The fallacy of good intentions

Research has suggested that slashing the holes on salt shakers from the traditional 17 to five could cut the amount people sprinkle on their food by more than half. According to a recent Daily Mail online article, some city councils in the UK have now begun purchasing five hole salt shakers to give away, at taxpayer expense of course, to fish and chip establishments in their areas.

This suggests that Oregonians might get healthier (at least politically) if we limit the number of legislators who can sprinkle new laws down on our heads by the same ratio “” from the current 90 down to just 26. Maybe we can let all 90 current lawmakers bid for those 26 slots “” with the winning bids payable in kicker-type checks to taxpayers. But, will this work?

Unfortunately, the fallacy here is pretty obvious. Reducing the number of holes in a salt shaker won’t necessarily cut down how much salt we use; we will just have to work harder, or longer, to get our sodium chloride fix. Same with laws; any 26 lawmakers are likely just as capable of generating the same number of rules we have to live by as are 90. But those winning bid checks would at least be a nice byproduct of this flawed attempt to shield ourselves from too many “I’m from the government and I’m here to help” public servants.


Disclaimer: Nothing stated here should be construed as casting aspersions on any of our current or future public servants. They certainly have the best of intentions. It’s just that good intentions aren’t enough when it comes to making decisions that affect other people’s lives.


Founder and Senior Policy Analyst at Cascade Policy Institute, Steve Buckstein is Director of Cascade’s Government Transparency Project and the Oregon Economic Opportunity Project. Based in Portland, Cascade Policy Institute is Oregon’s free market research center.

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Posted by at 04:30 | Posted in Measure 37 | 22 Comments |Email This Post Email This Post |Print This Post Print This Post
  • dmf

    This might open up a renewed market for salt cellars

  • dean

    Steve…did you actually read the article? Apparently they did their homework first and found out that if they cut the number of holes down then people actually did use 60% less salt. Since in Britain health care is a public expense, maybe in this case they got it right. They may be saving the taxpayers money. Some salt fiends may shake harder, but apparently many will shake the same and get less salt, so maybe this was actually a wise expenditure of public funds. And nowhere did “the government” force fish and chippie shops to take the new shakers, and nowhere did they ration salt.

    You are right….good intentions are not enough. But research followed up by action may be enough.

    • Steve Buckstein

      Dean, yes I did read the article, but don’t find your statement that “people actually did use 60% less salt” with the five hole versus the 17 hold shakers. The actual quote from the article refers to officers of the Gateshead Council in the UK. It reads:

      “They decided that the five-hole pots would reduce the amount of salt being used by more than 60 per cent yet give a ‘visually acceptable sprinkling’ that would satisfy the customer.”

      This is not the same as proclaiming that “people actually did use 60% less salt.” Even if that statement were true, it does not justify using taxpayer money to give the 5 hole shakers to restaurants.

      You’re correct that the article didn’t say governments were forcing the shops to use the new shakers, but again that’s not the point. From a purely self-interest standpoint, if the research was correct then it might be in the shop owners’ economic interest to purchase new shakers themselves since doing so would save them money on their salt purchases.

      The fact that the UK is already “doing good” with other people’s money through its national health service doesn’t justify “doing more good” with 5 hole salt shakers. Better that they move in the other direction.

      • dean

        Steve…I would expect that salt is an insignificant cost to the Fish & Chippie shop owners, yet triple bypass surgery is not an insignificant cost to the taxpayer. Again…if the 60% estimate was based on sound research, and if the gesture of handing out 5 hole shakers ends up working (reducing heart disease,) then I say bully for the Brits. Good show. Excellent. Pip pip and all that.

  • Crawdude

    Thank goodness the government is here to save us from ourselves, lol! How pathetic! Limiting the holes in salt shakers?

    Think of the extra arm strength from the extra shaking, all the BIG MAC, SUPER-SIZED FRIES and a COKE dieters will gain.

    We should also limit the holes in the cheese containers at the PIZZA joints.

    Etc, etc, etc…..salt is the least of our chubby fellows citizens problems. Sodium and salt do not have to go together, they actually made low sodium salt.

    How about grills that are so small, a person can’t grill more than a 4 oz portion. Smaller knives so they can’t get as much BUTTER on them for their toast. Small spoons so they can’t get quite as much ICE CREAM in their months.

  • Jerry

    What if they made the nozzles smaller at the gas stations? That might just be the ticket!!

  • Rupert in Springfield

    Pick one:

    1 – This is ample evidence that it is folly to believe in any sort of inherent wisdom in Europeans. A populace that would go for this without lynching their rulers is simply a group of idiots.

    2 – I’m not sure that a single construct other than this incident could be a better illustrate the argument against government health care.

    3 – How many cycles, which seem to last about ten years, of salt being good, salt being poison, will the British people go through with this before they finally grow a pair?

    • dean

      Yes Rupert….these idiots. They spend half of what we spend on health care, have universal coverage, and have better across the board results. They should be lynched.

