Piling On the EU Cadaver

29 Nov

I’m both amused and bemused by expert condemnation of the EU project, now that the European Central Bank can’t seem to wave a magic wand and make debt disappear. Being a technocrat, according to Paul Krugman, has suddenly become an immoral act.

I call foul. I know from technocrats; sometimes I even play one myself. And these people — the people who bullied Europe into adopting a common currency, the people who are bullying both Europe and the United States into austerity — aren’t technocrats. They are, instead, deeply impractical romantics.

They are, to be sure, a peculiarly boring breed of romantic, speaking in turgid prose rather than poetry. And the things they demand on behalf of their romantic visions are often cruel, involving huge sacrifices from ordinary workers and families. But the fact remains that those visions are driven by dreams about the way things should be rather than by a cool assessment of the way things really are.

And to save the world economy we must topple these dangerous romantics from their pedestals.

Henry Farrell sounds a little more reasonable – and believable – “…to talk about the ways in which technocracy has become the EU’s default mode of policy-making, and the political problems that this creates.” (Farrell’s opinions on Europe are clear and helpful, and I recommend them).

Speaking of clear thinking, Steven Novella looks at a specimen of rather unturgid prose (from the European Food Safety Authority) that masks more than it expresses. What do you think? Does water consumption prevent dehydration?

It seems what they are saying is that dehydration, when it is a “disease”, is cause by a clinical condition, and drinking water may not work. For example, if someone has terrible diarrhea and is losing significant amounts of water, drinking water will not do the trick. People can die of dysentery even when they drink a lot of water, because they are secreting water through their bowels. You need intravenous hydration to treat severe dysentery, and you need to treat the underlying condition (or at least give IV hydration until it runs its course).

So maybe – maybe – the EFSA decision is the result of the fact that they did not want to allow a blanket statement that could be applied to conditions where the claim is not true, like dysentery. I don’t know, because they did not explain their decision at all in the actual document. They therefore opened themselves up to legitimate ridicule.

My fear is that this sensational event will create a public backlash against regulatory agencies reviewing health claims by product manufacturers. This is a dramatic and emotional case that can have undue influence on what should be a thoughtful and nuanced discussion about the proper role of regulation in health claims. I suspect the anti-regulation crowd will jump all over it.

That misses the point, which is to give the judiciary the authority to interpret the EFSA’s decision. Are EU institutions too isolated from popular discontent?


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