of public health - as evidenced by the quotation that closes the Telegraph piece: More government intervention, taxes, duties, subsidies - that will sort it out. No, it won't.