      • candy

        Universal health care does not mean “universal” health care. Women are now going to get care during pregnancy and find it unavailable. This is at the larger hospitals. But, alas, to save money, those thrifty Brits are going to close many smaller hospitals.

  • Rupert in Springfield

    >Yes Rupert….these idiots.

    Actually if you ever dealt with Europeans, as I do on a daily basis and have for years. You would know that their legendary smarts and wisdom are simply that, legend.

    > They spend half of what we spend on health care, have universal coverage, and have better across the board results.

    And if you’ll buy that, then you will also buy the concept that a man who couldn’t figure out for 20 years that his minister was in the Klan is qualified to negotiate with Iran. Good luck with that!

    As for myself, I put my trust not in those who quote surveys, polls or other such nonsense. I trust those who know, understand and have studied the issue. Who do I trust on this? Ted Kennedy. There is no greater supporter of national health care is there? Where did he go for his recent ailments? Not the UK, but I will give you two more guesses.

    And no, I will not buy the suggestion that Ted would have gone to Europe for his medical care, but chose the substandard US so he could avoid the flight and lower his carbon footprint.

  • Jerry

    What if they made the capitol smaller so only a few politicians could fit at any one time???

  • Joanne Rigutto

    There is an inherent flaw in taking European or even UK programs and holding them up as a model for what we here in the US should be doing, and I hear people doing this every single day. Even though the bulk of the people in this country were originally from Europe, and a lot of what our country is, is based on Europe, we’re as different from Europe as we are from China.

    Government intrusion into and control of peoples’ lives is much more accepted over there, or at least it’s much more prevailant and, given the fact that the government’s of Europe haven’t been overthrown, it’s accepted by the population. Although, given the reaction to the restrictions put on sheep farmers in Scotland and Ireland during the foot and mouth disease outbreak in the UK last summer, perhaps some people are getting up to ‘here’ with government control. That one almost caused a revolution in those two countries against England.

    We here in the US are moving in the same direction as far as government control/surveillance of our lives, but we’re not there yet and I’d just as soon we take as long as possible getting there. The longer I have as many freedoms as I have now, the better in my opinion.

    One of the things I’d like people to remember when they talk about things like universal government funded health care, among other programs, is that everytime you accept something from the government it comes with a shackle attached. Dean’s argument in favor of the salt shaker program is an excelent example of the mindset that allows the shackles, a mindset that, I’m afraid to say, is becoming more common in both the government agencies and the general public in this country. The reasoning, for the salt shaker switch, is that health care is a public expense, and in order to keep that expense down as much as possible, the government encourages people, through the salt shaker offerings to the fish and chips resturants, to consume less salt and therefore become healthier. The reasoning is that it’s for everyone’s own good, and if people become healthier then one result with be a reduction in the need for publicly funded medical services. That’s the type of logic that could eventually wind up with the government telling people how much they can eat, what they can eat, what activities they can engage in, how much excersise they should get, etc.. We are already begining to see the government try to shape individual behaviors through programs like cap and trade and congestion/corridor/cordon tolling of vehicular movements and many others.

    We have this type of government control over here too, just not as much and sometimes not in the same venues as over in Europe or the UK. The seat belt law in Oregon was marketed to the voters as a way to keep people safe and reduce the cost to the public for injury and fatality accidents. The motorcycle and bicycle helmet laws were passed under the same reasoning. Banning of transfats uses the same logic – keep people healthy, reduce the cost to the public for health expenses and lost productivity in the worker, etc..

    Now I’m not saying that all of these types of laws should be thrown out because they restrict an individual’s freedom to do as he/she wants. But people really need to be careful what they allow the government to do and what they restrict the government from doing. In the case of the helmet and seatbelt laws, I think more good was done than harm. In the case of something like the transfat bans over in this country or the salt shaker program in England, that is lots of money spent for very little if any return. If I was the government over there and I was really worried about peoples’ health, instead of worrying about how much salt people were putting on their fish and chips, I’d be more concerned about the calory intake/calory expenditure per day of the people eating the fish and chips. Which of course, would mean even more government intrusion into peoples’ lives…..

  • Jerry

    I am fine with the government not helping me out.

    • dean

      Joanne….my European friends and colleagues (and Canadian friends for that matter) would agree with you that the American way of life and politics is an American invention that has nothing to do with Europe. Germany has had universal health care since the 1870s for example.

      Why should we change? Not because of Europe certainly. Because of us. Our health insurance system stinks and it costs way too much. Comparing our results with others is sensible if it reveals approaches that would work better for us. We do not have all the answers.

      Rupert…Ted Kennedy had no need to go to Europe. He has the best available medical insurance, coverage, and doctor access right here in the US. Of course, that does not help the 50 million Americans with no insurance, nor the many who could be kicked off their insurance at a moment’s notice.

  • Rupert in Springfield

    >Rupert…Ted Kennedy had no need to go to Europe. He has the best available medical insurance, coverage, and doctor access right here in the US.

