Rise of the Soda Jerks

The case against sin taxes for soft drinks

"And he shall smite the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips shall he slay the Pepsi drinker!"

There has to be a statement about soft drinks tucked somewhere in Leviticus. I have assurances, after all, that such beverages are wicked.

Sin taxes normally are levied on so-called vices, such as drinking, smoking, and gambling. Now Congress is "studying" a proposal to legislate morality by taxing sugary beverages—which is to say, it is "studying" whether such a tax would be politically feasible.

According to the executive director of the Center for "Science" in the Public Interest—a group that has been pushing this tax, along with a glut of other tragic nonsense—"Soda is clearly one of the most harmful products in the food supply, and it's something government should discourage the consumption of."

There is nothing "clear" about it. Soda can be harmful; it can be harmless; and it is always tasty with a cheese-infused burrito, which we should affix with a massive "discouragement" tax if we're going to be consistent about our gut-busting peccadilloes.

The selective tax also would pursue energy and fruit drinks but not politically correct high-everything beverages, such as Frappuccinos. No one wants a violent insurrection in the malls and trendy urban cores of America.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest also wants government to "pressure" food companies to produce healthier fare (because, god knows, there are barely any wholesome options available for the masses), dramatically raise taxes on alcohol (what fresh hell is this?) and dictate the level of sodium allowable in packaged and restaurant food.

The CSPI is the group that once laughably claimed that 150,000 people perish yearly from salt intake (the "Forgotten Killer") despite lack of any evidence and the ongoing debate regarding the real effects of sodium.

Beyond the health issues, you may want to ask yourself whether it's appropriate for government to use taxes as a tool for strategic social engineering.

Isn't it counterproductive to pass one-size-fits-all punitive taxes that target the recreational ginger ale drinker, along with the depraved Coca-Cola abuser?

Or is it government's job to provide transparency, allowing consumers to make smart decisions—or not—about what they ingest?

We already have set a precedent with cigarettes. And the argument most often employed by sin tax proponents revolves around economic externalities—or the idea that everyone shouldn't have to pay for the destructive habits of the few. (Though there is evidence that the societal cost of the obese is largely inflated, as it were.) I have a lot of sympathy for this argument. So perhaps all citizens can begin taking fiscal and moral responsibility for their own behavior....

...I'm just kidding. That's crazy talk.

But once we start rationing health care, externalities will only become more of an issue. If we collectively pay for health insurance, then what is to stop the majority of us from dictating to the minority what it can eat or drink?

What would stop Republicans—after they roar back to power in 2048—from levying sin taxes on promiscuous behavior? After all, promiscuity burdens all taxpayers through sexually transmitted diseases, unwanted pregnancies, and Lindsay Lohan.

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  • Xe_ones_ghost_shell_crackin_oa||

    http://www.marketwatch.com/story/dump-these-four-states-from-our-housing-nation

    yo, fuck NEVADA
    yo, fuck CALIFORNIA
    yo, fuck ARIZONA
    yo, fuck FLORIDA

    apologies to those offended
    thank you

  • ||

    I just read my Constitution and your right to drink sugar water isn't mentioned!

    Sigh.

    The worst part is knowing that there are people who see that as a real argument.

  • ||

    My sister dragged me to that movie about a dozen times when it came out. It was like the Tiger Beat blockbuster of the century...

    Where have you gone C. Thomas Howell, our nation turns its lonely eyes to you.

  • ||

    "What would stop Republicans-after they roar back to power in 2048-from levying sin taxes on promiscuous behavior?"

    Once you go black (market) you never go back

  • GILMORE||

    Soda Pop Curtis - nice touch

    +P.S.: FU, JJW

  • ||

    We smokers warned you all. Repeatedly. But did you listen? Nooooo. You had to let the fucking camel get its nose into the tent didn't you? You remember laughing when nicotine aficionados warned of a slippery slope?

