Prohibition Culture – Issue 50
You have probably heard that the United States has
recently passed a new health care bill designed
to give many more Americans health insurance.
To quote the Vice President, Joe Biden, “it is a big
f&*king deal”. He made the mistake of saying that to
Barack Obama during a press conference when the
microphone was still on.
Many people here have asked me about the new bill,
the typical Aussie is understandably confused as to
why Americans would have their knickers in a knot
over an issue which would mean more people are
healthy. The reasons for this are deep historic and
cultural legacies, far too complicated for me to go
into here. The quick overly, simplistic explanation
is money, control and 308 million people with very
different world views.
One reason many Americans don’t want to contribute
to health care is that it means they will have to pitch
in for other people, who in their opinion, do not
deserve to be taken care of. Those fortunate enough
to have jobs don’t want to pay for those who are
unemployed. They believe they should just go get
a job and then they would have health insurance,
because in America you don’t buy your own private
health insurance like we do here, it is provided by
your employers unless they are crafty enough to
figure out a way to get around it, like hiring you as a
contractor, or part time employee.Oh yes and, gosh darn, no one has jobs these days, which puts a spanner into the whole system.
There is another reason.
People don’t like the idea of
having to pay for health care
for those who spend their day
eating Chicken McNuggets
and watching Oprah, smoking
cigarettes, drinking beer – or
any of those other lifestyle
choices people make that are
not good for them.
The amount of money spent per year on over
indulgence is staggering, it is no wonder that the US
and many governments around the globe are trying to
encourage better behaviour to try reduce the amount
of money they spend on ‘lifestyle cancers’, obesity,
damage from smoking and alcohol. In the UK obesity
could cost 6.3 billion pounds by 2015, in the US
obesity cost US taxpayers $147 billion a year in extra
medical expenses and in Australia we spend $21
billion a year on obesity.
Hospitals here are going to be hit with a deluge of
patients who suffer consequences and complications
typical of the obese and unfortunately the 25 to
35 age bracket are the ones putting on weight the
fastest – and men – so we will be taking care of them
for a very long time. Why men you ask? The majority
of Australian men are fat, 60% of Aussie blokes
have a body mass index over 30 which makes them
clinically overweight. That being said the typical
Australian male does not believe he is overweight,
they believe beer bellies are normal.
Professor Ian Caterson from the University of Sydney
says these misperceptions are deeply entrenched in
the Aussie culture. It is a similar cultural block that
Americans are now facing.
Those on the losing side of the US healthcare
debate are not taking it well. The ones that didn’t
want the Health Care bill to pass are spoil sports
and have decided to send those congress men and
women who voted for the bill a powerful message by
sending death threats and throwing bricks through
their windows. You see, Americans don’t like the
government or anyone else telling them what to do.
Particularly the dudes that live in remote wooded
areas and stockpile food, fatigues and firearms and
think blowing up child care centres in federal buildings
in Oklahoma City shows the government who’s boss.
There are plenty of those sorts around these days.
In fact since 2006 there has been an increase in new
extremist groups and activism across the USA, you
may have heard of the ‘Tea Party’? A special report
by the Center of Southern Poverty Law Centre titled
‘Rage on the Right the Year in Hate and Extremism’
reports an 80 % increase in hate crimes and 363 new
When asked why, the authors of the
report suggest it is due to the fact that for the first
time in the history of America the face of the federal
government is the face of a black man.
Also the demographic evolution of America means
the country will not be run by whites and that does
not go over well, particularly with those who still have
confederate flags hanging in their front yard.
What is interesting about these groups is despite data
or facts; they believe what they believe and therefore
are examples of what we have been talking about
in our discussions this past month on knowledge
People’s ability to receive information
is filtered through their experiences, context and
beliefs and that is why, despite obvious proof, 2/3
of Republicans in America think Barack Obama is
a socialist, 57% think he is a Muslim, 40% think he
was born in another country and not eligible to be
president, 38% believe he is doing the same things
Hitler did and 24% believe he may be the anti Christ.
If these people believe that Obama is the anti Christ,
you can see how difficult it would be to convince
them that it is in society’s best interest to have better
health care. Still it is a bit unnerving to encounter
people who choose to believe something even though
everything points to a different outcome.
