What Does the War on Sugar Say?
I’m personally fairly ambivalent about the issue of whether a certain municipality on the other side of the country bans soda machines in its public buildings (the whole “restrictions on what employees are allowed to eat and serve each” side of things is a different story, though). But the related discussion of the propriety of a tax on sugar nags the heck out of me. For two reasons:
1. The justification for such a tax that “obesity imposes a burden on the Americans who have to pay for health care.” This bugs me for reasons I’ve laid out before here. Beyond that, though, is that many of those advocating a sugar tax on these grounds seem to be the same folks who have been insistent that universal health insurance would not have a detrimental impact on liberty writ large. And, to be frank, other countries seem to have been able to have some form of universal health insurance without imposing socially judgmental restrictions on personal behavior.
2. More frustrating, however, is the fact that, economically speaking, the normative goal of reduced consumption of unhealthy foods like what we call sugar could be just as easily achieved by slashing particular agriculture subsidies that everyone outside of the Farm Belt agrees are terrible, awful, no good, very bad things. This is, indeed, a plan of attack that those of us of a libertarian frame of mind would get behind at the drop of a hat. Yet advocates of that goal – primarily progressives – seem to expend virtually all of their efforts and rhetoric on the imposition and “need” for a tax on sugar. I know this will probably offend some of you, but I have to ask: what does it say about the intellectual condition of progressivism that, faced with two equally viable means of achieving precisely the same goal, the only means that progressives will forcefully get behind is the means that grows the power of government, while basically ignoring the at least equally viable means of shrinking the power and size of government (which, in this case, almost exclusively benefits giant agribusinesses at the expense of American taxpayers)? Perhaps more to the point, what does it say about the state of progressivism that, faced with a problem caused in part by subsidies to the wealthy few, the solution is to impose a terribly regressive tax on the many?