    Don't just sit there like a bump on a log*, answer me!

    * I now declare today "Cliche Wednesday".

  • Mister DNA||

    I swore on my father's grave I was going to stop using cliches.

  • GILMORE||

    As a side note, last year the Dept of Econ at Emory University did a study on what impact taxation of varying levels has on soft drink consumption and obesity.

    (here = http://www.economics.emory.edu/Working_Papers/wp/2008wp/Frisvold_08_08_paper.pdf)

    The rough takeaway (as far as I recall - I'm not reading it again just to find out) was that you could triple the cost of soft drinks, and at best you'd get a 2-3% reduction in obesity incidence. The relationship between health and these specific beverages was minimal.

    Of course, if you were cynical, one would point out Emory University's largest endowment comes from (drum roll) the Coca Cola Company. True. Thats partly why this study never gets tossed out in front of the Obesity Crusaders (aka Tax Junkies). Too easy to dismiss. But other organizations have done similar work and pointed out that "Soda" is but one input into the vast number of elements that make Americans a bunch of overweight slobs. You could get rid of it altogether and it wouldnt necessarily make any difference.

    I personally blame cars for fat Americans. One reason I have always loved living in NYC is that you can easily walk 3-4 miles a day when you're out and about.

    Yet we still have tons of fatties in NYC. I blame churros for that.

  • JB||

    I say we tax politicians on every word the say.

    I know their words are damaging to my health.

  • ||

    The selective tax also would pursue energy and fruit drinks but not politically correct high-everything beverages, such as Frappuccinos. No one wants a violent insurrection in the malls and trendy urban cores of America.

    Don't worry. After this tax goes through, the denizens of the malls and trendy urban cores will be reduced to saying: "First they came for the smokers, but I was not a smoker, so I was silent. Then they came for the drinkers of soft drinks, . . . . "

  • ||

    We smokers warned you all. Repeatedly. But did you listen? Nooooo. You had to let the fucking camel get its nose into the tent didn't you?

    I'd walk a mile for a Camel.

  • jpocali||

    Fat people don't...

    Base jump or mountain climb saving hundreds of thousands in back country rescues and medical expenses, so they have got to go.

    Partake in sports that cause all kinds of injuries, from bruises to full on broken bones, collapsed lungs, and the like, so they are out.

    Walk/jogs before the sunrise (or after it sets, or is just in the sky) when it is hard to see. Sorry, too risky, it is gone.

    Pretend like they are Lance Armstrong with 10 of their buddies whipping through traffic like they are in some bike race, Sorry, people get hit by cars.

    You know what? This is stupid... everyone does stuff that could kill them. In all actuality, whatever it is that you like to do more than anything else in the world, that will probably be what gets you in the end! Regardless of your sugar intake.

  • Joel||

    [even more] dramatically raise taxes on alcohol (what fresh hell is this?)

    I read this and had a vision of myself testifying in front of some panel chaired by Nancy Pelosi...

    "We've got cops and cameras watching every fucking thing we do - we never know when you're gonna outlaw the next thing we like to do - we're taxed out the ass 'til it seems we all work for you anyway - we've got a whole congress full of asswipes like you, every goddam one of whom thinks he knows more than we do about what's good for us ... Lady, we need our booze!"

  • ||

    Sins fund America!

  • ||

    For more money we don't need higher taxes on sin, we need more sins to tax.

  • ||

    Pot tax
    Sodomy tax
    Heroin tax
    Cocaine tax
    Calling yourself a christian when you're not tax.

    We'll end up with the tax guy from the Popeye movie.

    That's will be a $2.00 posting on H&R tax.

  • phalkor||

    I will die doing what I love.

  • ||

    Calling yourself a christian when you're not tax.

    I think I could go with a "Public Display of Religion" tax.

    Start with $1,000 per attendance at a White House/Congressional "Prayer Breakfast."

  • ||

    I joke about the issue.

