Sanity Injection

Injecting a dose of sanity into your day’s news and current events.

Archive for July 28th, 2009

Another bad idea: Tax junk food and soda

Posted by sanityinjection on July 28, 2009

“If you drive a car, I’ll tax the street, / If you try to sit, I’ll tax your seat.
If you get too cold I’ll tax the heat, / If you take a walk, I’ll tax your feet. ” – George Harrison, “Taxman”, The Beatles’  Revolver, 1966

“I’d like to teach the world to sing / In perfect harmony

I’d like to buy the world a Coke / But the tax is too high for me.”

-adapted from “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing”, from the Coca-Cola “Hilltop” TV ad, 1971

In the context of the current debate over health care and how to pay for it, something sneaky is going on. First, a number of media outlets reported that obesity-related conditions account for a significant percentage of health care expenditures, with figures such as $147 billion and 9% of overall health spending thrown about. Then today, two major media outlets – CBS News and the LA Times – both “coincidentally” published blog entries on paying for health care by taxing items that cause obesity – sugary sodas and fattening foods, respectively. If you think it’s a coincidence that this drum is only being beaten after the attempt to soak the rich to pay for ObamaCare backfired, think again. The focus is now being turned from one group it’s OK to hate – the rich – to the only other one – the fat. (Disclosure: Sanity Injection is personally about 17 pounds overweight.)

To be sure, the media isn’t the prime mover behind this conspiracy, just a happy helper. The “data” is coming from think tanks and government agencies that are part of the ObamaCare advocacy team. The logic works like this: Evil junk food makes people fat, and fat people cost everybody money. So we should tax junk food, which will raise money to pay for fat people’s health care while also encouraging people to eat healthier and thus lose weight.

Anybody see a flaw here? How about this: Fat people aren’t fat just because they eat sugary or fatty foods. They’re fat because of their overall lifestyle, which includes diet and (lack of) exercise. Some have other medical conditions that contribute to obesity. So let’s say the tax works and everybody stops eating  junk food. No major revenue stream is generated, but fat people are still fat and we still have to pay for them. Alternatively, the tax doesn’t work and people still eat unhealthy foods, so a bunch of money is raised. How much do you want to bet that money gets raided by the government to pay for other things besides health care? Meanwhile the fat people have less of their income they can save to help pay for their own care.

Those are economic arguments, but how about the philosophical arguments? Is everyone who drinks a Coke contributing to obesity? Arguably not, if you’re eating healthy and getting exercise. Yet you’ll still have to pay the punitive tax. More fundamentally, what right does the government have to tax you in order to get you to live your life the way *they* want you to? If we believe that the obese should bear the responsbility for their extra health care expenses, then charge them higher premiums, or offer them lesser coverage due to their pre-existing condition. That’s the free market solution. Instead, the Democrats’ health care bill would force insurers to not only cover pre-existing conditions but at the same premium paid by healthy people!  And so the serpent of Leftism continues to gnaw on its own tail, planning an economy that is in inherent contradiction with itself and telling us all that it will work.

If this all sounds familiar, it should: we’ve been through the same nonsense with cigarette taxes. In fact, you could replace the words “fat people” and “obesity” with “smokers” and “smoking” above without any further alterations necessary. The result is a regressive tax that hits the poor hardest – precisely what the Left always says they don’t want.

Frankly, I am sick and tired of the search for scapegoats to blame America’s health care problems on and punish them with targeted taxes. With apologies to Martin Niemoller:

When they came for the smokers, I did not speak out, because I was not a smoker.

When they came for the rich, I did not speak out, because I was not rich.

When they came for the fatties, I did not speak out, because I was not a fatty.

When they came for me, there was no one left to speak for me.”

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