Things Corporations Hate

Your children are at risk on the Internet! Terrorists want to kill you! Erotic imagery turns men into sex pests! It must be true – I read it on Facebook.

For anyone trying to understand political campaigns and events, it’s useful to understand the vested interests that lie behind them. Many liberal-minded people are tricked into supporting attacks on free expression by scare campaigns like the ones above. Here’s a selection of things that upsets corporations. By understanding the things that corporations would like to get rid of, we can begin to understand the fake, media-initiated panics that sweep society (and conversely, understand why some important issues are ignored).

Public Broadcasters

The BBC is constantly under attack. Sure, they’ve messed up lately with reporting of child abuse allegations… but that doesn’t explain the never-ending torrent of hate from right-wing media outlets. The BBC upsets major media empires for two simple reasons: it is relatively balanced, and thus breaks the corporate monopoly in defining The Truth; and it takes market share (and thus, profit) from private companies. The Beeb is often accused of left-wing bias, which is nonsensical. If bias is detectable, it is toward the British establishment and its interests. Thus, you can expect decent coverage of (for example) African news; but don’t expect to find out what’s going on in Afghanistan; the BBC knows its job is to support “our boys”, not impart the truth of “our” wars. The same applies to public broadcasters elsewhere – America’s PBS for example. But PBS and many others have already been neutered by the corporatocracy. And if you want to see the result, just spend some time watching American TV.

Trains

“But weren’t the railways built by corporations?” I hear you cry. Sure, but that was before they discovered a far more wasteful form of transport. Why travel at up to 200mph in clean, modern railway carriages when you could be in a traffic jam doing 10mph and consuming non-renewable energy by the gallon? A transport system based on people having drive themselves slowly and expensively makes no sense. But who needs sense when there are profits to be made for road-builders, car makers and oil companies? If you wondered why a train crash that kills one person makes the front page while five people die on British roads every day, usually without media comment, wonder no more. Cars make billions of pounds in profit for corporations and trains don’t. Game over.

Public Space

My home city, London, is blessed with a great selection of parks, commons and heaths, protected from property developers and other profiteers – but London predates modern capitalism. To corporations, free public space is a missed opportunity to make a profit. New towns are based around the “consumer”. Consumers are like people, except if they want to sit down, they must first buy a coffee. If they want a playground for their kids, they must feed them McDonalds. In fact, why build towns at all? Build a mall surrounded by houses. The people will come, and they will buy, and they will forget that once, a day out with the family could be had for free. Abolishing public space also, subtly, attacks free speech (which is a general annoyance for corporations that would rather get on with business without public scrutiny). In free societies, the public have a right to protest on public land. But replace the high street with a private mall, and the right to protest is removed. This is vividly illustrated by events such as the 2003 arrest of a man in a US shopping mall for refusing to remove an anti-war T-shirt.

Renewable Energy

It should go without saying that anything renewable is bad for profit. It is perfectly possible, technically, for humanity to stop using fossil fuels within a few decades. A multi-trillion-dollar investment in clean energy would save hundreds of trillions of dollars in the medium term. But one man’s gain is another’s loss… if we stopped buying all that oil, gas and coal, how could oil execs buy their next mansion?

Welfare

In Victorian times, child prostitution was common in London; more recently, child malnutrition was still widespread. The British left fought for a welfare state to protect the poor, and especially poor children, from poverty and abuse – and in the 1940s, they won. But the introduction of welfare closed many doors to profit. Welfare removed opportunities for offering credit, and credit enslaves the masses to the corporations; and corporations love nothing more than slavery. So when you read yet another “news” story or blog post about “welfare scroungers”, you’re reading a cry for help from corporate interests; for every pound cut from welfare, a loan shark can lend a pound at an extortionate interest rate. As for child prostitution – this is now illegal; but someone, somewhere, is calculating the opportunity cost; those pesky publicly-funded courts and social services are standing in the way of a good profit. When you hear an impassioned plea for “small government”, you’re listening to an advocate for child prostitution. You should tell them so.

The Internet

Once upon a time – well, about 20 years ago – the right to publish information globally was the preserve of multi-millionaires. Then along came the worldwide web, and the power to publish was placed into the hands of geekery. And then came Web 2.0 with its simple interfaces, and anyone with an Internet connection could publish. This causes distress for the 1%, understandably. If being worth a billion doesn’t buy you preferential access to the meme pool, what’s the point of money? Over the past three decades, corporations had gained a stranglehold over the dissemination of news (or whatever they chose to distribute in the place of news) – with the exception of public broadcasters (see above). The book Flat Earth News by Nick Davies carefully documents the decline of journalism and the rise of PR-as-news serving corporate interests.