    I prefer my suggested legislation perfect for a so called christian nation.

    TrickyVic | January 14, 2008, 3:48pm | #

    I hearby announce the "No Profit From Sin Act of 2008". That states that a government can not profit from an activity it deems sinful or believes is too dangerous for its citizenry."""""

  • Justen||

    Hey maybe Harsanyi isn't a total tool carpet bagger after all. The only way I'd support a tax on things that are unhealthy is if we had a national health care system. If we're all paying taxes for health care and the people who are spending most of them are high-risk patients it does make sense to get to the source of their health issues and offset costs. I don't necessarily want that, mind you.

    So far it sounds to me like a way to increase tax burdens on the lower classes to put more money in the pockets of government and their pals in industry who will surely see increased subsidies and contracts under the guise of increasing public health. Time to call bullshit.

  • Justen||

    @jpocalti: I agree with your sentiment, but to be fair costs related to obesity, smoking, alcoholism, etc. are much, much greater than the infrequent and localized costs of people doing stupid things for thrills.

  • jpocali||

    True Justin. I guess what I was trying to highlight is that the argument that fat people cost us money assumes that the fat person first of all becomes ill young and then drains the coffers for a long life without anything else getting him (ie car crash) AND it assumes that all thin people will stay healthy and not cost us a thing (ie anorexia).

    Look, 100% of all NFL players will experience an injury at some point in their careers. Now, I know that these are pro athletes, but for every pro out there there are thousands of little boys trying to be the next big thing. If the best of the best are getting injured 100% of the time in their careers what does that say for all the little boys out there? I myself cost my dad's insurance plenty of money playing football, does that mean we should get rid of it or tax it? After all injury is almost assured, the cost is assured.

    I know, a broken leg doesn't cost us much, but if injury is almost assured and thousands of little boys are playing on any given day, wouldn't that add up?

  • ||

    Joel | May 13, 2009, 4:54pm | #

    [even more] dramatically raise taxes on alcohol (what fresh hell is this?)

    I read this and had a vision of myself testifying in front of some panel chaired by Nancy Pelosi...

    "We've got cops and cameras watching every fucking thing we do - we never know when you're gonna outlaw the next thing we like to do - we're taxed out the ass 'til it seems we all work for you anyway - we've got a whole congress full of asswipes like you, every goddam one of whom thinks he knows more than we do about what's good for us ... Lady, we need our booze!"

    Joel,

    Thank you for that ..I'm still wiping tears of joy from my face.


    You could have added, "..[Pelosi] (who doesn't even know how to spell externalities, let alone know what it means....."

  • Morris||

    Go back to Hungary and build capitalism, Harsanyi, you whiny fuck.

  • Mike||

    So now the Democrats want to tax beer, Coke, and potato chips. Of course, they want to leave the hoity toity beverages like coffee and wine alone. So much for supporting the "little guy".

  • Tomcat1066||

    They can have my Coke when they pry it from my cold, dead hands!

  • ||

    Beyond the health issues, you may want to ask yourself whether it's appropriate for government to use taxes as a tool for strategic social engineering.

    That train left the station a loooooong time ago.

  • ||

    "for government to use taxes as a tool for strategic social engineering."

    Since government is "strategic social engineering" anything they do .... never mind, it's just too complex when bashing the regulators is so quick and easy. Reality wants a divorce.

  • Alternate Universe Barack Obam||

    Let's put an end to useless corn subsidies and use the money saved to reform health care!

