Kindergarten culture: why does government treat us like children?

Sunday 19 October, 16.00 until 17.15, Hammerson Room, Barbican Contemporary Controversies

In the past, government may have intervened frequently in the economy, but our private lives were our own to live as we saw fit. In recent years, however, government has largely given up on being the ‘hand on the tiller’ of the economy and intervenes regularly in once-private aspects of life. Smoking is now banned in most public places, and smoking in cars in the presence of children is about to be banned. Environmental concerns have led to new efficiency standards for domestic appliances, and smart meters may regulate our electricity usage from afar, while we are constantly told to reduce our consumption of everything and there is serious discussion about how procreation should be limited to save the planet. Even now, parents are increasingly lectured to about how they should raise their children and, in Scotland, the Named Person rules mean a specific government employee will oversee each child’s upbringing.

Even non-governmental organisations, charities, voluntary associations and academics increasingly see it as their role to ‘educate’ ill-informed, non-expert adults. From public health to environmental campaigns, the assumption is that left our own devices, we will make the ‘wrong choices’. England’s chief medical officer, Professor Dame Sally Davies, complains that ‘three quarters of parents with overweight children do not recognise that they are too fat’. How can we trust adults who don’t understand the impact of their gas-guzzling family car on the planet or that feeding their kids junk food is leading to an obesity epidemic?

While such attitudes and interventions are viewed as annoying or threatening in some instances, few people actively protest against them. And often there are popular demands for more regulation and legislation to protect us from harm. Why has government become so keen to make decisions for us? And why do we not even seem to take ourselves seriously as autonomous citizens? Or is such ‘infantilisation’ actually a sensible response to our limited capacities and propensity to shoot ourselves in the foot, based on a recognition that in fact, ‘there are no grown ups’. Is it reasonable to allow the ‘experts’ to decide how we live? If not, what should we do about it?

Listen to the debate via the Institute of Ideas podcast:

Martha Gill
journalist, the Economist

Dan Hodges
blogger; columnist, Daily Telegraph

Ben Pile
independent researcher, writer, and film-maker

Christopher Snowdon
director, lifestyle economics, Institute of Economic Affairs; author, The Art of Suppression

Dr Simon Knight
senior youth work practitioner; vice chair, Play Scotland

Produced by
Ben Pile independent researcher, writer, and film-maker
Recommended readings
British Medical Association: prohibitionists from the start

In a move that has long been anticipated, the British Medical Association (BMA) has announced that it will lobby the government to introduce a law that would ban anyone born after the year 2000 from buying tobacco.

Rossa Minogue, spiked, 8 July 2014

The disease of ‘public health’

We are in the midst of an epidemic of lifestyle moralism.

Chris Snowdon, spiked, 28 October 2013

follow the Institute of Ideas


Keep up to date with Institute of Ideas news and events by joining our mailing list.

Session partners

in association with