With the rise of the blog, Twitter and other tools, corporate/government control of information was blown wide open. This, of course, attacked corporate profits, which they never appreciate; but more than that, it threatened the right of the control freaks of the corporatised state to control the message; and of course, the control freaks would inevitably strike back. Now, war on the free Internet has begun, in ways subtle and not-so-subtle. A series of moral panics is being rolled out via the media to soften up the public for unprecedented levels of surveillance and censorship. As ever, vague threats to children are at the forefront of scaring the population into submission: child “grooming” or the availability of pornography and “sexualised” music videos – none of which has any solid evidential backing. Terrorism, of course, is an old favourite, and is being used to justify US attempts to create an Internet “kill switch”. Even the UK riots of summer 2011 – small and contained as they turned out to be once the hysteria had died away – were blamed on Twitter and Blackberry’s BBM network.

In the UK, ludicrously draconian laws against “causing offence” have already seen people dragged into court for statements made on Twitter and Facebook. How to balance free speech vs. security? This is almost always a false dichotomy. No threat from terrorists, paedophiles or “subversives” is remotely as dangerous as the threat of police and security services with draconian powers, able to monitor and control free expression with no recourse to due process for the public

Free speech is the only defence against dictatorship, so it’s natural that it comes under constant attack from those who would stand to benefit from the removal of freedoms. Everyone – including you – is either part of the solution, else they’re part of the problem. Next time you see a friend post a petition on Facebook demanding more “child protection”, tougher sentencing for non-violent crimes, or for certain types of “offensive” speech to be banned, point out to them where this is going: censorship is never in the interests of the majority, even if it’s sold as “child safety”.

Election 2012: America’s Tipping Point?

Fox News team looking sad
Why the long faces?

America has two broad histories: what happened, and what Americans think happened. America’s brutal history is hard to square with its talk of liberty and equality, but the schizophrenic nation somehow manages to blend reality with fiction almost seamlessly. The fairy tales start from the nation’s very beginning. The Enlightenment in Europe was proposing radical new ideas: that science and reason should triumph over religion and superstition; that tolerance and fairness should triumph over persecution. Americans are sold a story in which the early settlers were chased out of a barbaric Europe that refused to tolerate their religious beliefs; in reality, the Enlightenment was challenging the most intolerant religious factions. Those Christian zealots who fled to America weren’t running from intolerance, but fleeing because their right to be intolerant was under threat.

These origins created a contradictory, fractured nation: a constitution based on the Enlightenment, but a population that was strongly opposed to Enlightenment values. As a result, America has always been an outlier when measured against other continents. More religious, more violent, less tolerant than other countries of similar levels of wealth; clinging on to slavery long after the Atlantic slave trade had been outlawed by the British; creating racial segregation laws unlike anything seen in post-medieval Europe (with the exception of Nazi-era antisemitic laws).

For most of its history, the US white majority has been strongly racist and deeply religious. The civil-rights era laid the groundwork for true equality in some future time, but it frightened and enraged the white majority. The Republican Party, once the party of abolition, embraced its infamous Southern Strategy to mop up the white racist vote that had once belonged to the Democrats.

For decades, this strategy worked. From 1972 until 2008, there were six Republican presidential terms and only three Democratic ones. But predictable changes were happening. America’s social values were inevitably becoming more progressive, for several reasons: in post-civil rights America, young people of different races were – slowly at first – beginning to mix with each other; immigrants from around the world were bringing new ideas; the population was urbanising; and, thanks to the Internet, Americans were becoming exposed to a global market of ideas from which most had been previously excluded. Republicans were dominant, but their dominance was reliant on a shrinking base.

The tipping point arrived quietly at some point in the past decade. With the election of Barack Obama in 2008, it seemed America had passed a point of no return. The symbol of a black President gave an unmistakable message of change. The Republicans needed to accept and embrace the changes in society, and many attempted to. But they were tangled in their own past. A huge segment of Republican support was right-wing, racist and religious. With some help from Fox News and cash from corporate backers, the so-called Tea Party movement emerged; an enraged backlash against inevitable change. They successfully seized the Republican agenda, removing moderates from office and shifting the party to the extreme right. Their calls to “take back our country” failed to mask the unmistakable screams of a lynch mob.