  • ||

    As one who supported/voted voted for Barack Obama I admit to being deeply dismayed at seeing the administration's embrace of special interest groups whose apparent purpose is the elimination of tolerance for individual life choices in the interest of improving the public health. It is unfortunate that the zeal for taxation/behavior modification has coincided with so the present financial crisis the resulting and the many budget shortfalls, but it has been recognized by politicians by seeing the public's tolerance for ever higher taxes on smokers that if you can demonize a particular subset of the population: stupid, addicted smokers or lazy fat people, you can tax them without fear. One of the leading voices for product taxation/behavior modification is the Center for Science in the Public Interest which was a participant in the recent Senate Finance Committee roundtable on Financing Comprehensive Health Care Reform. The Deputy Secretary for Health and Human Services. Mr. William Corr, is a board member of that organization. See: http://www.cspinet.org/ for Senate testimony and the list of Board members. Additionally, he is former Executive Director of The Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, one of the key forces behind pending legislation to put the tobacco under the regulation by the FDA. See 05/12/09 Blog Dr. Michael, Bill Corr Should Have Refused HHS Nomination, http://tobaccoanalysis.blogspot.com/, and the Wall Street Journal referred to within. In addition to the taxation schemes afoot, there are moves by Senators Max Baucus of Montana, the chairman of the Finance Committee, and Tom Harkin of Iowa to allow employers to 'encourage' employees who may exhibit less than optimal health indicators [to be defined by whom?], BMI, lipid profiles, blood sugar, smoking, etc to join wellness programs and to penalize them if they are not receptive to joining. In addition to questioning the efficacy of special taxes and 'incentive' programs, I question the motives of those who put forward such measures. Just what are they getting out of their efforts vis a vis the public trough and just what sort of society are they trying to create when any action by an individual might be defined to effect or 'Harm' another or society in the aggregate. A must see: 05/10/09 New York Times article: Congress Plans Incentives for Healthy Habits. The individual is reduced to a machine apparently obligated to maximize his or her utility for the benefit of the State.

  • mark||

    Jim, the feeling is mutual. I'm already trying to get people to sign up for the "Gary Johnson 2012" Facebook group. Oh why didn't I stay home on election day?

  • ||

    "Oh why didn't I stay home on election day?"

    mark, how quaint, you actually think it would have made a difference? Remember who was running? A Keynesian vs a Keynesian, both of whom wanted to be the next FDR. How could anyone really win?

  • Douglas Gray||

    Jim, the scariest part is the speed with which the current administration is embracing Nannystateism.

    I would like to offer this term, Nannystatists as a new word to replace the word "liberals". Liberals, were once, after all synonymous with today's libertarians.

  • LarryA||

    We smokers warned you all. Repeatedly. But did you listen? Nooooo.

    We gun owners warned you smokers. Repeatedly. But did you listen? Nooooo.

    The only way I'd support a tax on things that are unhealthy is if we had a national health care system. If we're all paying taxes for health care and the people who are spending most of them are high-risk patients it does make sense to get to the source of their health issues and offset costs.

    Except that if the sin taxes worked people would be more healthy, therefore live longer, therefore cost more in health care in the long run. Picture paying for a bunch of people in long-term care for the ten years between age 95 and age 105.

    If you really want to reduce government health care costs, pass out free cigarettes in junior high school. Note that I'm not actually in favor of this.

  • jpocali||

    Relax everyone. Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel. brother of Ari and Rahm and presidential medical advisor has figured out a way to cut our health care costs....

    "Unlike allocation by sex or race, allocation by age is not invidious discrimination."

  • ||

    Further to this subject. This morning's NY Times is running a story: New York City Official Is Obama Pick for C.D.C. Dr. Frieden has been the Health Commissioner in New York. In addition to possessing great zeal for draconian tobacco control regulations/taxation, cigarettes are around $10/pack, he is on board re the regulation/taxation of food, i.e. forced removal of transfats, salt and fat regulation. He will dovetail very nicely with some of the other folks that have been put in office such as William Corr and Charles Hurley.
    See:
    http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/15/health/policy/15cdc.html?_r=1&th&emc=th

  • ||

    they want increased taxes on beer, chips, and soda pop plus slapping another enormous 2-buck-a-pack increase on cigs ... i didn't realize that "only people making over 250k a year" consumed these items ! i'm learning so much from barack.

  • nike shox||

    is good

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