    But wait, I thought everything was better in Europe? I thought they lived longer, were happier and had better cheese and everything. You mean with all his money Ted didn’t go to Europe and get the absolutist greatest bestest medical care in the world? I am astonished!

    Ya hah – Nice try Dean – Ted didn’t go to Europe because with his life, well, he knows better than to believe all that BS about how health care is in Europe. You do what you like, but like I say, I am going with those who really know and have studied the issue, and for me, that is Ted Kennedy. I guess I’m just kinda old skooul that way, I watch what people do, not what they say.

    • dean

      Yes Rupert, and with Ted Kennedy’s money and insurance you too could go to the best brain surgeon in the world, wherever they happen to be. The thing is…that particular brain surgeon is not going to be available to most people, regardless of what medical insurance system a nation has or where he happens to reside. Rich people in Europe also go to the best doctors in those nations.

      Yes…average Europeans have longer life spans and better overall health and health care than average Americans. The American average life span is 78. In western Europe it ranges from 79-82. And they spend 1/2 to 2/3 per capita what we spend for better results. And they have ZERO bankruptcies due to medical costs. Horrible, stupid socialists. Don’t they get it? Socialism can’t possibly work! Government is bad! Regulations are bad! Always! .Just ask Rupert.

      Ask yourself this….if Ted Kennedy is so satisfied with the US health care system, why is he trying so hard to get it changed to be more like European systems (i.e. more regulated, more cost controlled, more universal). What’s in it for him? He can’t possibly benefit.

  • Rupert in Springfield

    >Ask yourself this….if Ted Kennedy is so satisfied with the US health care system, why is he trying so hard to get it changed to be more like European systems (i.e. more regulated, more cost controlled, more universal). What’s in it for him? He can’t possibly benefit.

    Now you are finally getting it, except for the last sentence. “He cant possibly benefit” should read “He wont in any way be a part of it”

    So, you need to ask yourself something. Since you acknowledge Kennedy wont partake of any system he devises what does that say about it? Why would anyone want to create a system, force people into it, and then not subject themselves to it? Power, plane and simple. If it was about trying to do good for his fellow man, then he would subject himself to it. He wont, and thus the true motivation becomes quite evident.

    • dean

      Okay…I asked myself. Here is my answer to myself and to you. If Ted Kennedy was successful in getting Congress to pass, and the President to sign, a major health reform legislation that created a system similar to one in Western Europe, then in fact HE WOULD BE PART OF IT. He would have the same range of insurance options everyone else had. He would be paying into it at whatever rate was established. Because he is rich he would probably be paying more into it than he would be getting out. BUT….because he is very rich, he would also be able to bypass whatever inconveniences, inefficiencies, or other problems this system might have, just like he can bypass all the problems, inconveniences, and inefficiencies of our present system. He would PARTAKE of the new system just like he PARTAKES of the present one….that is by using his wealth and connections to seek out the best care he could buy. There are clear advantages to inheriting a pile of money. I should have thought of that when I picked my parents.

      “Doing good” does not mean donning a hair shirt to satisfy Rupert of one’s altruism. Doing good can mean using one’s power and influence to create an improvement in a failing, expensive, inaccesible to many health care system that will benefit others, even if one has nothing personal to gain or lose in the bargain. Kennedy has a record. He has not use his power simply to get more power or wealth, whatever you my think of his politics.

  • Rupert in Springfield

    >Kennedy has a record. He has not use his power simply to get more power or wealth, whatever you my think of his politics.

    Congratulations!

    You have just become the first person to achieve solo private space flight as this statement confirms you have officially left the planet earth.

    Exit real world, next stop, the Crab Nebula of ludicrousness!

    Set anti reason engines to warp factor 10.

    Sorry, but anyone who doesnt see the absurdity of rulers mandating a system for the plebian realm but not themselves has truly gone off the deep end.

    • dean

      LTRD.

      First, Kennedy is an ELECTED “ruler” of a shared rulership, not a self-appointed solitary one. Second, I clearly stated that Kennedy WOULD BE PART OF of any new health care structure. I even put that in HIGHER CASE TYPE SO YOU WOULD NOT MISS IT. But apparently you missed it anyway. Third, if ELECTED rulers devise a system we don’t like, we get to elect other rulers who can change back or forward. Great system that way. Your preffered rulers have blocked major helath care reform since the Truman era. They have maintained a system that is the most expensive in the world and ranks 37th in quality. Out with the old…in with the new.

      I also acknowledged the PLANET EARTH REALITY that Kennedy is rich enough to buy his way past, around, or through ANY system, whether he devises it or some other ruler. True for all rich people. What…you prefer class warfare?

  • John Wight

    The interesting thing is that most people believe that salt contributes to poor health, particularly high blood pressure. However, salt is only a problem for those who already have high blood pressure. It is not a cause of high blood pressure. So once again government is solving a problem that doesn’t exist. Kind of like ethanol as a cure for global warming.

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