Before you get too righteous, recognise that you probably do
things you shouldn’t even though there is research
that suggest it is not in your best interest. Do you
ever go a little over the speed limit? Do you have
more than two standard drinks a day?
Do you smoke even though we plaster the sides
of city busses with those nasty pictures of the
We believe what we want to believe, or we don’t care,
or we simply object to someone else telling us how to
live our life. After all who are they to tell us we can’t
drink and smoke, why should they be able to tell us
what to eat – if we want to turn into lard arses who
are they to stop us? Why should they care if we stay
up late, get pissed and yell F$*kyeah at 2:00 am?
Why can’t we use plastic bags at the grocery store?
We should be able to say what we want, water our
garden when we please, have guns and we should be
able to take pictures of naked little children and sell
them on the internet. It’s a free country for crying out
I am hoping I crossed the line for
most of you.
Living in society we are all familiar with and
accepting of the need to exchange some degree of
personal freedom for the good of others. Most of
us acknowledge that there are laws that protect us
from hurting, killing, or annoying one another. It is
when laws, or even popular belief, begin to overstep
perceived boundaries that we become uncomfortable.
The challenge this poses is we don’t all agree on
where the boundaries are and to be honest we all
have different boundaries. This is why the health care
debate is interesting, once you are picking up the tab
for someone else, you feel you should have a say in
how they live. Parents have been doing this to their
children for generations.
Chris Sanderson, the co-Founder of The Future
Laboratory, one of Europe’s leading trend, brand
and futures consultancies believes the boundaries
are shifting. He says “We have just had a decade of
consensus culture, in which excess was encouraged
at all levels, from spending to binge drinking to
luxury at its most vulgar.” As a result we are now
sick and tired of people misbehaving and plan to say
something about it, we are developing a Prohibition
Culture, where behaviour is being curbed, controlled
We see examples of this every day: the green bags
at the grocery, a shift towards smaller more fuel
efficient cars, disapproving glances for parents
who feed their tubby children pop and junk food. In
some places government has gone right to their
constituent’s pocketbook, in the UK people are paying
higher council rates if their homes are not energy
efficient and may soon pay higher road taxes if they
drive gas-guzzling cars.
In the US cities raise money by taxing junk food and
soft drinks at a higher rate and have banned smoking
in public places. Heck at East Village Community
School in Manhattan the weekly popcorn school
fund raisers have been attacked for violating the
new obesity focused regulations. Apparently they
are going to have them anyway as an act of culinary
disobedience – they will probably be arrested for
History has proven that using
laws to prohibit behaviour does
not always guarantee results.
In the 1920’s the US put restrictions on drinking
alcohol, Prohibition. Unforeseen consequences of that
idea include Al Capone, a rise in crime and drinking
moonshine, something much worse for your liver than
beer or wine. If you think Australia would never be so
foolish, think again.
We used to turn our noses to excess and that kept
everything in check, but our complacency has gotten
us into trouble so the tide is now turning.
We no longer feel sorry for people who bring bad
things on themselves, no compassion for poor Tiger
who got dropped by Accenture? The shareholders
of UBS and Royal Dutch Shell sure didn’t feel sorry
for the executives when they rejected their bonus
payments. And I don’t think that any of us will be
suggesting trophies be given to John Varley and
Robert E. Diamond, the chief executive and president
of Barclays who opted to give up their bonuses
in recognition of broad public anger over bank
executives taking large payouts while the country is
barely out of recession. Varley’s base salary was £1.1
million in 2008. Mr. Diamond’s salary was £250,000.
Forget about childless couples who smoke and want
fertility treatments, they don’t deserve to be parents.
No way are we paying for Claire Murray’s second liver
transplant when she is a heroin addict – don’t care
that she is 25 and has two small children. (Actually,
we did pay, she was given an interest free loan from
the state government in WA, but they wouldn’t do
the surgery here. She went to Singapore for the
transplant, but died in hospital due to complications.)
Prohibition culture has been creeping into the
workplace for a long time, we accept that we
can’t drink, smoke, gamble or make inappropriate
We had a temporary restriction bill that forced pubs
to close at 6pm, which resulted in something known
as the ‘six o’clock swill’ for obvious reasons. This
was a response to fears that Australia’s fighting men
would be too pissed to defeat Germany in the Great
Prohibiting drugs has had the same poor results.
