Although President Barack Obama “expressed interest” in the idea last summer, “the White House staff reviewing funding options never embraced the idea” of a punitive tax on sugared soft drinks, the Chicago Tribune now reports. A key congressional committee, “after initially seeming receptive, ended up refusing to consider it.”
Why? “Several minority advocacy groups, including some committed to fighting obesity, lined up against the tax after years of receiving financial support from the (soft drink) industry,” report Tom Hamburger and Kim Geiger of the Tribune Washington Bureau.
Ah: the usual bad guy, then — corporate lobbyists.
And when the tax seemed like such a natural to the nanny-staters!
“We are on the moral high ground here,” proclaimed the sponsor, Rep. Linda Sanchez, D-Calif., a member of the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee. “We can improve health outcomes and get more revenue.”
But there’s a common conundrum here, isn’t there? If we tax something in order to discourage people from doing it, but at the same time hope the tax will raise more revenue, subjects have a right to ask, “Which is it? Is it now the patriotic thing to do to drink more soda pop, or smoke more cigarettes, or whatever? Meantime, once they grow dependent on that tax revenue, won’t they use any REDUCTION in my Coca-Cola drinking or Salem smoking — or whatever — as an excuse to raise taxes on something ELSE I do, in order to make up the difference?”
Yes, they will.
Unintended consequences from “well-intentioned” tax laws are nothing new. Recall that in the early 18th century, beer taxes made public drunkenness epidemic in England.
How’s that? Public drunkenness became a worse problem because they taxed beer?
Yes. Because the taxing and regulation of beer made it less expensive to drink gin.
Analysts at Yale University recently calculated that a penny an ounce tax on sugary soda pop would induce a 23 percent drop in soda consumption. (Would they stake their university’s endowment on the accuracy of such a calculus? And can they prove switching to artificial sweeteners is really “healthier”? What if kids switch to beer?) But the Congressional Budget Office estimated a smaller tax could raise $50 billion over 10 years.
See the process beginning already, as they seek Goldilocks’ “just right” level or taxation?
“While the extent to which such a tax might drive down obesity rates is scientifically unclear, nutrition experts argue that it would, at the least, improve health by discouraging consumption of sodas, which have no nutritional value but are packed with calories,” the Tribune reports.
Ah, so it’s more like “sending a message,” apparently. Brings to mind something Sam Goldwyn once said about Western Union.
But “the industry” wanted no part of “a full-scale national debate on sweetened soft drinks and their effect on health — and the nation’s ever-higher medical bill,” the Trib reports.
Um … WHOSE ever-higher medical bill?
For the record, a zero-calorie diet leads to death within weeks, and doctors consider an unexplained weight loss of even 15 percent to be “pathological.” But if private consumers of soda pop, beer, cigarettes, or anything else face higher medical bills because of their habits, how does that become “the nation’s” medical bill? If socialized medicine justifies the government attempting to manipulate the “healthiness of our lifestyles” through punitive taxes on anything of which the government disapproves, isn’t that simply an argument against socialized medicine?
When do we ban motorcycles?
Besides, does this really make any economic sense? Aren’t overweight people who drop dead of strokes or heart attacks in their 60s actually less costly to “the medical system,” in the long haul, than those who live healthier lifestyles for 90 years?
Using the argument that higher food and drink taxes would unfairly burden poor people, an anti-tax coalition — led by soft drink manufacturers and fast food purveyors — recruited a bevy of Latino groups, among them the Hispanic Alliance for Prosperity, the National Hispana Leadership Institute, and the League of United Latin American Citizens, the Tribune reports.
That was smart politics. Food taxes are indeed “regressive,” since poor folk spend a higher percentage of their income on food.
What’s pathetic is that such battles must be fought, at all.
The founders of our republic envisioned two types of taxes — indirect excises, which would be collected primarily on luxury goods, meaning they could be avoided — and “capitated” direct taxes, which is to say, taxes to be paid equally by each citizen, regardless of income or class.
Though all taxes are inherently bad — depriving us of the liberty to keep some of what we earn — those two types of taxes are the most “fair.” The founders said so.
Taxes are meant to fund the basic, minimal duties of government, and to spread their burden as evenly as possible across the entire populace.
When do-gooders like Rep. Sanchez wander far afield from that principle, using taxation in attempts to target and manipulate the behavior of specific minorities, that’s not “the moral high ground.” Quite to the contrary, they are morally wrong, and almost certainly in violation of their oaths to “protect and defend” a Constitution which calls for small, broad based taxes evenly applied, and for a government of limited duties, so unobtrusive that the common citizen might go months or years without even being reminded of its existence.
Besides which, it rarely works.