The Republicans became perfect moron-watching material. Every week would produce a new story so outrageous, I would have to check multiple sources before tweeting or blogging about it; attacks on women’s reproductive rights, rejections of mainstream science, attempts to include religious orthodoxy in mainstream education, witch-hunts against Muslims.

The life of a Republican presidential candidate was made impossible – how to present yourself as far-right to the angry, white, religious Republican base while simultaneously as centrist to the wider electorate?

I believe Obama’s 2012 victory is more significant even than his 2008 win. This time, he was an incumbent with a varying record in office. This time, the novelty factor of a black candidate was no longer in play. The US economy is not in great shape. He has faced relentless campaigns trying to prove that he was born outside the US or labelling him a Muslim. Yet he won. The screams of rage from the right this time are louder than before. Because this time, his victory can’t be blamed on some kind of black sympathy vote, or on John McCain’s suitability as a candidate. The 2012 victory demonstrates the existence – for the first time ever – of a narrow progressive (or at least centrist) majority in America.

Obama’s win wasn’t the only sign of this. Two states voted to legalise recreational use of marijuana, and four voted in favour of gay marriage. The screams of rage are in mourning, not just for an election defeat, but for an America where white, Christian, racist males dominated. This was best summed up by the right-wing Fox News commentator Bill O’Reilly on election night when he glumly stated: “the white establishment is now in the minority“.

The Republicans need to embrace the new reality, but that’s easier said than done. A constituency of white, Christian racists still exists, and it numbers in the tens of millions. In a multi-party democracy, the Tea Party could form its own political party, but in America’s enforced duopoly, they have nowhere else to go, and so the chance that the Republicans can move towards the centre is remote.

Unfortunately, the Republican swing to the right has taken the most important issues off the US agenda. Climate change, inequality and the corporate threat to democracy were barely mentioned in the election campaign. Big oil and corporate power were the winners.

One thing is certain – the US religious right is still huge, is angrier than ever, and still controls the House of Representatives. Now cornered, expect its last stand to be spectacular.

The Murder Of Daniel Morgan

In 1987 Daniel Morgan, a London-based private investigator, stumbled across corruption involving the police. Not long after, he was hacked to death with an axe. In this audio interview, Daniel’s brother Alastair talks about his 25-year struggle against the British state to see justice done.

 

US Elections For Dummies

That tricky choice: more drone strikes and torture or more drone strikes and torture?

As we approach another US Presidential election, increasing numbers of non-Americans are watching proceedings with great interest; however, the US electoral system is a strange thing, and many foreigners fail to understand its subtleties. As a non-Yank who takes a great interest in US politics, I felt I should explain US elections to those foreigners who would like to follow events in the run-up to November 6. So here is the MoronWatch quick guide to American elections.

Only Two Parties?

That’s right, the American system is carefully engineered to ensure only Democrats and Republicans have any chance of winning. To outside observers, used to multi-party democracy, this seems a little strange. America, in its usual efficient way, has optimised democracy to the bare minimum. Cuba, of course, has a one-party state. America has TWICE the number of parties that Cuba does, and is therefore twice as democratic. And what better measure of democracy could there possibly be?

To ensure no other parties have a chance, the Ds and the Rs have things sown up. For example, in the current run of presidential debates, the parties signed a legal contract promising not to debate with any other candidate, thus creating an unbreakable duopoly and excluding any possible third-party candidate from gaining any publicity. The media plays along with the game, ensuring that alternative candidates are seen as little more than cranks. And when force is needed, it’s freely used; indeed, when Green Party candidate Jill Stein tried to attend this year’s debate, she was arrested and held by New York police. Smell the democracy!

No Spending Limits?

Outsiders have a quaint idea that elections should reflect the will of the people. America is smarter than this (as are other advanced democracies such as Cuba, Zimbabwe, etc). The People, as everyone knows, are idiots and shouldn’t be allowed to make any serious decisions. Presidents should instead be chosen by the nation’s cleverest people: CEOs. Unlike many democracies, America imposes no spending restrictions, and even allows third-parties (such as corporate front groups) to run political advertising. The election result is thus a simple matter of money.

So corporations fund the campaigns and the campaign that spends the most money wins. Simple! Which party do the corporations prefer? Both of them! Since both parties represent corporate interests, it doesn’t really matter to corporations which one is elected. They fund both parties to make sure that they, rather than any accountable body, control the system. If one of the parties suddenly questioned the rights of corporations to own and run US society, that party would lose its funding and the other one would win. The system is balanced and fair (unless you’re some kind of commie who believes in “one person, one vote” type stuff).