Recently Barack Obama finally admitted that the 40
year ‘war on drugs’ initiated by Richard Nixon was
an “utter failure”. In Portugal all drugs have become
decriminalised, resulting in a fall in overall drug use
and in several Latin American countries and mainland
Europe similar drug reforms are in the works. In
Switzerland giving out free heroin has proven to be
successful, resulting in less begging, prostitution,
homelessness and burglary.
So why are we moving toward a prohibition culture?
American economics writer Paul Krugman believes
there is too little fear and outrage in society today,
as an example he cites us not being completely
outraged by disparity in income levels. Research
conducted by Australian National University in the
early 1990’s found a CEO in a top company earned
27 times more than the national average, ten years
later it was 98 times more! That is a pretty big gap
between have and have nots. We are starting to
become outraged now though, and this is a catalyst
for shifting social norms.
Now some companies want to
limit the type of food allowed in the microwave in the
workplace, but who gets to decide what smells good
and what doesn’t?
Then there are those that put in surveillance
cameras in the workplace, a client I took a brief from
recently claimed this was to create a safer working
environment for employees. They also monitor
emails. One area of workplace prohibition that makes
good sense is rigid safety rules and standards that
apply not only to those who work in dangerous
conditions, but also for executives and office workers
in the same company. It is smart, because it works
to create a culture and that is far more effective than
As companies try to grapple with the “new normal”
a term coined by Ian Davis McKinsey Worldwide
Managing Director, there will continue to be a greater
push toward accountability. For most organisations
today, there is very little that goes on without
scrutiny, especially if it has to do with spending. It is
not surprising given the hard times we have had in the
past 18 months; companies need to run efficiently
and productively to keep their head above water.
This could also be a rebound from the loose, casual
working styles we have seen in the past few years.
There is bound to be some backlash given the
outcomes of the past year. Some would argue that
when there are no rules, someone will take advantage
of situation. Still, you do have to question whether
rules and punitive actions have any impact on
evolving culture. Changing our collective culture is
the goal of ‘Prohibition Culture’. The intent is to slowly
change our beliefs so that undesirable behavours and
activities become less tolerable, even repulsive.
We are not immune, it happens at Geyer too.
We spend plenty of time talking about how to make
people do their timesheets, mark up WIPs and pick up
their printing from the photocopier to name a few.
We have had some success, but still have a way to
go and as you all know, those things cost us money.
Money that is coming out of yours and my pocket.
Enough already, I say; we need to turbo charge the
culture by applying punitive actions to those who
offend. My suggestion is that timesheet offenders
should be made to clean out the refrigerator and
microwave once a month, those that don’t do their
WIP mark ups are assigned to plan the Christmas
party and for those who waste our money by not
gathering their copies – maybe we make them host
the Christmas party at their house.
That’ll teach em.
Associated Press, A Look at the Healthcare Overhall; The Age
March 21, 2010
Corderoy, Amy; Deluge of Obese Patients Puts Hospitals on Alert;
The Age March 21, 2010
The Future Laboratory – 2010 Australia Trend Briefing Dossier
Harden, Michael; Let’s Drink to Sobriety. Or Not; The Brisbane
Times December 1, 2009
McCamish Thornton; Whatever Happened to the Classless
Society?; The Age August 16 2009
McClean, Tamara; Men Overweight and Oblivious: Study: The
Brisbane Times April 10, 2008
Middendorp, Chris; Drug Prohibition Doesn’t Work – So What Do
We Do Next? The Age January 7, 2010
NPR Fresh Air Podcast – WHYY; When Right-wing Extremism
Moves Mainstream; March 25, 2010
Otterman, Sharon; Popcorn Fridays? Meet Trayless Tuesdays; The
New York Times, March 9, 2010
Overweight and Obesity – Australian Social Trends 2007
Australian Bureau of Statistics
Rose, Danny; Deny IVF Aid to Smokers, Obese; The Age
October 26, 2009
Stark, Jill; Huge Risk in Obese Mums to Be; The Age
November 16, 2008
Werdigier, Julia; Top Two Barclays Executives Forgo Bonuses for
a Second Year in a Row The New York Times; Fevruary 16, 2010