No Progressive Party?

Real democracies represent all parts of the political spectrum, but that can be messy, and result in the people actually choosing their government; so the enlightened system in America (like that in Cuba) ensures this doesn’t happen. Most societies split into two parts – conservatives (those who think the past was great) and progressives (those who aren’t so sure about that). So the main political parties tend to represent various flavours of these strands. America has evolved beyond this crude system; since progressives tend to be uneasy about corporate power threatening democracy, they had to be excluded from the electoral process.

Instead, Americans are offered a simpler choice: pro-corporate sane people vs pro-corporate insane people. This means that a knowledge of politics isn’t necessary for voting in America, since the parties disagree on very little anyway. Just decide whether you think raped pregnant women should be forced to carry their babies to term or not, and your choice is simple.

Make Up The Rules As You Go Along

Here’s the best thing about US elections: if the vote doesn’t go your way, it doesn’t even matter! You simply ensure the voting machines will give the right answer, people have trouble voting, and the supreme court is packed with your friends.

Why bother with elections at all? Why not just allow CEOs to nominate the next President at a secret meeting? Americans are proud of their semi-democratic past, and voting reminds them of the days when they actually used to have some control over national policy. Besides, the corporations who make rigged voting machines would be very upset to lose all that business. As with many African nations, which have so carefully copied America’s version of democracy, the US enjoys going through the motions of voting, secure in the knowledge that the rich people who own everything will still be in power after election day.

So Does Voting Make Any Difference?

Yes. Despite the fact that both parties are largely funded by the same interests, small changes of direction can make a big difference. The Republican party has been taken over by people who will happily start a nuclear war, since they believe God’s on their side and they’re guaranteed a spot in heaven whatever happens. And the difference between “nuclear war” and “no nuclear war” is pretty significant. Romney has signalled a more aggressive attitude towards Russia, China and Iran if he’s elected, which is bad news for global stability and the economy, but good news for the oil and weapons companies that back him.

So here we go again: through some joke of history, the entire future of global humanity rests on the whims of a handful of badly-informed morons in a handful of swing states. If there is a god, he has a wicked sense of humour.

The Left’s Huge Failure Over Julian Assange

Julian AssangeA couple of months back, I wrote a blog post lamenting the sad decline of the left: once the home of free thought and scientific reasoning, now the home of political correctness (aka “nice censorship”) and authoritarianism. A few weeks later, I was vividly vindicated by the furore around the British threat to raid the Ecuadorian Embassy, where Julian Assange was claiming political asylum (now granted by Ecuador).

For those of you have been off-planet for the past few years: Assange ran Wikileaks, a courageous organisation, dedicated to free speech, that has been publishing government and military secrets from around the world on its website since 2006. Government after government was revealed to be embroiled in corruption and illegality; but when in April 2010, Wikileaks released the infamous Collateral Murder video, providing strong evidence of the US military murdering civilians and journalists in Iraq, two things were instantly clear: first, that Assange was a hero of free speech; and second, that he was a marked man. The US has committed war crimes for decades, but now it was clear that it could no longer keep them under wraps. The only logical act for the US war machine (other than apologising and cleaning up its act) would be to make an example of those behind the leaks, and instil terror in anyone who thought they might emulate Wikileaks’ behaviour.

Bradley Manning, a US soldier suspected to have leaked the video, was arrested, and remains in detention without charge; his treatment appears to fall within the definition of torture. That, of course, left Assange. The Obama Administration, far from embracing the new openness, has declared war on whistle-blowers, especially anyone associated with Wikileaks. Those denying that the US is after Julian Assange, or that it would deprive him of his liberty permanently if captured, have clearly not been paying attention.

The accusations of rape that surfaced in Sweden in August 2010 were greeted by Wikileaks-watchers with instant suspicion, and with good reason. By early-2011 it had become crystal-clear that this was not being treated by the Swedes like a normal rape case, as shown by testimony from former senior Swedish prosecutor Sven-Erik Alhem, and an article by global rape law expert Naomi Wolf. Assange was in London fighting extradition to Sweden. He suspected (again with good reason) that the Swedes were working with the Americans to transfer him into US custody; in June this year, he offered to submit to extradition on the condition that the Swedes promised not to hand him to the Americans. This was refused, and Assange decided (and yet again it seems, with good reason) to claim asylum at the Ecuadorian embassy in London.

None of this, of course, casts doubt on the rights of the Swedish women to see justice done; but the behaviour of the Swedish and British authorities is blatant; they obviously have little interest in rape allegations, and every interest in grabbing Assange.

Then in mid-August, something truly astonishing happened. The British government threatened to raid the Ecuadorian embassy to arrest Assange. This was truly unprecedented and dangerous, and provoked outrage around the world; wars have been started for lesser reasons than this. Not only did the threat cause huge damage to Britain’s international standing, but the sheer scale of the threat provided proof that the Swedish charges were a cover for something bigger. Mass murderers have walked free from British custody, yet Assange’s arrest mattered enough that Britain was prepared to wreak huge damage to international relations, and breach a vital core principle of modern diplomacy: the right to claim asylum.

Twitter burst into life, followed by the blogosphere; demonstrators materialised outside the embassy. As I tracked events online, I began to wonder where the mainstream left were – they seemed entirely absent. OK, the threat against Ecuador did come in the middle of holiday season – but surely the opposition couldn’t be silent at such a moment?

In reality of course, poor Ed Miliband’s hands were tied. Senior Labour figures, including Ed’s own big bro are implicated in crimes against humanity; they played along with the worst excesses of America’s “war on terror”, including illegal kidnap, detention, torture, and mass-murder. Labour is as much a part of the repressive, illegal machinery as the Conservatives and the intelligence services, and it seems unable to separate itself from the Blairite clique that disgraced the party so badly. By the end of the day, the moronic, mainstream left had chosen its line: ignore Britain’s disgraceful actions, and instead play the rape card by restarting the old arguments over the Swedish allegations from two years previously. Followers on Twitter followed suit. Soon, anybody who supported Assange had been slurred with the moron buzzword-of-the-week “rape apologist”, as I blogged at the time.

The first word I saw from a Labourite came in the next day’s Independent from Owen Jones, a young and apparently left-wing activist/journalist who is a popular up-and-coming Labour figure. Jones’ article was entitled: There Should Be No Immunity For Julian Assange From These Allegations.

I have three basic problems with the article:

  1. It is bland and populist. It contains all the ingredients needed to appeal to the centre-left, without saying very much of substance. It is a rallying cry to the Labour heartland, and it seems designed to rally Labourites against Assange. It contains the kind of meaningless-yet-popular phrases that would go down brilliantly at a Labour conference – for example, “Let’s be clear: rape is rape”. Whatever next – “Education, Education, Education”?
  2. It is inaccurate. It amplifies some of the old arguments that had been used against Assange, but ignores some other key points. An excellent blog post, Don’t Call Me A Rape Apologist by @EthicalGirl, covers Jones’ apparent bias regarding his coverage of the “facts” of the rape allegations. In addition, Jones repeats an old slur against Tory Minister Ken Clarke, which I blogged about at the time. I’m all for Tory-bashing, but prefer when it’s done with honesty and good reason. Again, this was great for the Labour heartland, not so great for accuracy and integrity.
  3. But the biggest problem is, of course, that Jones almost entirely ignores the big, Huge, ENORMOUS story of the day. His only, tangential reference to it is as follows: “Though its UK Embassy must be protected from any British Government attempt to attack its sovereignty, it is wrong to offer Assange political asylum”. Yes, that’s it. No comment on the government’s quite-probably-illegal behaviour, at all.

I have no idea whether Jones’ omissions are made through genuine ignorance or not. If he was (hypothetically) building up his profile ready for a safe Labour seat at the next election, his Independent article would have been perfectly pitched to capture grassroots support, while giving a wink to Labour top-brass that he could be relied upon to behave himself when it came to the Big Issues.

I generally agree with much of what Jones writes – but I selected this article as the earliest and most high-profile example of how the mainstream left managed to ignore (or deflect from) a very important story. I’m pretty sure that if Assange had been accused of something else – violence against a man, for example – many more of his supporters would have largely raised eyebrows and stood by him. But the “rape apologist” slur is one that terrifies the “liberal” male, and many good people buckled and became silent under the onslaught. I’ve no idea who first used it to label Assange supporters, but it was very well-chosen to have a chilling effect on the debate. Apparently a rape allegation is sacred; no man may ever cast doubt on it, however bizarre the behaviour of the prosecutors, because he will be accused, stupidly, of somehow supporting rape.

It is only thanks to brave and unimpeachable female anti-rape campaigners, like Naomi Wolf (above) and the veteran British group Women Against Rape, who wrote a marvellous article defending Assange, that debate wasn’t crushed altogether. But what a sad state the left is revealed to be in, if it is afraid to defend a hero of free speech for fear of being branded with the R-word.

Should Cigarette Brands Be Hidden?

Australian cigarette packaging
Australian cigarette packaging

This week, the UK government ended a consultation on whether cigarette companies should continue to be allowed to use branding and packaging to make their products more attractive. I’ve read and listened to some of the coverage, trying to decide as to whether this strategy will be effective in cutting smoking, but so far few facts have emerged from the noise of debate. Anti-smoking campaigners argue passionately for the ban, while “libertarian” free market advocates claim it will have no effect, and stifle freedom.

My heart is with the ban; the tobacco industry has proven itself to be the worst kind of scum, successfully denying any link with cancer for decades after 1950s research revealed the risks (indeed, denial of the tobacco-cancer link until the 1990s was a favourite moron argument, paralleling today’s denial of climate change). Only when huge class action suits threatened the industry’s very existence did it turn away from lying about its product’s health risks. Tobacco is by far the most dangerous of all recreational drugs, linked with an estimated 18% of all deaths in British over-35s, and 5% of all hospital admissions. My libertarian sympathies, also, aren’t aroused by the prospect of forcing the removal of branding from packaging. Liberty is for people, not corporations, and nobody is (yet) suggesting that people shouldn’t be allowed to buy or smoke tobacco (I’d strongly opposes any outright ban on tobacco sale or consumption). The idea that anyone is losing liberty by having to buy Marlboro in an olive rather than red-and-white pack is ludicrous (yet this kind of argument is a common piece of “libertarian” nonsense).

Would a branding ban reduce smoking? That seems less clear. Its advocates seem to have more passion than facts at their disposal. A comparison with the illegal part of the recreational drugs business suggests that branding isn’t a pre-requisite for product popularity. Highly popular drugs, such as MDMA (pure Ecstasy crystals) and cocaine are typically delivered in small plastic bags, or neatly folded up in a old lottery ticket. Cannabis is sold in a plastic bag or clingfilm. There are some approximations to branding: batches of Ecstasy tablets can usually be identified by size, colour, shape and stamp. Mitsubishi pills were popular a decade or so ago, and popular brands like Apple and Nike have taken over more recently. Rumours of a particularly good batch of pills would make a particular brand popular; but in a black market with no trademark protections, if “Apples” are all the rage, manufacturers will quickly begin producing fake Apples. Cannabis is “branded” based on its strain; a grower who creates a hybrid to be proud of will give it a memorable name – classics include White Widow and Orange Bud. But once the seeds are in the public domain, all brand control is lost.

Due to their illegality, cannabis, cocaine and Ecstasy can’t be effectively branded; but their popularity seems undented nonetheless. For decades (millennia in the case of cannabis), these drugs have only increased in popularity. It seems that branding, rather than increasing overall market size, simply increases the ability of corporations to control the market. To me, that seems like a bad thing – corporations create brand loyalty in order to ultimately reduce consumer choice and dominate the market.

It seems that brands contribute to the monopolisation of markets, reducing competitiveness and choice. The huge variety of recreational drugs for sale, and the endless scientific innovation in the field contrasts favourably with the increasing lack of innovation in legal markets, where corporations, having established dominance, get better returns from crushing competition than from investing in research and development. This is the classic contradiction of Capitalism; by succeeding, it dies.

On this basis, branding is the ultimate enemy of the free market. Can anyone claim that McDonalds or Budweiser have led to improved choice or quality? Brand psychology is hugely sophisticated, and we’re all susceptible, however aware we are. It’s why Brad Pitt sells more movie tickets than a brilliant, but unknown actor. It’s why in a strange city, I gravitate to Starbucks – it’s not the best coffee, but it’s familiar and I know what to expect.

Perhaps libertarians, rather than defending the right of British American Tobacco to lure us with fancy packaging, should be welcoming the tobacco experiment, and calling for its extension. In a sane world, perhaps adults would be presented with a choice of unbadged tobacco, alongside unbadged cannabis, cocaine and Ecstasy, all of which have far fewer health issues than cigarettes. Of course, we don’t live in a sane world – but it’s worth at least thinking about.